College basketball coach John Calipari is leaving the Kentucky Wildcats to become the next coach at the University of Arkansas. Calipari will join the Razorbacks on a five-year deal as he replaces head coach Eric Musselman. Calipri’s last game with the Wildcats was an 80-76 loss to No. 14 seed Oakland University in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The longtime Kentucky coach led the Wildcats from 2009-2024, finishing with a 198-65 overall record, six SEC championships, eight Sweet Sixteen appearances, four Final Fours in five years and an NCAA national championship in 2012. He won SEC Coach of the Year honors four times with Kentucky and was named the AP College Coach of the Year in 2015.

Calipari’s award-winning year, 2015, was the last time his team saw significant success in the postseason. Since then, the team has missed the Final Four every year, a non-common occurrence for a team with the fourth most appearances and the second most national championships. In the 2020-21 season, the Wildcats finished with a 9-16 record to finish eighth in the SEC. Though it was a shortened season, it was the school’s first year without double-digit wins in 94 years and the most losses in its 115-year history.

In the following three years, Calpari lead Kentucky to a combined 71-30 record. But the team had limited success in the NCAA tournament, as in 2022, they famously lost in the first round to St. Peter’s, in 2023 in the second round to Kansas State, and in the first round of the most recent tournament to Oakland. Calipari reportedly signed a “lifetime” extension with the University in 2019. Still, after not making it out of the second round for the fourth straight year, the two parties agreed to split.

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Along with his team’s poor performances in the past few years, Calipari’s arrival in Arkansas comes after a chain reaction to the college coaching carousel. SMU fired head coach Rob Lanier, which led to the hiring of USC’s Andy Enfield to fill the position. In Los Angeles, the Trojans hired then-Arkansas head coach Musselman, leading to the open spot in Fayetteville.

The Razorbacks reportedly went after Ole Miss head coach Chris Beard and Kansas State’s Jerome Tang to fill the position, but both declined. Calipari’s Hall of Fame coach moves in-conference, looking for a fresh start. Arkansas finished this past season 12th in the SEC with a 16-17 overall record, missing out on the NCAA tournament after making the Elite Eight the previous two years. It was only Musselman’s fourth year with the team but their first losing season in 15 years.

Though the team struggled near the end of his tenure in Lexington, Calipari has a track record of pushing out NBA-level talent. In his time with Kentucky, Calipari coached current professional stars Anthony Davis, Devin Booker, De’Aaron Fox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bam Adebayo, Jamal Murray and countless others. Calipari has sent 47 players to the NBA, more than any other school in his 15 years with the team.

With Kentucky being a blue-blood team in college basketball, it was easy to get recruits to commit. Still, Calipari elevated so many of his players to reach the professional ranks and dominate them. Discussions are constantly had about the best all-time college basketball program or lineup by a given school, and the names Calipari has coached could match up with any school from any era.

Despite staying in the SEC, Calipari’s move to Arkansas will be a significant change after coaching Kentucky for the past 15 years. They have yet to hire a new head coach, but potential targets are Baylor’s Scott Drew, Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd, Auburn’s Bruce Pearl and even Alabama’s Nate Oates. Whatever happens, it will be a fresh start for the Wildcats and the beginning of the ‘Coach Cal’ era in Fayetteville.

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