Well, we did it. We got him.
At around 9:30 this morning, new Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari took the stage on campus for the first time, ready for the task at hand. That task? Reclaim the kingdom for Wildcat fans everywhere. Not an enviable proposition, by any stretch of the imagination. But I think today if we can agree on one thing, it’s that he’s the guy to do it. ESPN called us a “superpower” this morning. And on the week of the Final Four, a program that lost in the third round of the NIT — to Notre Dame, no less — we’re the headline. And that means Cal is doing his job already.
And he seems to understand his new power, unlike the outgoing coach. With news coming through that Calipari not only consulted Joe B. Hall and even Eddie Sutton, but wishes to meet “every player to wear the uniform,” we as fans have a dream realized. A dream that we’d have a coach again who knows what it means, all the tradition, all the fanfare. Could it be we have a coach with the same reverence for the program that we have? Now that’s scandalous.
Being the coach of Kentucky means more than coaching, as Lee Todd inferred at the same dreaded press conference where we let a former coach go and heard the chilling word “search” uttered once again. You’re not just the coach — you’re the Norman Schwarzkopf, Queen of England and Circus Ringmaster. And the fact that Calipari knows this is chilling indeed.
During his press conference this morning, Coach Cal, as we can officially now call him, called himself “humbled and excited.” He opened with a testimonial to Mr. Wildcat himself, honoring the anniversary of his death. He referenced the past greats, from coaches to players. Personable and affable, Calipari spoke of discipline, tradition and making the entire commonwealth “proud of this team on and off the court.” He spoke of this job as “fulfilling a dream.” He made no promises. He spoke on recruiting “the best of the best.” He appeared before us today as a man who knows what lies ahead — and who is ready for that.
Lee Todd and Mitch Barnhart, much derided on these very message boards as well as the Tomlin household on more than a few colorfully-worded occasions, deserve a tremendous credit for what they accomplished this week. By all accounts, it was tenuous and uncertain at times, but they hooked the marlin. I’d encourage all of us, regardless of past missteps, to applaud them mightily for that.
Now it begins. A climb back to the greatness that everyone reading this knows we deserve. We may have a ridiculous sense of entitlement at the University of Kentucky, but that sense of entitlement is what makes us not only the most fervent fans in the country, but the most dedicated. Basketball isn’t simply passing fancy for us. We analyze the players, the coaches, the style, even the substitution patterns. The rest of the country is hard on us for this — but it means something here.
It’s been a tumultuous few years for UK fans. We’ve had to watch television sports pundits hail our greatest rivals. We’ve struggled with coaching. We’ve seen teams in “turmoil.” Our hearts have slowly been breaking. But we never turned our backs on the program. We simply wanted it to be strong again. That’s all we’ve ever wanted. Pardon our frothing mouths from time to time.
Today is a day that rivals the excitement I’ve personally ever felt for the UK basketball program. And I’d wager I’m not the only one who feels that way. The greatest coaches are the ones who receive celebrations not only when they arrive, but when they leave. A coach like John Calipari is precisely the type of classic coach who can accomplish just that, but provide some solid celebrations in between. He’s proven. He’s strong. He’s good. And now he’s here in Kentucky. And we’re somebody again.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown. But I wouldn’t want it on anyone else’s head than John Calipari’s right now. We’re behind you every step of the way. Welcome to Kentucky, Coach. Go get ’em.