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Kentucky Tiff Shines Positive Light on Hogs' Coaches

Calipari hands Arkansas coaches more recruiting weapons
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If Arkansas fans are looking for yet another reason to appreciate the job Hunter Yurachek has done hiring coaches and in helping build a united Razorback culture, just take a quick glance to the far northeast corner of the conference at Kentucky.

While Arkansas enjoys the cohesive nature of the Razorback coaching family from football all the way across to gymnastics, Wildcats basketball coach John Calipari took the opportunity this week to take a dig at Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops.

It appears the shadow of the football team's success over the past few years is starting to creep its way over into Caplipari's offices where he is trying desperately to overcome a trend of falling short of the hype and expectations that come with the job.

After all, the Wildcats made history this past season by losing to St. Peter's in the first round of the NCAA tournament, posted a 9-16 record the year before, and hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since the 2018-19 season where the Wildcats got bounced by SEC mate Auburn. 

Saint Peter's Peacocks guard Doug Edert (25) shoots the ball on Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) during the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Saint Peter's Peacocks guard Doug Edert (25) shoots the ball on Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) during the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Meanwhile, the football team has been to the postseason every year since 2016 and has posted a pair of 10+ win seasons, is on a four-game bowl winning streak and is expected to threaten Georgia for a spot in the SEC championship game for the third time in five years.

Instead of following the lead shown by Arkansas coaches, Calipari instead chose to take this moment to remind Stoops and Wildcat fans that Kentucky is a basketball school, not a football school, and it always will be.

Frustrated about a leak in the roof, the Wildcats' coach vented in an interview with The Athletic that this sort of thing should not happen because basketball is priority and it needs to stay that way.

"This is a basketball school," Calipari said. "It's always been that. Alabama is a football school. So is Georgia. I mean, they are. No disrespect to our football team. I hope they win 10 games and go to bowls. At the end of the day, that makes my job easier, and it makes the job of all of us easier. But this is a basketball school. And so we need to keep moving in that direction and keep doing what we're doing."

It's a meme that writes itself. How to disrespect your football team while acting like you're not disrespecting your football team.

If there was any doubt disrespect was felt, Stoops erased it shortly afterward.

Calipari is right. When the tides raise one ship, it should raise all ships. 

More money flows in, recruits can attend sporting events outside of their own sport and fall in love with the student experience of the offseason, and the network spreads wider as high schools other sports recruit ask about bringing attention to a player who might not normally be seen.

That has been the case at Arkansas. Not only did Eric Musselman get tons of media attention for his program while sitting behind home plate at the softball games, but his recruits caught glimpses of him there and got to see how loud and crazy Razorback fans can be no matter the sport. 

Arkansas fans get into the spirt of Bobby Portis night with a cut-out puppet wearing the Bobby Portis head band given away at the game while also waiving the pom-poms they received for the red-out.

Arkansas fans get into the spirt of Bobby Portis night with a cut-out puppet wearing the Bobby Portis head band given away at the game while also waiving the pom-poms they received for the red-out.

Kentucky Wildcats players leave the court in the prior to the end of the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena. Arkansas won 75-73.

Kentucky Wildcats players leave the court in the prior to the end of the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena. Arkansas won 75-73.

Sam Pittman fills up the stands with recruits in a hectic atmosphere while being photographed smiling and celebrating with Musselman in Bud Walton. Dave Van Horn is on TV and in photos taking in the momentum and atmosphere as coach after coach brings the energy and soaks up the energy from program after program.

Look at all the SEC championships and postseason success Arkansas has delivered over the past two years. There's not an athletic program in the conference even close, and so much of that has to do with cohesion and cross program support.

Rarely do reporters interact with Arkansas coaches without that coach mention at some point saying "I was talking with [insert coach here] the other day, and s/he was telling me..."

There are usual interactions that make logical sense among coaches as they cross paths, but so many times those discussions are with a coach that required a deliberate effort at some level of inconvenience for that conversation to happen.

The impression is everyone is having fun and willing to do whatever it takes to help out another program because it comes back 10-fold. 

That's not what is happening at Kentucky. Calipari just handed Arkansas coaches a switchblade knife. 

If Pittman is ever in a battle with Kentucky for a southern Ohio lineman, all he has to do is point to the love and respect shown at Arkansas while pointing out that the highest profile person at UK would like that recruit to remember he's at a basketball school and will always be second class. 

Does that recruit recruit really want to go somewhere that sees success as a threat so he'll need to be knocked down a peg? A place where the demand is that funds be diverted so one program can thrive while others fall by the wayside.

Such potential harm to the program is something Stoops couldn't tolerate as he took time to take Calipari to task during his press conference. 

The tone was clear. Nothing has every felt more "Come at me Bro" between two head coaches within a single university than what Stoops had to say.

Calipari also delivered additional recruiting ammo for Musselman against Alabama. Everyone knows Alabama is a football school, but genuine efforts were being made to make it a basketball school also.

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However, Calipari just cemented that no matter how successful Nate Oats is in Tuscaloosa, his team will always be Baby Groot in a world of Avengers. They're cute to have around for a good laugh at their naive self-awareness, but when it's time for the big boys to do their thing, it's best they get out of the way.

That's the perception and it won't be shaken.

No need to address Calipari's slight on sports at Georgia not taking place between the hedges. There's no effort to change that point of view or raise other programs going on in Athens.

It's impossible to imagine Musselman ever calling out Pittman for his cute little 10-win seasons should that become the norm. Van Horn isn't going to point to his crowds with no standing room and decades of dominance while heartily laughing at the idea that another program should receive funding.

Jordyn Wieber is never going to have to defend her program on social media because Courtney Deifel wanted to make clear gymnastics isn't a priority at Arkansas. 

When you spend enough time watching and interacting with the coaches at Arkansas, it's quick to see they're first-level family. Everyone has each other's back through the good and the bad. 

And when Razorback fans see schools like Kentucky interacting like distant cousins fighting over their grandmother's inheritance, it makes them realize the grass isn't always bluer on the other side.

Arkansas Divider

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