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State Of The Kentucky Men's Basketball Program

Is it time for the Calipari era to come to an end? Before I dive into the question that almost all of Big Blue Nation is asking after Kentucky's disappointing first round exit from the NCAA Tournament, I want to give you a little background on my Kentucky Basketball fandom. This might take a moment so please bear with me as I take you through my journey.

A week ago today I turned thirty two years old, thus putting my birth year back in 1992. I will be completely honest with you, with me being so young, I missed out on the entire Rick Pitino era from 1989-97 so the only way that I have been able to experience the championship in 1996 has been thanks to YouTube. Fast forward a little bit later, Rick Pitino took an NBA job offer with the Boston Celtics and with that I was introduced to the first Kentucky Basketball head coach that I can remember in Orlando "Tubby" Smith.

Once again, due to me only being six years old in 1998, I barely recall the seventh NCAA title in Kentucky history. I didn't completely get immersed in Kentucky Basketball fandom until the years of players such as Tayshaun Prince, Patrick Sparks, Chuck Hayes, Joe Crawford, Ramel Bradley, Randolph Morris, Rajon Rondo, and many other Kentucky greats. I was devastated, heartbroken, and quite frankly miserable as a young kid when Kentucky lost in the Elite Eight in both 2003 and 2005. I had in my mind both years that these were the years that I would finally get to experience Kentucky cutting down the nets in real time.

Sadly, the Tubby Smith era (the era that made me fall in love with Kentucky Basketball) ended in 2007 after a 22-12 season and a second round exit in the NCAA Tournament. If it is okay with you all, I am going to completely bypass the Billie Gillespie years. Kentucky fans were then introduced to a new era of Kentucky Basketball with the hiring of John Calipari. I won't sugar coat it, the end of the Tubby Smith era and the two years of Billie Gillespie made it very hard to be a Kentucky Basketball fan, and now that is where many within the Big Blue Nation find themselves at once again.

The first eight years of Calipari's tenure were some of the best years in the program's history. Cal's record in those eight seasons was an astonishing 249-53 with six Sweet Sixteen appearances, six Elite Eights, four Final Fours, and one NCAA Championship. Since then has been quite the opposite. In the last seven seasons, Cal's record has dropped to 161-70 with only two Sweet Sixteen appearances and one Elite Eight appearance, while also having no Final Fours nor NCAA Championships to go with it. Throw in the fact that the last four years included a year that Kentucky completely missed the NCAA Tournament after a 9-16 "worst record in school history" regular season (covid year), and two first round losses in the big dance to St. Peter's and now Oakland, it's been quite the unimaginable stretch. I fear that what has overall been a good run by John Calipari is coming close to an end very soon.

The man said it himself in his first year as Kentucky's head coach. He alluded to how challenging it is to be the Head Coach of what could be the most prestigious college basketball program of all-time. He said this was a "ten year job", so after fifteen seasons as the coach of Kentucky, the job has just become too much for him I think. If so, then what he said may be more true than even us fans might've realized.

Now let's bring it back to current day, March 23rd 2024. Am I saying that John Calipari will

be let go of his coaching duties at Kentucky? Absolutely not. The only people that may even have an answer to that are Mitch Barnhart, the UK Athletics boosters/donors, and John Calipari himself. Now, I do believe that it may be time to at least have that conversation but that's why I mentioned the donors. If Mitch Barnhart was to cut ties with John Calipari then Kentucky would owe him nearly 34 million dollars left on his contract for a guaranteed buyout, including whatever salary the next Head Coach of the Wildcats would get when he arrived. It's a messy situation and one that I definitely wouldn't want if I were in charge. I do think though the hot seat is even hotter now for both Barnhart and Calipar and the clock is ticking due to the fanbase being in utter dismay. What do you think they should do?

Hopefully we will know something soon about the future of the Kentucky Wildcats basketball program over the coming weeks.

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