Today I am engulfed in the post-Derby malaise, but I still have to acknowledge the tremendous performance put on by our coach yesterday. Just a month into Calipari’s reign, we have been accused on this of both being too positive and too negative about him, thus showcasing that no matter what, with some we cant win. But even if is overly gushing, watching Calipari deal with Jeanine Edwards yesterday showcased to me, why he will knock it out of the park in Lexington.
Its no secret to anyone that the whole Jeanine/Coach of Kentucky thing is…at the very least awkward. Her interviews with Billy Clyde were the start of a changing of perception of the former Coach that culminated in his departure just six weeks later. I have been told by more than one person close to the administration that the second Edwards interview during the Florida game, in which he knew everyone would be watching and he still acted like a bit of a jerk, was a huge issue with UK President Lee Todd. I have always said that if Clyde had handled that differently, possibly joking with Jeanine and after her first question, saying it was a “great question”, he would have made a huge issue a non-issue. But he didnt and the name “Jeanine Edwards” became one that in the Commonwealth, will always be associated with the Fall of the House of Clyde.
Calipari obviously knew that history as well….but what does he do? He takes an awkward situation and makes it brilliant. After Edwards’ first question about his high salary, rather than complain, he makes a joke and says, “didnt you have an issue with the other guy?” Edwards laughs (or swoons depending on your viewpoint), and Calipari manages to make a smooth deflection of her attempt at a biting question. Then later, after she mistakenly says that Louisville made a Final Four, Calipari corrects her without embarrassing her by saying, “when did that happen?” Everyone in Big Blue land knows she screwed up (and in the worst way possible), but Calipari handles it with a smooth style that makes him look like the nice, smooth guy and not the insufferable jerk. A brilliant move, and one that seemed to come naturally.
See that is the difference and why Calipari will be such a success here. Coaching at Kentucky is about being bigger than life. Rupp knew that and so did Rick Pitino. Joe B and Tubby didnt embrace that role, but they didnt affirmatively try to deny it either. Billy Clyde not only wouldnt accept it, he actively rebeled against it. Calipari is the opposite…he is Elvis, PT Barnum and Obama, all in one…a rockstar who can sell anything, all while being a cool customer….that is a recipe for success. It isnt that you have to do such interviews to be a good coach and it isnt that doing such interviews would excuse if you arent a good coach. But if you can do both at the same time, you can become a legend. Calipari is heading down that path…even if it is just a month in.