Kentucky’s John Calipari in talks to become the next basketball coach at Arkansas

Kentucky’s John Calipari has been in talks with Arkansas to become the school’s next men’s basketball coach.

The Herald-Leader was told Sunday that Arkansas reached out to Calipari regarding the position following last week’s departure of Eric Musselman, who left Fayetteville after five seasons to become the new head coach at Southern Cal.

The Razorbacks’ pitch is backed by John Tyson, a major Arkansas booster and the CEO of Tyson Foods, the corporation based in the state. Tyson and Calipari have a longstanding relationship, and the Herald-Leader has been told that the billionaire has been the driving force behind Arkansas’ pursuit of the Kentucky coach.

Several national reports, as well as news outlets in Arkansas, also linked Calipari to the Razorbacks’ job opening Sunday. UK has not responded to a request for a comment on the situation, as of late Sunday night.

ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported Sunday night that Calipari was finalizing a five-year contract with Arkansas that was expected to be completed within the next 24 hours.

Calipari, who has spent the past 15 seasons as head coach of the Wildcats, has five years and $44.5 million remaining on his current contract with UK, though the program’s recent shortcomings in the NCAA Tournament led to speculation this offseason that his future in Lexington might be in jeopardy.

UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart announced on March 26 — five days after UK’s upset loss to 14-seeded Oakland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament — that Calipari would return for his 16th season in charge of the Wildcats. If UK had decided to part ways with Calipari this offseason, the university would have owed him $33.4 million, per the terms of the 10-year contract extension the two sides agreed to in 2019.

If Calipari leaves on his own, UK would not be owed any monetary compensation to let him out of his contract.

John Calipari took over as Kentucky’s coach in 2009 and led the Wildcats to four Final Fours and the 2012 national title in his first six years on the job.
John Calipari took over as Kentucky’s coach in 2009 and led the Wildcats to four Final Fours and the 2012 national title in his first six years on the job.

The following day, Barnhart and Calipari appeared in a joint TV appearance where they laid out their vision for the future of the program. Two days before that, Calipari appeared on his final radio show of the 2023-24 season, speaking very much like he planned to be back at Kentucky next season.

“We have a standard here,” Calipari said that night. “… My standard is we’re playing to play deep into the NCAA Tournament and compete for national titles. And win national titles. I wanted this job knowing that was the case. I love this job knowing that was the case. I never left this job. “But that’s what the standard is for me.”

Kentucky advanced to four Final Fours and won the 2012 national championship during Calipari’s first six seasons in charge of the program, but it’s been nine years since the Wildcats last made it to the Final Four, losing to Wisconsin in the 2015 national semifinals to finish with a 38-1 record.

UK made the Elite Eight in 2017 and 2019, but the Cats have won just one NCAA Tournament game in the past five years, advancing to the second round last season. The loss to Oakland last month came two years after UK’s stunning first-round upset at the hands of 15-seeded Saint Peter’s, the biggest upset in the history of the program.

Calipari, who turned 65 years old in February, has an overall record of 410-123 in 15 seasons as Kentucky’s coach. He is the longest-tenured UK coach since Adolph Rupp, who led the program from 1930 to 1972.

Kentucky also has the nation’s No. 2-ranked recruiting class coming in next season, a group that includes consensus five-star prospects Jayden Quaintance, Boogie Fland, Karter Knox and Billy Richmond, as well as four-star center Somto Cyril and top 100 national prospect Travis Perry, the all-time leading scorer in Kentucky high school basketball history.

If Calipari leaves for Arkansas, it’s likely that many of those players would reopen their recruitments, possibly following him to Fayetteville. UK also has 10 current players with remaining college eligibility, and most of those Wildcats have not yet made any announcements regarding their future.