Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why, Oh Wildcats?

A couple of years ago, Mitch Barnhart, who probably uses five seconds per move in a chess game, uses a 3-wood for a 90-yard fairway shot, swings at every pitch on a baseball diamond, reads Cliff's Notes instead of whole books, and, most importantly, runs Kentucky's athletics program, decided to "persuade to resign" basketball coach Tubby Smith on account of the fact that he was...I don't know, a good coach? When it was done, though I disagreed with it, I suggested they make a hire that required some actual thought: then-Butler coach Todd Lickliter. Predictably, Barnhart freaked out when he couldn't get his pie-in-the-sky dream pick, Florida's double-champion coach Billy Donovan, so he just hired the first guy who would say yes to the job offer.

Now, Billy Gillespie is out of his job with the Wildcats because UK didn't bother to properly research him before hiring him, and Barnhart's knee-jerk hire bit back. So naturally, after learning from his mistake, Barnhart has decided to sit down with some names, run them past some trustees and other university officials, get together with them in some secret conference room, go over the pluses and minuses of each candidate, then pick the best one based on the merits discussed in that secret conference room.

Oh wait, did I say that? What I actually meant to say was: about five minutes after some news cameramen chased Billie Gillespie out of UK's athletic offices, Memphis' John Calipari was all-but-hired, according to numerous media sources.

I'll get to back to Barnhart, but I wouldn't mind having a look at Calipari first. Players on his teams either struggle mightily for their 2.0 GPA or they simply do not graduate. Players on his teams are known for not being the greatest of role models, with locker room fights and off-the-court issues at both Massachusetts and Memphis. Calipari himself has come under suspicion with the NCAA Infractions Committee more than once, most notably when his 1996 Tournament run with UMass was stricken from the records. Plus, he's the only coach I know of who has received, in person, a death threat from another coach (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51-4sJTf7iQ). Oh, and that little blowup was because Coach Chaney thought Coach Cal was intimidating the referees a little too much, changing the outcome of the game.

I'm an Indiana fan, so let me tell you something about hiring coaches who don't graduate players, have problems on and off the court, and are disrespected by more people than respect them: it's generally not a good idea. Indiana tried it a couple years ago and, while the win-at-all-costs attitude worked for a year and a half, the fans got a little testy when the NCAA came knocking. Now our program has been blown to smithereens and we were lucky to pick up the coach that we got, because many people thought no coach in his right mind would want this mess.

Because of his shortcomings, the fact that his players don't fit the mold of "student-athlete" at all, and the fact that he got so much credit for Memphis' 30-win seasons when they played in a joke conference, I really do not like John Calipari as a coach and, especially now that my school has been beat down by a similar, win-at-all-costs coach who bends the rules, I cannot give Kentucky a shred of respect for what they've done.

As for Barnhart, the worst part is that he's almost obligated to do dumb things like this because he has to appease the most ridiculous college basketball fan base on the planet. It's not a hundred percent clear if Barnhart actually wanted to send Tubby Smith packing two years ago, but he didn't have to do it. Tubby Smith was a very sound coach who had the right mix of mean and nice to make a basketball team do whatever he wanted. The problem was that the fan base was living in the past and hoping Tubby could deliver them fifty more championships and make UK Basketball the way it was in the good ol' days (y'know...when UCLA beat them every year and they were beat by Texas Western...oops, I guess they forgot about that part of UK history). But, for heavens sake, put some thought into what you do, Mitch. Indiana's athletic director got dragged through the mud for making one bad decision; I think Barnhart has made his third bad decision in three years. The fans at Kentucky are starting to get restless, and Barnhart had to make another ridiculous decision to try and appease them.

Now, UK is harboring a convicted cheater, Barnhart is, I'm sure, writing up some gushing words about a "new era of Kentucky Basketball" (perhaps borrowing some words from his introduction of Gillespie), and the fans are going to eat it all up again. Sure, it's all about winning at Kentucky -- it's the same way here at Indiana. But you have to win with class, and UK is on the right track to make enemies out of a lot of people.

Two years ago, I respected Kentucky basketball, their tradition, and their class-act of a coach. Tonight, I can't wait for the second Saturday in December, when Calipari brings his freak show into Assembly Hall and I can hate on him in person.

Of note: Tubby Smith's Minnesota Golden Gophers fought through the deepest Big Ten in recent memory, earned a 10-seed in the Tournament, and played hard in a tough loss against Texas. Kentucky fans, befuddled by an odd acronym of ancient legend called "N.I.T.", watched their their team stumble through a loss at Notre Dame and their coach stumble out the door again.

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