Final Four 2011: Will a National Championship Vindicate John Calipari?

The Kentucky Wildcats are in the Final Four and are one of the favorites to cut down the nets.

One of the main reasons for the fantastic year is the coaching of John Calipari. By bringing Kentucky to the Final Four, Calipari tied legendary coach Rick Pitino as the only person to go to the Final Four with three different teams.

This is quite a feat for any coach in college basketball, but if you check the official stat books you won’t see any record of the feat.

That’s because Calipari’s programs have always been surrounded in controversy.

Problems Start in Umass

It all started when Calipari performed wonderfully as the head coach at UMass. The little school from the A-10 had made little noise in college basketball before Calipari was hired on as the head man.

Calipari led UMass to the Final Four in 1996, behind the great play of Marcus Camby. A thorough investigation revealed that Marcus Camby received improper benefits from an agent, which is a NCAA violation.

Calipari denied any knowledge of the incident between Camby and his agent, and the NCAA cleared him of any wrong doing.

Coach Cal has had some problems....

Umass had the records revoked and the banner was removed from the rafters. UMass has not been able to match the success since Calipari left the school.

New school, same problem

After a brief stint in the NBA, Calipari returned to college basketball to coach the Memphis Tigers.

As expected, Calipari did not skip a beat and recruited some of the best players in the game. Calipari once again returned to the Final Four in a remarkable 2008 season with the Tigers team, which was led by the superb play of point guard Derrick Rose.

An investigation by the Memphis Commercial Appeal uncovered the fact that a player was academically ineligible to play. The problem is that player was arguably one of the best in country and most certainly the best on Memphis, Derrick Rose.

The NCAA alleged the prospective player became eligible after an “unknown individual” completed his SAT.

The story was proved to be true and the school was punished, but Calipari was cleared of any wrong doing.

Soon after the finding, Calipari left Memphis and secured a job with the Kentucky Wildcats.

Memphis was forced to forfeit their NCAA-record 38 victories and Final Four appearance. Memphis has not been able to match the success since Calipari left the school.

Cal’s Perception

The perception surrounding the incidents is not working in Calipari’s favor. While he seems like a very likeable guy and genuinely great coach, he has an air of arrogance.

His appearance reeks of Gordon Gecko from the movie Wall Street, a shrewd businessman that will do anything to achieve success, without caring who gets hurt along the way.

He brings little schools to the championship game with shady practices, but the minute they are discovered, he bails for a bigger school and an even bigger paycheck.

Whether it’s true or not is regardless and it’s this perception that has hurt Calipari’s reputation.  This may seem unfair when you consider that it happens all the time in college sports and no one is exempt to the fine line between fair and foul.

Other coaches

Calipari is not alone in working for a school that has been under investigation for NCAA violations.

In college football, Jim Tressel, one of the best coaches in the game is under fire for his knowledge of player selling memorabilia.

In college basketball other coaches are under fire for similar offenses and this includes, UConn head man Jim Calhoun, one of the most respected coaches in the game today. UConn was under investigation for giving impermissible benefits to a blue chip recruit.

Calhoun is being punished by the NCAA but his reputation is not tarnished and he still receives incredible respect from the media and the college basketball world. Is this a double standard?

Nature of the Game

The bottom line is that college basketball will always have a fine line when it comes to recruiting.

Players are openly admitting receiving benefits from schools. This is something that happened as far back as the Fab Five and still continues in the game today. Schools and coaches are feeling more pressure than ever to land the best recruits and stay within the NCAA guidelines.

Cut Cal a Break

Like him or not, John Calipari is an outstanding coach.

The job he has done with a young group of kids in Kentucky has been nothing short of amazing. Calipari does not need a title to be vindicated, but if Kentucky does win the national championship, the talk of his past should be replaced with praise for today’s team.

Calipari is one of the best coaches in the game today and should be recognized and applauded for his work.

While others will chose to scrutinize and criticize for violations in the past, it’s time to stand up and applaud John Calipari as the great coach that he is.

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