John Calipari is worth it for Kentucky

Ronald Martinez

The mutually beneficial marriage between John Calipari and Kentucky is as strong as ever.

Contract extensions have been kind to John Calipari over the years, but the most recent one announced Thursday has lifted the Kentucky coach to new heights in college basketball. He signed a deal to stay with the Wildcats through 2021, a seven-year extension that will pay him a total of $52.5 million if he stays in Lexington through the end of the deal.

Based on how Calipari and athletics director Mitch Barnhart have handled the coach's contract, it's hard to say how long this version will apply or how many of the numbers therein will ever hit the bank. Calipari was hired as the Wildcats' coach in 2009 and has received contract extensions following three of his five seasons: First in 2011, after his first Final Four appearance; then after winning the national championship in 2012; and now after finishing as national runner-up in April.

Calipari will now average $7.5 million per year, leap-frogging Louisville coach Rick Pitino, Calipari's perceived top rival, to become the second-highest paid coach in college basketball, according to the USA Today college basketball salary database. Mike Krzyzewski makes an average of $9.6 million per year, and his stature atop the leaderboard seems even more untouchable following Thursday's announcement that a significant raise still left Calipari $2 million behind Coach K.

Calipari could conceivably bolt at any time, because the contract rewards him with lofty retention bonuses each year instead of forcing a buyout were he to leave for, say, an NBA job. His new contract has no buyout and a combined $16.3 million in annual retention bonuses, so 31 percent of his new money will come from simply sticking around. And after Thursday's raise, Calipari now makes $500,000 more per year than Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers and newly hired Detroit Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy, who are tops among NBA coaches with their $7 million salaries.

To date, Calipari has earned $24.575 million as Kentucky's coach, and the investment, through Barnhart's lens, is responsible for the revival of his athletic department's keystone program (after two years of Billy Gillispie as coach nearly shot it all to hell) and the university's furthest-reaching marketing arm. Barnhart and university president Eli Capilouto have nurtured their relationship with Calipari because of how worthy they perceive him to be in university-wide operations; he's championed academic causes unlike any coach at Kentucky, and several academic buildings on campus are under renovation or brand-new construction thanks in part to Calipari's advocacy. For the administration, retaining Calipari at all costs is a no-brainer, and if it takes three contract extensions in five years, that's a cost Barnhart and Capilouto are clearly willing to pay.

Calipari now makes more per year than Doc Rivers and Stan Van Gundy, who are tops among NBA coaches.

Talks of an undefeated season got away from Calipari and haunted the Wildcats all last year, and that's not the first time that's happened. His passion for talking points and Clintonian ability to sell them has led him down un-navigable paths before. But despite Calipari's mountain of cash, his evergreen NBA factory, three Final Fours in five years and a national championship in 2012, he still has goals. In the minutes after topping Kansas in the 2012 national championship game, he said his next hurdle is to have college basketball's first undefeated team since Indiana ran the table in 1975-76.

Even after the Wildcats lost 10 games in the regular season last year after talks of 40-0 dominated September and October, and even after Calipari eased on that particular talking point, he still has competitive goals. Money isn't an issue, and even if an NBA team went overboard to give him the money it would take for him to abdicate his throne in Lexington, Calipari seems to enjoy the stature he's given by being where he is in college basketball. In the NBA, even if he were able to break through and find success, he'd be just another coach. At Kentucky, he's anything but. He built programs at Massachusetts and Memphis so that he could pilot one with Kentucky's reach, and now that he's five years in, it seems he's not about to give it up.

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