This winter, when word spread that Kentucky coach
Mass-appeal dramas need a villain, and Calipari is the biggest villain in his sport since
But Calipari is the biggest villain. Virtually everybody outside of Kentucky wants to see him lose.
Why Calipari? Who died and made him Chief Rogue?
If Cal haters and Cal lovers can agree on anything, it should be this: he is better at what he does than almost anybody else. They just happen to disagree on what he actually does.
It helps to think of Calipari more as a salesman than a coach. He never stops selling, never stops looking for an angle. Calipari's professional life can be summed up by the slogan he is now pitching on UK T-shirts: "Refuse to Lose." Calipari didn't invent that phrase, but he did swipe it when he coached at UMass, copyright it and make a whole bunch of money off it.
REFUSE TO LOSE. It sounds like such a simple, inspirational phrase for a team -- and it can be. But it also describes the man. He's a scrapper, and will weigh all of his options besides losing.
Calipari has done the most remarkable coaching job of this season, and nobody is close. Think about it: He convinced
But Calipari wasn't done. He coached the heck out of a team led by two freshmen. People figure Kentucky is winning simply on great talent, but talented young teams fall apart every year. Cousins is supposedly a difficult personality, and he is NBA-bound after this season, but Calipari gets on him, and Cousins responds. That is refusing to lose, too.
After he was fired by the New Jersey Nets, Calipari sat on
A lot of the most famous coaches hate one-and-done players -- guys who star as freshmen, then bolt. If you have any old-school blood in your veins, you believe freshmen are supposed to learn tough lessons, then apply them as sophomores.
Not Cal. He has told people privately that he loves one-and-done players. It's another angle for him, another way to win. He sells Wall and
The true salesman never stops selling. Calipari is hawking not one, not two, but
Just this week Calipari told SI's
Love him or hate him, but Calipari is the best at what he does. Lots of coaches have shady figures steering players toward them. Calipari has the best:
Calipari has famously taken two schools to the Final Four and then had to vacate both appearances. Both times, he got there and kept selling. In 1996, he lectured the media about finally discovering what a wonderful school UMass is. In 2008, he said Memphians "see my team as their children. They see them and say, 'There is hope.' "
And when those appearances had to be vacated, Calipari sold the NCAA on the idea that he wasn't personally responsible. (Rose, his star recruit from Chicago, surely had somebody take his SAT in Detroit -- Worldwide Wes's town -- without Calipari's knowledge. Of course.)
Always, Calipari thrives. This is what drives other coaches nuts ---that, whatever the heck he is doing, he is doing it too well.
Calipari just keeps rolling. Since he first arrived on the national stage, Calipari has changed offenses, stars and schools. He has gone from the hot new coach that everybody loved too much to the crafty veteran that people hate too much.
When people attack him, he fights back.
There are plenty of people in college basketball who think it will all come crashing down around Calipari -- that we will witness the professional death of a salesman. I don't know. We won't know for years. All I know is that I filled out my bracket the other day. I'm picking Kentucky.