Arkansas close to finalizing deal to make John Calipari the next head coach

LEXINGTON, Ky.— Longtime Kentucky coach John Calipari was in negotiations to potentially leave and take the men’s basketball coaching job at Arkansas, multiple outlets reported late Sunday.

Arkansas officials have been in discussions with Calipari about the opening, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported, citing anonymous sources. ESPN, also citing anonymous sources, reported that Calipari is finalizing a five-year deal.

The 65-year-old Hall of Fame coach has spent the last 15 seasons at Kentucky. Athletic director Mitch Barnhart recently said Calipari would return, despite calls for his firing following the Wildcats’ third consecutive early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky was seeded third in March Madness, but fell 80-76 to No. 14 seed Oakland in the first round. This latest loss in Pittsburgh came a year after the Wildcats were ousted in the second round, and two years after they were upset as a No. 2 seed by 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s in their NCAA opener.

Kentucky’s quick exit drew immediate calls for Calipari’s firing on sports talk shows and social media, with many criticizing his reliance on so-called “one and done” freshmen and Kentucky’s defensive weaknesses. Calipari’s dismissal would’ve triggered a $33 million buyout under terms of a lifetime contract signed in 2019; there is no buyout if he leaves for another job.

Calipari has a 410-122 record at Kentucky, including the 2012 national championship and three other Final Four appearances (2011, 2014 and 2015 ). His teams have reached the tournament 12 times in all.

“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 five days after the loss to Oakland.

Calipari and Barnhart met privately after the season ended.

“That’s part of athletics and dealing with that, trying to get better, trying to figure out how do we do this together,” Calipari said, according to the Democrat-Gazette. “What do we need to do? I think one of the things that I’ve said about the meeting was Mitch saying, ‘How can I help you? What can we do to help you get where you’re trying to get this thing?’ And we talked about three or four things, but that’s when you’re coaching.”

Overall, Calipari has an 813-260 record in 32 seasons as a college head coach. He led UMass to the 1996 Final Four and also spent more than two seasons as coach of the New Jersey Nets before returning to the college ranks at Memphis.

Eric Musselman spent the last five years as Arkansas coach before leaving last week to become Southern California’s coach.

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