Can Calipari Win Big at Arkansas As Another Coaching Legend Gets Close?

Pair of Hall of Fame coaches have possible rivalry brewing
Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino shakes hands with Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari before the first half at KFC Yum! Center. Louisville defeated Kentucky 73-70.
Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino shakes hands with Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari before the first half at KFC Yum! Center. Louisville defeated Kentucky 73-70. / Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — There are currently two active coaches in men's college basketball who have taken three different programs to a Final Four.

Rick Pitino and John Calipari. Legendary company with both men still winning at a high level the older they get.

Both coaches are still near the top when fans talk about the sports best coaches. A little luster has fallen off Calipari and Pitino's name over the past few years due to limited tournament success.

Winning in March goes a long way for respect at the local, regional and national levels. What have you done for them lately is the barometer through which a coaching tenure is viewed.

Calipari is currently the winningest active coach with 855 victories since he began coaching UMass in the late 1980's. He sits at No. 9 all-time just behind Bob Huggins who won 863 games.

Adolph Ruff is No. 7 with 876, Jim Calhoun No. 6 with 877 and Dean Smith is No. 5 with 879. Pitino sits directly behind Calipari at No. 10 with 854 wins in his career spent with Hawaii (six games as interim head coach), Boston University, Providence (1987 Final Four), Kentucky (1994, 1996 and 1997 Final Four), Louisville (2005, 2012 and 2013 Final Four), Iona and St. John's.

It's certainly realistic to believe both Calipari and Pitino finish this season in the Top 5 in wins. However, winning at this level for such a long time is tough.

The truth is it'll be a decade since either Calipari or Pitino took to a team to the Final Four. 2015 doesn't feel that long ago, but in sports a decade long lack of tournament success will wear and tear a fanbase apart.

Maybe the break-up between Calipari and Kentucky was due since the Wildcats haven't advanced to the second weekend since 2019, pre-COVID. Since the 2021 NCAA Tournament, Calipari led Kentucky to one victory in three separate appearances.

Upset losses to Cinderellas St. Peter's and Oakland, led by Jack Gohlke's dependence on three-point shooting, hampered what could have been promising tournament runs. Perhaps this move to Fayetteville revitalizes his career and Calipari begins taking Arkansas on deep tournament runs to close out an illustrious career.

Changes have been made in various ways like NIL, transfer portal and recruiting. These topics have forced teams, schools and coaches around the country to adapt or get left behind.

With Calipari's switch up of roster building philosophy it shows his burning desire to coach and develop men into NBA prospects. His tenure at Arkansas can go two ways – either ultra successful or ho-hum like his last four seasons at Kentucky.

Since 2020, the Razorbacks are tied with Alabama, Duke and Creighton at eight NCAA Tournament victories. Former coach Eric Musselman showed the Hogs could win big again with a Sweet 16 and two Elite Eight's.

Calipari has accepted the challenge to build on that success with Pitino breathing down his neck. They may be coaching 1,000 miles apart, but a personal rivalry and potential storyline is in the making.


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Jacob Davis