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BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Is Calipari more popular than Pitino ever was at UK?

With the Jeff Sheppard controversy breaking out this week, I think it highlighted the fact that despite 2 Final Fours and a national championship in his first 4 years, there are still those who are not entirely satisfied with the job that John Calipari has done.  In Cal’s case, it’s not so much the results but the methods to get to those results.  I find it hard to find much fault with the recruiting methods, coaching tactics, or motivational ploys that Calipari has used, seeing the winning that has come with it.  But, some remain stubborn, and that is OK.  Being a fan of a team doesn’t mean blind loyalty.  I can understand the complaints some have, but I think it’s being picky.

That being said, the careers of John Calipari and Rick Pitino have many similarities during  their times at Kentucky.  Both guys brought in a new style of play that has excited fans.  Both guys have brought in a new level of recruit that was not seen by their predecessors.  But above all else, they have created an atmosphere where they are treated like gods.  I don’t think it is a stretch to say Pitino in the 1990’s and Calipari right now could run for governor in this state and probably win.  But here is what was bouncing around my head yesterday:

Is Calipari’s popularity at the level of Pitino’s at his most popular?

It’s an intriguing question to me because even though only 18 years have separated the 2 men, so much has changed with college basketball and how we follow it.  Just a couple things to consider:

1. We know more now than we did in 1996

-Thanks to websites like this one, and the explosion of the internet in general, we have more information about the team and players than we ever did in 1996.  This has positives and negatives.  On the positive side, we come to like the players like they were our sons.  We learn more about their personalities off the court.  If all we had to judge Demarcus Cousins was on-court actions, his popularity would have likely been much less.  But, we saw the many videos of off-the-court actions of Cousins, and we saw a different side.  But at the same time, we also learn about every comment, every look, every everything that the coach does.  Caliapri has said many great things, but he also had a slip-up or two as well.  Comments that may have never come out in the pre-internet 1996.  Calipari has used this exposure to his advantage to advance his popularity many times, but it can bite you as well.

2. Recruiting is a different ballgame

-Whereas I think that first point is an advantage to Pitino, I think this one goes to Calipari.  Because of recruiting websites like and giving fans another way to compare their program to others, the interest in recruiting has elevated to a whole different level.  And the fact that Calipari recruits at the level that he does means that he remains top of mind in Kentucky fans minds 365 days a year.  And in a positive way.  Thanks to a constant stream of AAU tournaments and committments, Calipari usually wins the summer months more than Pitino did.

3. Calipari’s record going up against Pitino’s

-What Rick Pitino did from 1993-1997 was almost unheard of in Kentucky history.  I guess the 1948-1951 stretch was pretty successful too, but that was a different era with different interest.  The popularity of Pitino’s program in that stretch during the modern era had no rival.  Now that Calipari has had a similar run (2012-13 never happened) we have gotten a taste of that again.  But this run Calipari is on is constantly being compared to Pitino’s run, while Pitino never had any comparison.  You have to consider that a positive for Pitino because some fans can still argue that “this run is not at good as Rick in the 1990’s”.

4. Cal’s reputation continues to follow him

-Tell me if I am wrong because my memory is foggy, but Rick Pitino came to Kentucky with a fairly untarnished reputation.  Sure, some UK fans didn’t like the idea of a New Yorker getting the job, but there wasn’t the negative publicity surrounding Pitino like there was around Calipari at Memphis.  And even to this day, despite no cheating allegations or charges, some UK fans will still argue they don’t like Cal because they worry about what happened at Memphis.  That segment of the fanbase is small, even tiny, but it does exist.  Pitino did not have to deal with that.

When thinking about this topic objectively, you have to keep in mind that both guy’s at their height of popularity (Cal in 2012, Pitino in 1996) had popularity off the charts.  But I would imagine that after the 1996 championship, Pitino’s popularity might have been at 100%.  Which is quite hard to do.  And unfortunately for Calipari, and as Sheppard unknowingly proved earlier this week, there will always be a 1% of the fanbase who won’t support the current coach for one reason or another.  And for that, I tend to argue that at his height, Pitino may still have been more popular.  Am I wrong?

Article written by Bryan the Intern

45 Comments for BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Is Calipari more popular than Pitino ever was at UK?

  1. Give me a racoon, please.
    9:03 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    This was pretty good. BTI, your blogs are a lot better when you don’t try to use “statistics.”

  2. asdf
    9:06 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    The difference in information works two ways, though. In 1996, the program still had a mythic quality about it. We didn’t know every aspect of the players’ lives, and that in some ways made them “larger than life”, especially out in the state away from Lexington. Now, modern tech has shrunk the world, and fans across the state know the players on a more personal basis. That probably makes us feel more affection for them, but it also makes us not hold them in awe anymore.

  3. silly post
    9:06 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    Are you 12 years old? It’s not even a competition. Pitino at his height was second only to Adloph Rupp in 1958. The program was dead in the water and was competing for national titles 3 years later. The BCG fiasco wasn’t 1/10th as bad as the start of probation before Pitino was hired. The reason he’s so hated now is because he was so loved then.

  4. Cat Fan in Georgia
    9:09 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    “Being a fan of a team doesn’t mean blind loyalty.”

    On this site, blind loyalty is mandatory. We do a great job of blasting anyone who deviates from that,even some of our oldest and longest-standing fans.

    As to the question at hand – I can’t choose. Pitino saved the program. Calipari has raised it to a level not seen since Pitino left and the long-term future is extremely promising.

    I’ll admit that I was one who was in the “Cheatapri with World Wide Wes” camp when Cal was at Memphis. Have I changed my opinion…yes, of course. Is that because he now coaches at “my” institution…maybe, but I’ve also learned a lot more about him (all in a positive way) since he came here.

  5. SteveA
    9:18 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    I would say Pitino for now, but he coached many more years than Cal so far. The fact that it’s even a question right now says a lot about how good Calipari has been. Give Cal a few more years under his belt and I think he surpasses Pitino. This question may be more generational though.

  6. tom
    9:24 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    I would take either of them as coach but NEITHER of them for governor.

    9:24 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    calipari easily hate the slimy bitc- from ul

  8. Doubting Thomas
    9:26 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    The answer is YES! You are wrong for many reasons but the main reason is you are over estimating Rick’s popularity. The teams were loved but not the coach. I hated Rick from day 1. I didn’t like his attitude and how he presented himself as our coach. I can’t ever remember him saying anything about appreciating the honor it is to be the head coach of Ky. Cal appreciates being the coach at Ky. Rick thought we should feel privileged to have him as our coach. I hated Pitino then and I hate him now! We have the best coach for Ky now and I appreciate John Calipari. Go Cats!!!

  9. Brian
    9:27 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    Because of the internet and Calipari’s ability to market himself I’d say Calipari is more popular. Both took over at a time when we were struggling. Calipari immediately made us a contender where it took Pitino a couple seasons. Recruiting is always exciting and keeps UK basketball constantly on our minds. Calipari is a better showman. He wins you over using his PR skills and is second to none in that category.

    Pitino’s popularity in 96 was sky high no doubt, but Calipari is always making himself and our program visible in numerous ways. The on the court success at their peaks were similar, but with the internet and Calipari’s ability to keep UK front and center seemingly always, I’d say Calipari is the more popular of the 2 at their peaks.

  10. RD
    9:30 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    The program was so shamed due to what happened during the Eddie Sutton era. With all the sanctions Pitino had to deal with, and yet still putting a competitive team out there. I think Pitino might have a slight edge in popularity. He’s so despised now because he coaches for UL. Had he gone anywhere else but UL (or another SEC school) to coach, he would still be beloved by UK nation.

  11. Jealousy
    9:34 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    I am the only reason any of us hated Cal before Kentucky. It’s ok to admit it.

  12. come on
    9:43 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    #6 exactly. I don’t remember Pitino taking the team every year to do charity time with kids and the poor much less wash their feet. I don’t hear about it now that he is at Louisville. It’s not discreet, if he did it it would be made known. Pitino always seemed to be all about Pitino. Every year it was is he going to leave? Never got a firm no. Always coy. When he talked about players they were either over weight ot the next Magic or Larry. He would not and has not hosted telethons or fund raisors that take any substantial effort. Cal is players first but UK all day everyday.

  13. catfan4life
    9:44 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    How quickly many seem to forget the % of fans that couldn’t stomach Pitino and hated his wife. It seemed every week there was a negative public relation problem with her travels to Massachessetts, but not so with Ellen Calipari. Having that priest sit next to him was a terrible distraction for many non-Catholics. The passing of time has elevated the Pitino mystique rather than diminish it.

    Of course Cal haters will post, but I feel Cal is by revered much more than Pitino then and now.

  14. Austin
    9:50 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    If we, as true blue Kentucky fans, keep speculating this “if” question about who is better, the fan base is going to run off Calipari. And then we will be stuck, looking back, wondering why we can’t get players like John Wall, Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, etc. Coach Cal is the man. Plain and Simple.

  15. Go Deep
    9:51 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    The “common” fans love Cal more because they feel they can relate better, coal miner’s grandson etc. The more affluent like Cal more because he is more humble to them, doesn’t act as if he’s better. Doesn’t bring a chef from NY because no one in KY knows how to make bolognese sauce… When Pitino left, the ones the big boosters were ready for him to go. Cal does have a big ego but has the ability to show grace and humility where Pitino couldn’t. Both were loved at the time of their Championships but what coach isn’t? Cal is still loved after a NIT appearance. No one but him would be able to do that at UK!

  16. Bobbum man
    9:52 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    I gotta say Cal, he seems like more of a people person. Pitino just didn’t come off that way and Cal embraces the fans an people in general in a way that I just don’t remember pitino doing.

  17. Sam
    9:55 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    No, Pitino doesn’t have a “reputation” problem. Not Mr “15-seconds”?

    And #12 makes a good point.

    Mentioning Cal’s “reputation” is like mentioning that Ron Paul is an isolationist. It’s simply not true, but ignorant people may believe it because the lie gets repeated so much.

    Cal has never been charged with any wrong doing in recruiting, in fact, it is the NCAA who has cleared his players. How much more can a coach do to comply with the corrupt NCAA? “Does Player X qualify?” NCAA replies, “Yes, all clear.” And then years later they say, “We’ve changed our minds and will now strip the university and coach of all wins with him on the team,” and impugn the coach’s reputation accordingly, not for anything the coach or university DID, but because we don’t like you. It’s utter corruption.

  18. Al/in/Indy
    9:57 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    I actually could’ve rooted for Pitino today he not taken the Uvel job. He of all people should’ve known that by taking the Uvel job he would have been as ill received as he is today for the die hard UK fan. But it is what it is. He’s made his table….er ummmm bed, now sleep in it….Go CATS!

  19. prpcat
    10:00 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    Coach Cal no question about it ask yourself who would be more likley to actually sit down and have a conversation with you, coach Calipari gets it, this would be beneath Pitino to do this

  20. ATB (Always True Blue)
    10:01 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    At the height of their careers, Pitino rep was better. Actually by more than 1%. The fan base was killed but supportive when he left for Boston. I remember coaches from other sports from other schools coming in to memorial when I worked at UK during that Pitino era and they would see Pitino up in his office and they would say look at the king up there on high overlooking his court (literally the court). But they were clearly making fun of it but wouldn’t take it too far. I don’t think Cal would get that treatment.

  21. Rob Daddy
    10:01 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    Rick was, and remains in my mind the most beloved coach since Rupp. Cal says and does all the right things, but in the back of my mind, he will always have a cloud hanging over his head and the NCAA looking to dethrone him. Rick was above all this because he took over a program in trouble. It pained me to see him move on to Louisville, but his competitiveness (and arrogance) have shot him back to the top of the heap with last year’s National Championship. You have to hand it to him.

    Cal remains popular with the Mass of Blue, and his recruiting is second to none. However, if he has another year like last year, he doesn’t deserve to ever be named in the company of Coach P. And even with the best recruits in the land (i.e. 2009/10 team), you can still fall short of winning it all for these fans. Cal has a long way to go to match Rick on any front, popularity aside. It’s not even close!

  22. David E
    10:01 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    I think Cal’s popularity, among UK fans, is at least as high, if not higher, than Pitino’s at its peak. However, Cal takes many more shots from opposing fans and media than Pitino ever did. It was verified this weak, by ex employees, that Cal was taking cheap shots from the NCAA itself – as most of us suspected.

  23. Catindaville
    10:02 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    I think Pitino can take an average player make him better over time. Cal takes great players and gets them to gel and sacrifice for the good of the team. I love Cal, but from X and O’s, I give a slight edge to Rick.

  24. J in Orlando
    10:02 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    Calipari took over when the program was spiraling downward and put together a #1 overall seed on the fly…Pitino did it more gradually, but eventually put together an historic 2 year. But Rick had more time…this may be somewhat a debate now, but at this rate if Cal stays as long as Pitino did, it will emphatically settle this debate.

  25. ATB (Always True Blue)
    10:03 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    #19, I completely agree with that statement for certain. Slick Rick was above everyone else and I think still has some of that stigma. Although not as bad as it used to be.

  26. J in Orlando
    10:05 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    23 Disagree…Rick is much better prepping his team for a specific opponent, but Cal is much better managing his team within the game. If Calipari had the same players Pitino had, he would also develop them over time, and because of his system they would be more prepared for a pro career.

  27. Chicks, Man!
    10:05 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    You forgot a comparison, the Chasing of Skirts. Rick won that one hands down, still doing it at UL.

  28. Worldwide Wes
    10:09 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    the entire “worldwide wes” thing has become laughable, and its actually ridiculous that it even gets mentioned anymore). The fact that other teams fan throw it out, shows them grasping at straws and a serious lack of knowledge, lack of basic business practices (both above board, and the shady business dealings in life). Wes has been with CAA in an official role for 3-5 years now, though he’s been long-time friends with Leon Rose (CAA Agent). The entire benefit for him to steer a player to a certain program (any program), would be done so with the understanding that the player would be steered back to Rose or CAA. I scratch your back, you scratch my back. Simple concept.

    Fact is, hardly any of Cal’s players over the years (including his highest echelon players) haven’t signed with Rose or CAA. Its not like they have signed with some smaller independent firms or agents (as some players choose to do), but most have instead signed with CAA’s biggest competition (Tellem, Duffy, Wasserman, FAME, Fegan, Excel, etc etc). The players who HAVE signed with Rose? Liggins…who as much as we like his hustle, is a borderline NBA player in the league (and recruited by BCG, I believe), and then just Bledsoe and MKG.

    And if its about steering players, in more general terms, to Nike schools due to his relationship with Phil Knight and Lebron…well c’mon, nearly 83 percent of the NBA wears Nike. (Two of the bigger stars in the game that don’t wear Nike: Derrick Rose & John Wall).

    Its simple. Cal does not hold players back from getting to the money. 17 year old kids, as do all of us, would rather have boatloads of money in-hand than a second year of 9am classes and a coach that will put the reigns on them simply for the personal benefit of having that player a year longer. So the best of the best, the ones that see that NBA money as realistic, see Memphis (under Cal) and Kentucky (under Cal) as the means to the money..and there is nothing wrong with that. Not to mention that the dribble drive is more of an attacking NBA-style system that highlights individual player skills (getting to hoop for 1s and 2s, knocking down shots for 2 and 3s, crashing boards for 4s and 5s.) How many NBA offenses actually work through the post. Hardly any. The Motion Offense of the 1950s & 60s is antiquated and todays kids are smart enough (or have the people around them that are smart enough) to realize that such a system won’t help them best showcase their talents top the next level. Well….thats my four cents.

  29. Jim 1
    10:10 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    If Pitino really loved UK why did he take the job with our #1 enemy? Now he wants to make the d-birds #1 in the commonwealth and I think that appeases his large ego.

    On the other hand it appears that Cal is really a players first coach and he cares more about his love for UK than himself. In that lies a huge difference between the two. Pitino & Cal are both great coaches but to me Cal is the better man.

  30. boone
    10:10 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    you’re not wrong walter. you’re just an a$$hole.

  31. RahRah
    10:27 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    Coach Cal all day every day! Love the guy.
    NEVER was a Pitino fan. Was and still is a “Coach First” kind of guy. Morally bankrupt, disloyal, moody, secretive. Glad he’s gone because he’s much more fun to hate than to try to like.

  32. Mike
    10:31 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    Exactly14. Why are we even doing this what if. We have the best recruiter and the best Coach in college basketball right now! PERIOD! Can we not just enjoy the success that Cal has brought to UK? Stop with the nonsense of comparing and be thankful for what we have!!! And THAT’S THE BEST COACH AND PLAYERS!!!!!!’n

    10:37 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    All Cal, everything. Got Cats. Go Cal.

  34. Bob Sakamento
    10:45 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    I’ve been a UK fan for 26 yrs. of the 28 that I have lived. I can’t remember who I rooted for the first two years, I do remember saying the word bottle a lot, don’t know what happened to that team though. I would definitley have to side with Cal as the better of the two. Both coaches had great athletes on their teams, but the difference to me is the general personality of the two men. As one of the earlier comments said,”who would you rather have a lunch with?” I know with Cal it would be a genuine conversation. With Rick I would always be preoccupied with all the stains on the table cloth.

  35. Rj
    10:58 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    31- I’m sure you were saying those things when rick was at UK

  36. Big Whoop
    11:00 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    Pitino did have some skeletons when he came here from his time at Hawaii. Recruiting violations.

    While he built some great teams at Kentucky, it took him some time to do it. Cal comes in and UK is an immediate sensation. While many don’t like Cal, he’s never had a 15 seconds of fame.

    I never liked Pitino when he was here, because it was all about him. Given a choice, I would take Calipari any day. I’m glad Pitino is at Louisville. They deserve each other.

  37. CatBlue in LR
    11:04 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    BTI said Rick’s reputation was fairly untarnished when he came to UK. Compared to Cal’s, that’s probably true. But I remember some of the investigative pieces that went back and looked at his part in a minor recruiting scandel at Hawaii. Seems like there also might have been something at Syracuse when he was on Boehiem’s staff. We were all very sensitive to that kind of thing at the time, coming out of the Sutton scandel.

  38. Jim
    11:06 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    Lotta revisionist history here

  39. BluKudzu
    11:11 am July 25, 2013 Permalink

    Pitino is not without his run-ins with the NCAA. As far as X’s and O’s, master of the game, Why didn’t he guard the in-bound pass against Duke, or have his guys put their hands in his face to make the shot more difficult? Give me a break. Pitino did a great job here and left. He came back to Kentucky to go to UL. Slick Rick at his best. That should really instill trust in a coach.

  40. Bluebarn
    12:26 pm July 25, 2013 Permalink

    I like Cal for the simple reason that I feel he promotes the players more than himself. Not so much with Pitino. That being said, I did love the fact that we got to see the players grow and evolve over a three or four year period rather than the six or seven months we get to know them now (Can you imagine how beloved MKG and Anthony Davis would have been if they stayed around for a longer period of time?) That feeling of involvement with the players lives is what you miss. You can see a Liggins make a turnaround,you can see a Jorts jump-up and surprise everyone, and you can see the trials and tribulations of Darius Miller over his career.
    It is not the fault of the new players or the coach that they are now only here for a short period of time, it is just our microwave society and the institutions that dictate the rules.
    So let’s just enjoy them while we have them.

  41. Steve
    12:38 pm July 25, 2013 Permalink

    Cal’s ultra successful recruiting in his 1st year plus the amazing play of the 1st year players has gotten Cal into the I gotta recruit great every year or we will suck see 2012-2013 after Nerlens got injured. Every team that has went to the NCAA tournament has lost it’s core except for Jones and Lamb from 2011 Final Four team.
    Pitino had the luxury of building after getting and riding Mashburn for 3 years which would have NEVER happened in this day and age. Pitino embraced BBN at the beginning of his 8 years because he needed the crowd atmosphere but as time passed he thought BBN was mostly uneducated and redneck. Cal may think it but has never shown the Pitino arrogance which has only grown with time.

  42. Bunny
    3:43 pm July 25, 2013 Permalink

    Not bad for an “intern” – actually pretty good. Keep it up BTI!

  43. Marion county
    5:39 pm July 25, 2013 Permalink

    Pitino saved the program from probation. uk went on to win another championship under Tubby before Cal got here. What Cal has done is great but what Pitino did in 3 years with Kentucky kids UK would NEVER look at anymore is amazing. Point goes to Pitino!

  44. ashley shaffer
    9:39 pm July 25, 2013 Permalink

    Not a bad article BTI…Although I currently loathe Pitino, I would say at his pinnacle he was slightly more popular than Cal… That being said, I think Cal is a better fit and relates to the people of Kentucky better and truly “gets it” more that Pitino ever did….

  45. Brian
    8:16 pm July 26, 2013 Permalink

    BTI – I heard you on the radio saying 75% agreed with you. I had to come back and read this again to make sure. Your math is off is you think 75% agreed with you about Pitino being more liked at his peak. Cal does more for the community. Is more personable. Immediately made UK relevant where as it took Pitino a couple years to get us back.

    For me, and as far as I can tell… the majority… Calipari rules over Pitino even at his peak.