John Calipari finalizing deal to leave Kentucky for Arkansas: report

In what’s shaping up to be a significant SEC shift, John Calipari is reportedly finalizing a deal to become Arkansas’ head basketball coach following 15 seasons at Kentucky.

The contract is for five years and would pay Calipari just under the $8.5 million he made annually at Kentucky, with the possibility to exceed that salary through incentives, according to ESPN.

Calipari, a 2015 inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, would replace Eric Musselman, who last week left Arkansas for USC after five seasons with the Razorbacks.

The 65-year-old Calipari led Kentucky to four Final Four appearances and won the 2012 national championship with the Wildcats but has not advanced past the second round of the NCAA Tournament since 2019. That dry spell includes first-round losses to No. 15-seeded St. Peters in 2022 and No. 13-seeded Oakland last month.

Following this year’s tournament upset, speculation swirled that Calipari could be done in Lexington, prompting athletic director Mitch Barnhart to release a statement publicly committing to the coach’s return.

“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.

Firing Calipari would have left Kentucky on the hook for $33 million, but the school would owe him nothing if he left for another job, according to ESPN. The key connection between Calipari and Arkansas is reportedly his relationship with billionaire John H. Tyson, the chairman of Tyson Foods and an Arkansas alumni and donor.

Calipari boasts a 410-123 record with Kentucky, where his recruiting classes regularly rank among the best in college basketball. Anthony Davis, John Wall, Julius Randle, Devin Booker and De’Aaron Fox are among the stars who played under Calipari at Kentucky.

Calipari previously led UMass and Memphis to Final Four appearances, making him one of only two coaches to take three schools that far. The other is Rick Pitino, now of St. John’s.

Between his stints at UMass and Memphis, Calipari coached parts of three seasons with the then-New Jersey Nets from 1996-99, posting a 72-112 record with one playoff appearance.

Arkansas missed the tournament this season at 16-17. At 6-12 in SEC play, Arkansas finished 12th out of the 14 teams in the conference. Kentucky went 23-10 overall and 13-5 against the SEC.