A day after Kentucky resignation, John Calipari is announced as Arkansas' new coach

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - MARCH 20: Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats speaks during practice day at PPG PAINTS Arena on March 20, 2024 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
John Calipari is officially Arkansas' new head coach. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

John Calipari is formally Arkansas’ head coach a day after his resignation from Kentucky.

The Razorbacks announced Wednesday that Calipari is the school’s new men’s basketball coach. He replaces Eric Musselman after Musselman left for USC.

“By all accounts, John Calipari is one of the premier coaches in college basketball,” Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek said in a statement. “A national championship coach, a four-time national coach of the year and one of the nation’s top recruiters, Coach Cal has consistently demonstrated his ability to attract outstanding talent and build championship teams within the Southeastern Conference and position his programs among the best in the nation.

Arkansas said Calipari had agreed to a five-year contract that starts at $7 million per season. He's taking a base salary pay cut with the Razorbacks after making over $9 million per season at Kentucky, though his contract includes a signing bonus, retention bonuses and incentives for making the NCAA tournament.

Calipari had been Kentucky’s head coach since 2009 and the school won the 2012 national championship with Anthony Davis. However, Kentucky hasn’t been able to replicate that NCAA tournament success over the past decade. In the 12 years since that title, Kentucky has missed the NCAA tournament twice and hasn’t made the Final Four since 2015.

The last straws for Calipari at Kentucky came in 2022 and 2024. Two seasons ago, the Wildcats entered the tournament as a No. 2 seed and lost in the first round to No. 15 Saint Peter’s. Just a few weeks ago, Kentucky was a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament and lost to No. 14 Oakland in the first round.

Not long after that loss to Oakland, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said Calipari would be back as the team’s coach. That return made financial sense, even if it didn’t make basketball sense to many Kentucky fans. It would have cost the school over $30 million if it wanted to move on from Calipari.

The opening at Arkansas made for an easy exit for both parties. Musselman left to take the job at USC after USC coach Andy Enfield departed Los Angeles for SMU. Arkansas was looking for a splash hire to replace Musselman, and Fayetteville could be a fresh start for Calipari. And most importantly for Kentucky, the school wouldn’t have to pay Calipari his buyout if he left for another job.

At Arkansas, Calipari takes over a program with much more recent NCAA tournament success. Arkansas made the Elite Eight in both 2021 and 2022 and made the Sweet 16 as a No. 8 seed in 2013. This past season, Arkansas missed the tournament and finished the season at 16-17.

With the Wildcats, Calipari relied heavily on five-star freshmen who didn’t stay long before heading to the NBA. Will he keep that recruiting strategy at Arkansas? Kentucky was set to have the No. 2 recruiting class in the country in 2024 with a group of five recruits that includes three five-star players.

When Calipari announced his resignation Tuesday afternoon, he didn't mention that he was heading to Arkansas. But the move simply felt like a formality after multiple reports emerged Sunday night that he was leaving for the Razorbacks.

With Calipari officially at Arkansas, Kentucky can embark on a search for its next head coach. UK is still one of the most attractive head coaching jobs in all of men's basketball given the program's deep resources. There should be no shortage of Power Five candidates for Barnhart to choose from.