Everything John Calipari said during his first press conference as Arkansas basketball coach

John Calipari was officially unveiled as the Arkansas men’s basketball coach Wednesday night to much pomp and circumstance at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

Calipari — who officially stepped down as the Kentucky basketball coach Tuesday after leading the Wildcats for 15 seasons — has signed a five-year contract with Arkansas with a $7 million annual salary.

The contract — which also includes a $1 million signing bonus and retention bonuses of $500,000 each year of the deal — runs through the end of the 2028-29 season. There’s also a maximum of two automatic rollover years for NCAA Tournament appearances that would extend the deal through the 2030-31 season.

Calipari’s unveiling in Fayetteville began with a celebratory event in the Razorbacks’ home gym in front of a large crowd of Arkansas decision-makers, athletic coaches and fans. That event featured a short, moderated conversation with Calipari.

Then, Calipari held his first press conference as the Arkansas coach, answering questions from media members for nearly 30 minutes.

This was Calipari’s first press conference since the Kentucky basketball season ended last month with an upset loss to Oakland in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Here’s everything Calipari said during his first press conference at Arkansas.

Question about coming to Arkansas with the hopes of returning to the Final Four.

I called Kelvin Sampson. He and I are dear friends, and I said, “Tell me about (Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek).” Well, he almost jumped through the phone, and I said, “What are you talking about?” I talked to his assistant who used to work for me, Bilal, and he said, “When you need things done, then he goes and does it. He’s, ‘What can I do to help you, and then we’re going to get it done.’”

I mean, what he did at Houston, the building, the practice facility, all this stuff. What Kelvin needed so he could coach basketball. That got me to where I had to listen, because I’m going to say it again, basketball coaches win games. Administrations win championships, and you know why? Because they want to, and it’s important to them. Some of the phone conversations, because the meeting we had, as a matter of fact, he’ll tell you. How much time did we spend on it? (Yurachek says about 15 minutes).

It was 15 minutes, because I got what I needed to hear. We spent no time on that. It was a commitment to what he wanted to do, and working with somebody, he’s a basketball player. Were you any good?

(Hunter, who played at Guilford College, says he wasn’t a very good player).

OK, neither was I, so we’re on the same page. This program, you talk about some of the best jobs in the country in basketball, this is one of them. You can say what you want. This is one of them. This is a state that I’m comfortable in. It’s how I grew up.

I can’t wait to go around the state and meet people and be in situations where they’re going to say, “He’s a regular guy,” I hope. I don’t think I’m this magician. People look at me different than I look at myself.

This thing, when we sat down, somebody said what about Wednesday? Never entered my mind about coaching (Arkansas), one week ago. It never entered my mind. Thursday night was, “Hey I need you. My friend John Tyson. Whatever John Tyson would ask me to do, I’m doing. (Tyson said) I need you to meet with our AD. He’s going to go through some stuff. I want you to talk to him and help him out. He’s a good man. You’re going to love meeting him.” And we did. All of a sudden, Saturday and Sunday, we did. I said I’m not doing anything during this championship. These kids have done too much. They deserve it. It got out, but we didn’t speak. Neither one of us spoke. We’re not talking about it. You can insinuate all you want.

And then, I needed a day, and then it was Tuesday morning, and it was OK, “Let’s go with this.” To be at a place like this (Arkansas).

To do what I was able to do at Kentucky. I was happy. I mean, I loved it there. My wife loved it there. You know what? Fifteen years, I was there. Did everything I could. Gave every ounce of everything I could, and you know what? I’m jacked about another opportunity. I’m like, “Let’s go.”

Now, I met with the team. There is no team. Hunter is extremely confident (in Calipari’s recruiting ability), but we’ve got to get a roster together. And some of it is a little bit of everything, but we will. It may take a little longer because there are kids that put their name in the NBA draft that are going to go through some of the process, which means, do you wait for that kid? Or do you go take somebody that’s not quite as good and you’re going to be juggling balls.

That’s what we do now. I said it out there (to the fans), my initial thing when he asked me the question, “I can’t leave this team, the players.” And it was Kelvin that said to me, “What are you talking about? They can go wherever they want. They can go wherever they want if you stay. You go or stay. They can go to another school, they can stay, they can go pro, they can do whatever they want now.”

I said, “You know what, I want to be happy with this, and I want to go and say let’s do this together.” I told Hunter, administrations win championships. Let’s do this together.

I love seeing the president (Chancellor Charles Robinson) out there. Is it the president? (Yurachek corrects him and says it’s the chancellor). Chancellor, I’m sorry. So it was fun.

Former Kentucky coach John Calipari was introduced as the new head coach at Arkansas on Wednesday in Fayetteville, Ark. Arkansas Athletics
Former Kentucky coach John Calipari was introduced as the new head coach at Arkansas on Wednesday in Fayetteville, Ark. Arkansas Athletics

Question about how Calipari will build his first roster at Arkansas.

If you’re not into basketball, you won’t come here. If you’re smoking, clubbing, drinking, chasing. This is about being at a place that has zeroed in on a culture that creates professional habits, and that includes academically.

We didn’t have any issues (at Kentucky), they all finished the term. We didn’t have any APR problems. We had 32 kids graduate, we had six graduate in three years. You can do all that, you can care about the kids and still win.

What’s changed a little bit is that kids are older. Now, do you know why they’re older? Why do you think we played against a 26-year-old in the NCAA Tournament against my 19-year-olds?

(The extra COVID year for student-athletes).

COVID a little bit. They’re giving a bunch of waivers and no one wants to leave because of NIL — ‘I’ll stay here and make more then I would going and getting a job and I’m still playing basketball.’

So that’s one of the issues, which means physical toughness and physicality matter more now than ever before. Now, you can have freshmen, but they better be physically tough.

The transfer portal, you’re getting some older players. But the other thing you have to understand, both Purdue and Connecticut had players that had been in their program three years. They didn’t leave, they were there three years.

So it’s not just go get a transfer.

Question about hiring a coaching staff at Arkansas.

That’s one of the first things I’ve got to get done and the only thing I can tell you, I had advice from Pat Nardelli, who is probably watching this. I was in Moon Township and I was working at Pitt. I grew up in Moon Township and he was one of the people who supported men’s basketball in high school. I was taking the UMass job and he grabbed me, he said, “Let me tell you something kid, you can have a bad deal with good people because stuff happens, but you can never have a good deal with bad people. I don’t care what it smells like, what they look like, what they can bring to you, stay away from bad people whether it’s staff or players.”

That’s what I’ve tried to do, if it’s a recruit, I’ll walk. If it’s a staff member, I may meet them once or twice and that’s it. We’re not going that way. Whatever we do, we’ll have good people who are driven and wired knowing that there is an expectation here and not being afraid of it.

I told my wife, “You really want to do this?’ (She said) “Yep. You’re brave, you’re courageous. We’re going to go, you know.”

And, again, nothing that happened about me coming here — I was running to this. Fans don’t move me that way. Do we have some fans here (at Arkansas) that get riled up? It’s everywhere in the country, not just at Kentucky, Arkansas or wherever else. They’re everywhere.

If I’m not going to ask for someone’s advice, I’m certainly not going to listen to their criticism. So, it is part of what we do. This fan base is so engaged, I love it. I don’t think I’ll have to sell tickets, am I?

Question about how odd it is to see Calipari in Arkansas gear.

I went on the plane and I had a dark blue thing on, and I was in the back by myself because I was trying to get ready for this. (Yurachek’s) wife and my wife, they’re in the middle and I took my thing off, the sweatshirt, and I was putting this on and somebody peeked their head.

I said, “I am not Eric Musselman, you do not want to look back here …” I said, “And if you did look back here, you’re going to turn the plane around and go back to Lexington, (and say) “Drop him off.”

Question about when he told Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek he was accepting the Arkansas job.

Probably Monday night. But my thing to him, probably at some point on Sunday was, I feel really good, just give me time. This is going to play … I think Monday night was when it was done, but it was probably 11 o’clock at night or later.

And then Tuesday morning, I did the (farewell) video and my wife did a video and then we did this. Can you imagine that it happened in three or four days?

Question about if Calipari ever imagined he’d be the Arkansas coach.

No, I could not ever envision that. It was, it was a good feeling to be honest with you. But no.

Question about Calipari taking the Arkansas job after passing on it earlier in his coaching career.

I didn’t think so Wednesday because it never entered my mind. I wasn’t looking for jobs. There were some other people that called me during this period of time. I don’t know if they knew, “Well maybe he wants to leave. They lost a game.”

And I mean, look, one game doesn’t make a career or what you’ve done. So I wasn’t saying or looking or, you know, and then all of a sudden, we meet. I really felt good about him (Yurachek). liked the vibe. I liked what I was hearing and it kind of played from there.

But that (introductory) press conference, I’d never seen anything like it like that right there was for me. Like we got off the plane, I was looking for Joe Biden. I’m like, “What is going on here?”

Question on Calipari’s roster-building approach.

I can’t tell you that (laughs). I’d be telling everybody else that.

Look, there’s going to be enough kids that would want to play here for us. That will be fine. I really believe that. And you know, whether I was at UMass or Memphis or at Kentucky, kids want to play for us and hopefully it’s because we put them first and their families know it.

Question about Calipari bringing his past relationships with players to Arkansas.

When you do everything you can to help a young man, you hold them accountable. You challenge them sometimes, are aggressive. But they know you care enough to keep them doing what they’re doing.

And they also know you never blame players when you lose. Never. You take responsibility as a grown man. You take responsibility. You never throw a player under the bus. And they know that. And they know I’ve stood up for every one of them. So at this point, my guess would be — and I haven’t seen it. I’ve looked at the internet.

I’m not a big internet guy, but if you tell me that they were saying good stuff, that makes me feel good. It confirms what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Question about Calipari changed his social media names to match being the Arkansas coach.

OK, so let me start by telling you. Folks, I don’t have a computer. I don’t have a computer. I have an iPad because when I travel, there’s movies on it. But also that I can put film on it and tape and stuff. And I know how to get most cases. I have an iPad. I don’t have a computer. I have never done Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, chitchat, whatever they are. I have never done those myself.

I’ve always had someone do it. Now, I will tell them what to put out. The responses are none of my business. If you like it, you don’t like it, it’s not my business. I don’t care. If you’d like to get nasty, have had it. Go to bed mad.

But I didn’t read it (the response on Twitter). You’re asking me something, to be honest, I don’t even know what you are talking about.

But I think social media is great for the fans. Did they put out the poster I talked about (with Nolan Richardson from the 1994 Tip-off Classic when Arkansas played UMass to open the season)? Isn’t that crazy? I’m at my desk and my assistant says, “Did you look behind you?” And I looked and it was Nolan Richardson and Corliss (Williamson). And I’m like, “This is crazy,” and I sent it to Coach Richardson. He said, “That doesn’t look like me.” It does look like him.

Question about the high school basketball talent in Arkansas and Calipari’s thoughts on in-state recruiting.

Malik (Monk) hit me and said he’s coming to the building. Marcus (Monk) hit me too.

It’s the first place you look. Are they good kids and are they good enough? If they are, we’ll recruit them. I did the same thing at Kentucky. Derrick Willis, Dominque Hawkins. Some of them are on different paths now. It may take them a little longer, but so what? Those kids are all professional.

Reed Sheppard. “Why did he take him? He’s never going to play him.”

What? I play the best players. ‘What do you mean you didn’t start him?’ He’s fine. He’s going to be a lottery pick. How about that? But I’ll do the same here. Archie Goodwin was a good player for us. But Malik was a really good player for us. I have to tell you, Malik never thought he took a bad shot. The reason was that he got it off. “What do you mean?” “What are you doing? You’ve got two people on you.” “I got it off.” But one of the greatest kids, really smart. His mother already hit me. Marcus already called me. “Mom’s going to cook for us. She said she’s coming to practice.” I love it.

I just told Coach (Ted) Owens, who I was with at Kansas for my first job. I was a volunteer assistant. So you know what a volunteer makes, right? That’s how I started. He was here tonight. Isn’t that great? He came from Tulsa to be here.

Question about Calipari’s conversations with former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson.

When I asked Hunter and I asked John (Tyson), “What did Coach Richardson say about me being hired?” What he said was, “He’s a great hire because he cares about the kids.” Made my day. Then I called and sent him the poster. He sounds great. He sounded like he’s always sounded.

Now, I haven’t been in his company yet, but I’m telling you what I heard. We talked about the game where he got smashed. He laughed. It just shows you that anybody can beat anybody in one game. They had the team back. They had 10 guys. We beat their brains in. It was 30.

He knew what happened in the game, he talked about it, he talked about his players. I told him that he’s always welcome here. I had Coach (Joe B.) Hall at almost every practice I had, before he got ill, telling me to play the 1-3-1. I’d imagine that he’s (Nolan Richardson) going to tell me that we have to press more.

Question about if Calipari thinks about how things would have gone if he became the Arkansas head coach earlier.

I haven’t. I don’t want to get all spiritual on you. I’m Catholic, making sure we have a Catholic church here in town. Hunter says we’ve got one on campus. I think you’re moved like I was moved to come here. You don’t know why until you look back and they say here’s why. Why was I pushed to Kentucky? No idea, but I was. Why was I pushed here? Why did we get together? Why did John Tyson even pick up the phone and call me?

I’m not saying no to John. He’s ain’t telling me to take a job or not, but if he wants me to do something, I’m going to listen because he’s been a great friend of mine.

Why did it happen? I even asked him, why would you even call me? He said, “Because I didn’t want to live with regrets knowing that I could call you and get you to meet with Hunter.” That’s what he said to me. I said, “Well, thank you.”

Why did it happen? If you believe what I believe, things happen for a reason. You’re pushed to areas. There’s something that I’m supposed to do here.

I don’t want my tombstone to have how many wins, or Hall of Fame, or national championship. I want it to be about how many lives you’ve touched and changed and made for the positive. So why, I don’t know. What would have happened back then? Hopefully, something really good that I was able to be involved in and help and do.

Question about who taught Calipari to be a players’ first coach.

Larry Brown told me early in my career. “If you care about the kids, authentically care about the kids” — and this was when I was at Kansas with him — “You’ll always have a job because they’ll always want to play for you, and whatever you do they’ll want to come to you. If you authentically care.”

The great thing about kids, they can smell it. They know (if) you’re a fraud. They know it. That’s what he (Larry Brown) taught me early. Do you add value? If you add value to young people, you’re always going to have a job. That means someone is going to say I want him to coach my guys.

I’ve lived by the two things — good people and care. Care more than anybody else. Now, caring doesn’t mean you are soft. … Come on, you’ve watched me coach. Has anybody been in my practices, anybody here?...

I mean, they’re hard.

Now, I don’t swear and cuss and throw balls … That’s not who I am, but the standard is really high. My job is to help them do stuff they didn’t think they could do and then let them feel good about that. That’s what I try to do.

Final comment from Calipari.

Folks, is this it? Good. I didn’t mean that. Yes, I did (smiles). Really appreciate everything today. One of the things I told the couple of players that were part of the team stuff, I felt bad for them. I feel bad that they are going through this.

Now, would they have gone through it whether the coach left? I feel bad that my guys are going through it, but it’s different than it was 10 years ago, five years ago, four years ago.

They now have the ability to do what they choose to do. I’m looking forward to this, you can tell. I’m excited, the fans seem to be excited. I haven’t coached a down, I don’t have a team. Please, let me get stuff together and then we’ll all be excited.

Cal the Hogs: Former Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari is introduced at Arkansas

John Calipari officially named new Arkansas coach. Here are the details of his contract.

Calipari’s recruiting success at UK was unmatched. The game changed, but that never did.

Baylor’s Scott Drew will not be the next Kentucky basketball coach. UK’s search continues.

Who’s next? Here’s the latest news in the Kentucky basketball coaching search.