By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
There are 351 Division 1 colleges and universities that field a men’s basketball team and compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament each year. Of that number only 68 teams actually make the field. Of the 68 teams only one wins the ultimate prize — the National Championship. The other 67 are considered failures. So are the other 284 teams that did not qualify to play in the tournament. That means there are 350 teams, coaches and universities that are considered complete failures at the end of each basketball season.
At least that’s what some of the mainstream national sports media would lead you to believe. Guys like Clay Travis at Fox Sports Radio or Pat Forde at Yahoo Sports or even Dan Wolken at USA Today. All have recently jumped on a bandwagon of basketball fans, analysts and pot-stirrers who believe that John Calipari is underachieving as the UK basketball coach.
The headline on Forde’s most recent article for Yahoo reads, “For Kentucky, a lifetime with John Calipari might not be the best idea.” Clay Travis said this about Calipari’s ability to coach basketball, “John Calipari has a great relationship with Nike to bring in players and then goes out and loses every year in the tournament.” Lastly Dan Wolken said this about Calipari, “Cal’s teams have had a few really favorable opportunities in the tournament and blown them.”
The most interesting thing about this whole debate about Calipari’s ability to coach basketball is that everyone is using a different measuring stick to decide what is a great coach. If a person were to look at just wins and losses Calipari’s at the top of the heap over the last 10 years at 305. If National Championships are the determining factor then Cal is behind Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and Jay Wright at Villanova with two each to Calipari’s one. Some might say but what about runner-ups, Final Fours, Elite Eights and Sweet Sixteens. Who is ahead there? John Calipari leads each one of those categories.
There are a lot of factors that go into determining the “greatness” of a coach. What about giving back to the community? Which coach leads the country in working to generate donated dollars to help so many worthy charitable organizations? Who has a better record than Calipari in that area? What about player development? No one can beat John Calipari’s record of 32 active players in the NBA. And how many of those players are actively giving back to their communities because of what they learned at UK? Too many to count.
The point is that there many measurements that can be used to determine greatness. Some are numerical and others are not. But the numbers I posted at the beginning of the article should be proof enough that winning titles alone is not a good measuring stick for greatness. If it was then all 350 coaches each year would be considered failures and after so many failed seasons Hall of Fame coaches like Krzyzewski, Roy Williams at North Carolina and Bill Self at Kansas among many others would be seeking other jobs.
By the way Krzyzewski, who many consider to be one of the all time great coaches along with John Wooden of UCLA, has won five titles in 44 years as a head coach. That’s a 13 percent success rate. Using the yardstick of only a National Championships would make Krzyzewski a complete failure as a coach also.
The debate about whether John Calipari is a great coach kind of reminds me of the Highlights magazines I used to read as a kid in the doctor’s office waiting room. It always had one big drawing of a nice picture of something like a playground or kids on a hike in the woods. Hidden in the drawing were all these other small pictures of items like a shoe or a comb or a watch. The trick was to look past the big picture so you could see all the other items. It all depended on your perspective. If you couldn’t see past the big picture you missed the important smaller pictures all together.
This is what the national media members are doing. Focusing on one picture — National Championships — while missing all the other smaller pictures that are just as important. Things like total wins, wins within each level of the NCAA Tournament, individual player development, community involvement and giving and conference championships. These are all things that have a lasting impact on any community and any athletic program.
The crazy thing about this debate is that everyone has an opinion — national sports writers, local sport writers, die-hard college basketball fans and the occasional basketball watcher — but when all the smoke clears there is only one opinion that really matters and that is the opinion of Mitch Barnhart, the University of Kentucky Athletic Director.
And Mitch has already spoken. That’s why Calipari now has a lifetime contract with the University of Kentucky. You can’t get much better validation than that.