John Calipari has discussed his 10-year, $86 million ‘lifetime contract’ a few times since it became official this summer, but hearing him talk about being at Kentucky for the rest of his career never really gets old, does it? At a preseason roundtable with reporters last week, Calipari said that after ten years in Lexington, he’s still so invigorated by the work he’s doing he can’t imagine leaving.
“I would think anybody that knows me – if you’re talking to me, chances of me leaving here are nil,” Calipari said. “I was in the Hall of Fame and one of the guys there came up to me and just said, ‘So, you’re not going to go to the NBA, are you?’ I said, ‘No, why?’ I’m at Kentucky. If I were at some place else, and I’m in the muck of this stuff, I’m in the middle of all the muck, I’d probably say, ‘Enough. I’m out.’”
We’ve heard him say it before, but Calipari reiterated that he loves his job because it gives him the ability to change lives, something that wouldn’t necessarily happen in the NBA.
“I still enjoy recruiting because I enjoy meeting people. I enjoy hearing their stories. I know we’re not going to get every kid. I just don’t want to be dragged around the country for a hat. Don’t want that. But everything else, I’m fine with. Second thing is, this stage. I have the ability to put people on this stage and to change the lives. I mean, I’m in those homes. I see how they were raised. I see how mothers were working three jobs. One mother didn’t have a car, walked two miles to the job and now all of a sudden, they can breathe? That is this stage.”
Calipari admitted that the grind of being Kentucky’s coach gets harder as he grows older, but as he ages, he also feels a growing responsibility to give back to the profession, even if that means listening to friends who call him for advice — like UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerro did in the spring.
“I listened because I should listen. Most of the people I’m talking to, I know. Most of the time I talk to people, it’s to help other people. So, I’m trying to help someone else get something. And you try to make things better for kids. If they ask me, ‘How would you do it here?’ I’ll tell them, ‘You’ve got to do this, this, and this,’ and everything I talk about is for kids. ‘What’s your setup? How do you do this? How do they live? How do you take care of them? What’s your’ – you know, all the stuff. ‘Do you use camps to help kids work, get a summer job, to do your camp instead of something else? How do you do this?’”
You can feel Calipari’s eyes roll when someone calls his deal a “lifetime contract,” but he used the term as an example of the faith Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart has in his employees.
“Mitch had a great line to everybody in the department – because, you know, we’re not firing people here. They leave for better positions or whatever – he said, ‘You all have a lifetime position here. Just do your job and do it well and you’ve got a lifetime job here. I’m not going to let anybody go.’ And it’s true, which is why the athletic department is doing things on the level they’re doing them on and why we just continue to do better for the kids, do better with the facilities.
“And I appreciate the fact that they want me to be here. And my thing was, I don’t want to coach until I’m 70 but I still want to be paid something, so that was – why are you laughing?”