29 Apr

Ex-Kentucky coach taking over Razorbacks is ‘imminent’

Kentucky coach John Calipari is expected to sign a contract to become the next coach at Arkansas, sources told CBS Sports. Calipari met with multiple Kentucky athletic administrators Monday afternoon, but UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart was not one of them, a source told CBS Sports. Calipari still has not signed a contract with Arkansas, but on Tuesday, the legendary coach posted a video to social media confirming his departure from Kentucky after 15 seasons leading the Wildcats.

Calipari and power players at Arkansas were involved in serious talks over the weekend, and by Sunday night, the school and Calipari entered into a verbal agreement, according to CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander. One source said Calipari becoming the Arkansas coach is “imminent” and a deal could could be finalized as soon as Tuesday.

Calipari’s deal is expected to be for five years and pay north of $8 million. The school’s biggest donors are also expected to inject millions more into Arkansas’ NIL collective, potentially putting the program atop the list in the sport for the largest pool of resources.

Sources told Norlander that the family of John Tyson, Arkansas Athletics’ biggest donor, is prepared to make a major commitment to land Calipari and pour millions into the men’s basketball program. Calipari has a longstanding close relationship with the Tyson family.

Calipari has spent the past 15 seasons as the leader of the Wildcats program and would remain in the SEC to succeed Eric Musselman, who took the vacant job at USC earlier this month if he were to accept an offer to become Arkansas’ next coach.

Barnhart told CBS Sports on Sunday night that Calipari had not notified him of talking to Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek about potentially becoming the next Arkansas coach. However, sources said UK officials had been made aware over the weekend through third parties that Calipari was looking into Arkansas and vice versa. The contract terms of Calipari’s deal with Kentucky mandate he must inform Barnhart if he engages with another school about a job interview.

The 65-year-old Calipari took the job at Kentucky in 2009 after spending nine seasons at Memphis. Calipari previously had stops as an assistant coach at Kansas (1982-85) and Pittsburgh (1985-88) and was the head coach at UMass from 1988-96. Calipari dipped his toes into the NBA world and was the coach of the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets) from 1996-99 and spent one season as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1999-2000 season.

The news of Calipari talking with Arkansas comes after an annual meeting with Barnhart at the end of each season. The conclusion from that meeting was Calipari would return for his 16th season with the program. The two appeared on local television as a sign of good faith moving forward.

“As we normally do at the end of every season, Coach Calipari and I have had conversations about the direction of our men’s basketball program and I can confirm that he will return for his 16th season as our head coach,” Barnhart said last month.

The Wildcats season ended with a loss to No. 14 seed Oakland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, a defeat that enraged the fan base and led to widespread speculation over Calipari’s future with the school. Kentucky failed to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season with the loss to the Golden Grizzlies. Kentucky missed the tournament in 2021 and lost to Saint Peter’s and Kansas State, respectively the two previous seasons.

In his 15 years at the school, Calipari compiled a 410-122 record with four Final Four appearances (2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015) and coached Kentucky’s last national championship team in 2012.

Calipari is known as one of the best high school recruiters in the country. Kentucky landed the No. 1 overall recruiting class in the 2023 cycle, which included standouts Reed Sheppard, Rob Dillingham, Justin Edwards, D.J. Wagner, and Aaron Bradshaw.

The Wildcats’ incoming recruiting ranked No. 2 in the country behind Duke. That recruiting class includes five-star center Jayden Quaintance, four-star guard Boogie Fland, four-star center Somto Cyril, four-star guard Travis Perry, four-star guard Billy Richmond, and four-star forward Karter Knox.

Sources told CBS Sports that Calipari’s bargaining with Arkansas included discussions about bringing aboard his freshman class, in addition to widened parameters over how he could recruit the transfer portal.

The Arkansas job opened after Musselman left to replace former USC coach Andy Enfield, who departed for the vacant job at SMU, which fired Rob Lanier after just two seasons. Musselman spent five seasons with Arkansas and helped them reach the Elite Eight twice and the Sweet 16 once during his tenure. Prior to Musselman taking Arkansas to the Sweet 16 in 2021, the school hadn’t made it that far since 1996.

The Razorbacks finished this season with a 16-17 record and (6-12 in SEC) and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time during Musselman’s tenure. Multiple Arkansas players such as Tramon Mark, Khalif Battle, and Davonte Davis have already entered the transfer portal.

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