John Calipari Coaching History: Why Arkansas Move Makes Sense

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Kentucky coach John Calipari reacts as he calls for a flagrant foul against Arkansas during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, in Fayetteville, Ark.
(AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Chase Kiddy @chaseakiddy Apr 09, 2024, 10:04 AM
  • John Calipari’s coaching history covered 15 seasons at the University of Kentucky.
  • Early reports indicate Calipari will be paid nearly $8 million at Arkansas.

College basketball is kicking off the 2024 offseason with pretty stunning news. 

John Calipari – one of the only seven active college basketball coaches who have won a men’s national championship – is departing his position at the University of Kentucky for a different SEC coaching job. Starting in the 2024-25 season, Calipari will be the head man at Arkansas.

The move will have wide-ranging implications in the world of college basketball odds, including BetMGM’s college basketball national championship odds marketplace. 

John Calipari Coaching Career

SchoolYears
Arkansas2024-
Kentucky2009-24
Memphis2000-09
UMass1988-96

John Calipari Leaving Kentucky Makes a Ton of Sense

On April 8, college basketball fans woke up to the news that Calipari was finalizing a deal to move from Kentucky to Arkansas. On the surface level, this may seem shocking. To the untrained eye, it may even look like a step down to move west from Lexington to Fayetteville.

Few would argue that Arkansas is a better basketball program than Kentucky. But Calipari is an aging coach who’s working for a fan base with extremely high expectations. As the head coach of the Wildcats, he’s 410-123 with a national championship under his belt; still, you can practically hear the growing chorus of fans yelling at him from inside of your living room. 

Calipari is a really good coach. However, he’s a coach that’s been market-corrected harder than any other name in men’s college basketball over the last decade. 

Go back 10-15 years ago. College basketball was at a crossroads with the one-and-done phenomenon, with the tradition and prestige of older, senior-laden teams clashing with the growing trend of NBA prospects using college basketball as a stepping stone to the professional game. 

During that time, Calipari was the college coach who most nakedly accepted college basketball as a transitional phase for NBA-bound teenagers, more than a sport beloved on its own terms by millions of Americans. That embrace helped him recruit better players than anyone in the late 2000s and early 2010s. 

The results spoke for themselves. His Memphis team advanced to the national championship round in 2008. After he moved to Lexington, his teams went on deep run after deep run. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins went to the Elite Eight in 2010. Starting in 2011, Calipari’s Kentucky teams went to the Final Four an incredible four times in five years. He won the national championship with Anthony Davis in 2012. 

It’s one of the more impressive runs any coach has had in a long time. But as the 2010s wore on, it wasn’t just Calipari that was embracing the one-and-done model. That took away the biggest advantage Calipari had over the rest of the field at the peak of his collegiate coaching powers.

Calipari’s Kentucky teams were still successful after 2015 and often finished with lofty rankings in the top 25. But from 2016 through 2024, his teams made it past the first round of the NCAA Tournament only three times. Kentucky was upset by a No. 15 seed in 2022 and a No. 14 seed in 2024. 

Calipari is 65 now, and his best advantage he ever had as a coach has been diffused throughout college basketball. He’s still a good coach, but he’s not one of the unquestioned top names in the sport. 

As Calipari enters the final stretch of his coaching career, it makes sense to leave Lexington’s sky-high expectations and go somewhere with more modest demands. 

John Calipari NCAA Tournament Record 

John Calipari’s official record in the NCAA Tournament is 37-12. 

The official record discounts some wins at UMass (1996) and Memphis (2008), which were later vacated following the results of NCAA investigations. 

John Calipari Contract

Early reports indicate that Calipari will be inked to a five-year deal at Arkansas that will pay close to $8 million per year.

At Kentucky, Calipari was paid about $8.5 million for the 2023-24 season, which landed him second on the list of highest-paid college basketball coaches

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About the Author

Chase Kiddy

Read More @chaseakiddy

Chase Kiddy is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and everywhere else. He has also written for a number of print and online outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily News-Record, and HERO Sports. His first novel, Cave Paintings, is in development.

Chase Kiddy is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and everywhere else. He has also written for a number of print and online outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily News-Record, and HERO Sports. His first novel, Cave Paintings, is in development.