Chaney lunged, spittle flying. DeGregorio planted his feet. "Two football players jumped out of the stands and knocked John to the floor," DeGregorio says. "They kept us in the locker room [for halftime] an extra five minutes. I came out and shook his hand and got a standing ovation. They beat us by seven."
Calipari loved it. "I thought they were both crazy," he says. The scene also gave him a taste of the spicy career to come. Coaching feuds aren't unusual, but it's rare for one man to become ensnarled in so many that are so vicious. From Knight to Louisville's Rick Pitino (a supposed onetime friend of Calipari's who once called the way Calipari works the refs a sign of "psychological problems") to Chaney (who as Temple's coach in 1994 tried to attack Calipari in a postmatch press conference, screaming, "I'll kill you!"), Calipari has provoked more public vitriol than any of his colleagues. After his assault on Calipari, Chaney says, laughing, "There's a lot of guys who called me and said, 'Why'd you wait?'"
Asked what it is about Calipari that gets under people's skin, Pearl goes silent for 17 seconds. Finally he looks up and says, "You know... . No, I can't go there." After being told what Knight said about Calipari in Indiana, Pearl says, "Right. You know why Coach Knight takes that stance, O.K.?" Then he laughs, raises his eyebrows until his eyes are like quarters and stares meaningfully as he walks away.
Unlike Pearl, though, Calipari has never been personally charged with a major NCAA violation. And other coaches, such as Brown, are revered despite having had a Final Four run vacated. Knight may speak for many coaches and fans when he says that Calipari is what's wrong with college basketball, but not everyone can agree on what, exactly, wrong is.
"John has embraced what the college fan has not: the one-and-done player," longtime college basketball commentator Billy Packer said in February. "Even Kentucky fans have to [ask] after last year's team, Is this what the University of Kentucky is all about? Did these guys even go to school second semester?"
But for some coaches the discomfort with Calipari has a much earlier source. Twenty-five years ago, as a recruiting hotshot at Pitt, Calipari either stepped over an uncrossable line or was heinously slurred by a false rumor. In early 1986, while trying to dissuade a player from going to St. John's, Calipari supposedly told him that Redmen coach Lou Carnesecca was dying of cancer. Pitino, who denies ever believing the tale, says that Carnesecca, who was not sick, complained about the tactic at a Big East coaches meeting that spring.
Calipari called on Carnesecca to assure him it wasn't true; Carnesecca ever since has said he believes Calipari. But the tale ginned up an already white-hot recruiting war, tarred Calipari's name and, many believe, killed any chance of his landing the St. John's job in 1996 and 2004. When he interviewed at UMass in 1988, the first question from Ron Nathan, the head of the Minutemen's booster club, was, "Did you really say the guy was dying of cancer?"
Drexel coach Bruiser Flint, an assistant under Calipari for seven years at UMass, says, "You know what that let people think? That Cal would do or say anything to get a player. That started everything."