“The other night we had a joint basketball-football banquet and Adolph Rupp was presented with a big four-door Cadillac. All I got was a cigarette lighter.”
Bear Bryant, decades ago, was frustrated by the favor the University of Kentucky gave to the basketball program, instead of football. Even though Bryant might have been kidding, and no such gifts were likely ever awarded, it was an allusion to the dominating grip basketball had in the Bluegrass, while the rest of the southeast was consumed with football. In 2012, it doesn’t look like anything has changed.
With Kentucky football off to a 1-3 start to the 2012 season, and new Twitter accounts like @TresselToUK popping up, the questions presents itself: “Can Kentucky support an elite football coach?”
Well, it didn’t work in the middle of the 20th century, and now that Calipari is the highest-paid NCAA basketball coach around, even though he’s definitely earned it, will a big-time football coach want to compete for attention?
In spite of speculation, it’s proper to warn that we’re unlikely to have a coaching change in the near future; the contract situation is such that the athletic department will probably be motivated to retain the current staff. But in a purely hypothetical way, it’s interesting to wonder what the University would be able to do should they want a coaching change.
As appealing as a coaching change might be to some fans, it’s important to understand that, as Bryant (jokingly) pointed out, any possible new coach will be second-fiddle. At almost every other school (excluding IU, UNC, Duke, and probably Louisville), football coaches are used to being the big man on campus. I doubt any one could come into Lexington and take the top-dog position from John Calipari. Tubby, maybe. BCG, definitely. But Calipari? Well, that’s just bad timing. Calipari has earned every bit of adoration he’s gotten so far from Kentucky fans, but it’d be almost impossible for a football coach to come in and get the same level of attention.
Not only has Calipari’s success made the head football coach position feel a little bit like a “sidekick” job, but his salary takes a big chunk out of the budget at $5.2 million after endorsements and bonuses. Consider that a coach like Nick Saban clears very nearly $6 million, and honestly ask if the University can reasonably support both. Calipari is already the highest-paid government employee, and now we want to double that salary? Seems hard to fathom.
Most schools that have success in both football and basketball put football first. Ohio State, Texas, Florida, and others all have some success with both sports. Ask any fan which is more important, and they’ll invariably say football. It’s simply not that way in Kentucky. Whether we’re good at basketball because we care more about it, or we care more about it because we’re good at it, the order is firmly in place: basketball first, football second.
As Bear Bryant showed, most towns aren’t big enough for two elite coaches. Those that are put football first. With no way to change BBN’s priorities, can we ever expect to have a premier coach?
Not if we keep giving them cigarette lighters…