Reports: John Calipari finalizing deal to leave Kentucky for Arkansas head coaching job

After a string of early NCAA tournament exits in recent years, John Calipari is leaving Kentucky after all

John Calipari is leaving Kentucky after all.

Calipari is finalizing a five-year deal to become the next head coach at Arkansas, according to multiple reports on Sunday night. The deal, according to ESPN's Pete Thamel, is expected to be completed within the next 24 hours.

The longtime Wildcats head coach would replace Eric Musselman, who left Arkansas earlier this month for the open USC job.

According to The Athletic, talks between Arkansas and Calipari "intensified" over the weekend. Calipari has referred to John Tyson, who is the billionaire heir to the Tyson Foods empire and a major Arkansas donor, as a "longtime friend" in the past, too.

Calipari is reportedly the second-highest-paid coach in the country earning more than $8.5 million per season, which has him behind only Kansas’ Bill Self. Calipari’s salary is more than double what Musselman was making at Arkansas. The school reportedly offered Ole Miss coach Chris Beard around $5 million earlier this month, but that deal never came to fruition, according to ESPN. Arkansas also approached Kansas State coach Jerome Tang about the job, but Tang stayed in Manhattan.

Calipari has been at Kentucky since 2009, and he made several dominant runs early in Lexington. The Wildcats made the Final Four in four of his first six seasons with the program and they won a national title in 2012. They’ve won six SEC regular season titles under his watch, too.

John Calipari is reportedly in line to become the next head coach at Arkansas. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
John Calipari is reportedly in line to become the next head coach at Arkansas. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Lately, however, it's been a bit of a struggle there for him. The Wildcats are just 1-4 in their last five NCAA tournament games. They were knocked out of the tournament this year by No. 14 seed Oakland in the first round. They fell as a No. 2 seed to No. 15 Saint Peter’s in 2022, too.

After their latest exit, calls for Calipari’s job grew much louder, even with his $33 million contract buyout. Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart confirmed on social media after their tournament loss that Calipari would return for a 16th season with the program next fall, and Calipari himself said he was committed to getting the program back on track.

“That is a commitment that I give to the fans," Calipari said on his radio show last month. “Now let’s come together and let’s go do something special. We can do it. We’ve done it. Let’s do it again.”

Now, though, it seems that Calipari has changed his mind. And since he's leaving on his own, the $33 million buyout isn't in play here.

Calipari was asked about his impending move to Arkansas on Monday afternoon while he was walking his dog, but he declined to comment.

Calipari will now be tasked with keeping Arkansas moving in the right direction after Musselman’s departure. The Razorbacks went just 16-17 last season and missed the NCAA tournament, but they made the Sweet 16 three times and the Elite Eight twice in Musselman’s five years in Fayetteville. It was by far their best stretch of basketball since the 1990s, when the program won its only national championship.

It’s unclear who will replace Calipari at Kentucky, which is one of the most coveted jobs in the sport. But most of the top jobs around the country have already been filled. Regardless of who takes his spot, it’s sure to be a very heated battle the first time that Calipari has to return to Rupp Arena with the Razorbacks next season.