Arkansas Athletics

“Arkansas men’s basketball coach John Calipari said. …”

I tried it out this weekend, typing these words a few times, then mashing the delete button repeatedly and chuckling to myself.

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Now why on earth would I have ever penned those words before around midday Sunday? Positively ludicrous, right?

Not to claim any prescience, but when I learned that Eric Musselman was for certain leaving his station as Arkansas’s basketball coach, I had this brief inner-dialogue about Calipari sometime over the weekend when it appeared that, yet again, Arkansas had made some tactical mishaps in trying to find a major program coach.

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It went something like this: “I’ve mocked this guy for years. I’ve said he does less with more given how many of his former players are in the NBA, and how he’s only got the one title. Oh, and I’ve never cared for his personality or theatrics. So it would only make sense in a nonsensical world that we might throw a ton of money at him right when things have gotten a little sour in Lexington.”

Then I laughed it all off and went back to cursing openly, in my home and outside of it, at the very mention of Will Wade being a possible candidate. I also ran the names Jay Wright and Nate Oats through my head, so please understand that I was reaching for anything and anyone at the moment.

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And about 48 hours after that, the Calipari buzz began in earnest.

This decision, embraced or snubbed by fans, is the most impactful one made by the Arkansas athletic department in almost 40 years.

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In 1985, Nolan Richardson became the first African-American head coach at the university, and set a historical bar with which his successors have reckoned, but not breached.

Think about it this way: Arkansas just hired a coach who has already won a national championship. And no, I’m not counting the inept John Chavis bringing his coordinator legacy here only to soil it. I am also recognizing that the Danny Ford hired by Frank Broyles was not the one who got a natty at Clemson.

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But snaring the likes of John Calipari and making such a major stir across the college basketball landscape is … well, it’s pretty cool. When Arkansas has accomplished something that makes the “BREAKING NEWS” crawl and lights up the phone for a bit? Even better.

It wasn’t something embarrassing, either. There was a huge risk that a flustered athletic director would pay Ole Miss coach Chris Beard too much and too soon after his domestic violence arrest cost him the Texas gig less than two years ago. And then even more damage would have ensued if Wade, the deposed LSU coach still under a show-cause, came from McNeese State with recruiting restrictions in tow.

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Is it sensible for the university and foundation to pay a princely sum for a 65-year-old coach whose best years may be behind him? Hell no. I mean, I heartily LOL at that. Sensibility doesn’t rank way up the list of “Arkansas values.”

But the most critical element of this entire arrangement is the bold, brazen declaration that Arkansas — and in particular, John Tyson — isn’t going to be an NIL doormat. Making millions of dollars of commitment to the university and the program is a big deal for Tyson and his company. But it’s a priceless endeavor to Hog fans everywhere, who have yearned for that kind of investment.

Tyson’s well-established relationship with Calipari played the leading role here. But wait: you can foster relationships like that with people who purport to be your rivals? It’s inherently mature and also the reason Arkansas didn’t end up with an uninspired and uninspiring option.

But what really brought me around to the idea of “Arkansas men’s basketball coach John Calipari”? He’s a recruiter to the core, and that’s the ingredient that bedevils every Razorback sport from time to time. He has no choice but to be now, given that the returning scholarship players from 2023-24 numbers exactly zero.

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Athletically speaking, Calipari is the splashiest hire made by the University of Arkansas ever. Bobby Petrino hadn’t won a title and he was escaping the professional clutches. Dave Van Horn was coming off two College World Series appearances with Nebraska, but the baseball program didn’t have nearly the same profile in 2003 as it does now, and DVH was an alum, too.

“Splashy” may not equate to success, or public favor. But I’m a lot more willing to go along for this ride, surprisingly, because it won’t lack for entertainment.