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Posted: Tuesday March 31, 2009 1:52PM; Updated: Wednesday April 1, 2009 1:24AM
Seth Davis Seth Davis >
AT THE TOURNEY

Calipari a perfect fit for bright lights of Kentucky; more news

Story Highlights

The Kentucky job is too good an opportunity for John Calipari to refuse

Why Tony Bennett is the wrong choice for Virginia, more coaching news

UConn and North Carolina will be the last two teams standing in Detroit

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By signing of with Kentucky, John Calipari becomes the highest-paid coach in college basketball.
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By the time word came down officially that John Calipari had taken the Kentucky job, exactly nobody was surprised. While it should be obvious why Kentucky was interested in hiring Calipari, some people have been wondering why Calipari would leave the great gig he had at Memphis?

The answer is simple. As much as Calipari has accomplished in his coaching career, he has never been a member of "The Club." He's always stood outside the velvet ropes, constantly straining his neck and wishing he could be inside with all those beautiful people. It drives Calipari batty that when conference play begins each January, his team disappears from the radar, while far inferior teams like Kentucky spend every weekend on network television. As the coach at Kentucky, Calipari won't just be in The Club, he'll be sitting at the head table. It's the one thing he's always wanted yet never had.

To state the obvious, Calipari has a huge ego -- and I mean that as a compliment. While some coaches may shudder at the attention and expectations lavished on the Kentucky coach, Calipari will bask in it. Whereas Billy Gillispie was the first Kentucky coach in history to turn down an invitation to speak at the local Gridiron Club, Calipari would love nothing more than to walk into a room full of several thousand people who are hanging on his every word. This is his chance to be the knight in shining armor who rides into town, leads the Cats back to glory and gets elementary schools named after him. Kentucky is making him feel wanted, it's offering to make him the highest-paid coach in the country, and dangling the extra sweetener that Cal will get to go head to head every year with his longtime nemesis, Rick Pitino.

It's easy to see why this deal is all but done. This is exactly what Calipari has always wanted: to have a school like Kentucky to give him an offer he can't refuse.

Other Informed Speculation on the Coaching Carousel

How dangerous is it to try to report on the coaching carousel while it's still spinning? Well, I spent much of Monday on the phone chasing down rumors about who was going to get the vacant Virginia job. Most people "in the know" told me it was down to Tubby Smith or Sean Miller, and two reputable sources told me that Arizona State coach Herb Sendek was trying to get into the mix. I know from previous reporting that Virginia was the one job Jeff Capel would consider, but it doesn't sound like the school ever got very far down that road.

And then, late yesterday afternoon, Washington State puts out a statement that its coach, Tony Bennett, has accepted the Virginia job. That was literally the first time I had ever heard Bennett's name associated with that vacancy. Maybe nobody saw this coming because it's such an odd hire. Bennett is a terrific guy and he's a capable coach, but he has no ties to the region or the league (he played at Wisconsin-Green Bay and coached under his dad at Wisconsin before moving to Pullman), he coaches an un-ACC-like plodding style of play, and most of all, he just turned down the Indiana job last year because he said he was so happy at Washington State. Virginia is a terrific job, but I don't know anyone who thinks it's anywhere near as good as Indiana.

Anyway, the point is, it's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff when you're chasing all this stuff, but here goes my best shot. One of the hottest rumors the last few weeks has Rick Pitino either wanting, or getting, the Arizona job. I don't believe for a second that it's true. Think about it: Pitino is 56 years old. Does he really want to go into a rebuilding situation in a part of the country where he's never lived, and where he won't win for at least three years? In addition, Pitino has a lot of people living in Louisville whom he takes care of -- most notably the wife and kids of Billy Minardi, his best friend and brother-in-law who died in the September 11 attacks. Someone close to Pitino mentioned to me Monday that to go to Arizona, Pitino would have to take "an entire compound" with him. As George H.W. Bush would say.... na ga happen.

Still, I do think these Pitino rumors have slowed up Arizona's pursuit of other candidates for a little while. So who's getting the Arizona job? Well, a couple of weeks ago, someone in the industry contacted Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood, who told this person that he had already decided who he wanted for the job, and that he knew this person would accept it. That leads me to believe he's talking about Mark Few. (Though Livengood may have been overstating Few's interest in the job.) The other main candidate has been Reggie Theus, but if Livengood had decided he wanted Theus, he could have hired him anytime because Theus, unlike Few, doesn't currently have a job. There's still some chatter out there that Few will succeed Ernie Kent at Oregon, his alma mater, but I'm told that Kent will hold on for sure. I've also heard that Kent might be bringing in (or is being told to bring in) Mike Dunlap, who's currently an assistant at Arizona, to be his assistant in Eugene.

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