Calipari Stuns Sporting World With Shocking Career Decision To Leave Kentucky For Arkansas

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Robert McGreevy Contributor
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Legendary college basketball coach John Calipari is departing the Kentucky Wildcats after 15 years at the helm to become the new head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported Sunday night.

Multiple reports confirmed the shocking news, which comes just weeks after Kentucky’s athletic director Mitch Barnhart claimed that Calipari was coming back to Kentucky.

“As we normally do at the end of every season, Coach Calipari and I have had conversations about the direction of our men’s basketball program and I can confirm that he will return for his 16th season as our head coach,” Barnhart tweeted in late March.

The five-year deal will actually be for less than the $8.5 million per year Calipari was making at Kentucky, coming in at around $8 million per year, according to ESPN. (RELATED: John Calipari Gets Ejected. Should Kentucky Fans Be Concerned With The State Of The Program?)

Why, then, would Calipari leave Kentucky for the less prestigious Arkansas? There’s two main reasons.

One, Calipari had been under immense pressure in Lexington after numerous first-round exits in the NCAA tournament. After a stretch where he led the Wildcats to four Final Four appearances in five years to start the decade, including winning the national championship in 2012, Calipari’s cats had fallen off hard, getting bounced in the first round by a worse seed the last two years straight.

His recent lack of success mounted considerable fan pressure, leading many to speculate that the school would exercise their $33 million buyout on him. But then Barnhart affirmed Kentucky’s commitment to Calipari and put the rumors to bed. Turns out where there’s smoke there’s fire and now Calipari is heading south after reportedly feeling the heat for too long.

“Sources close to John Calipari say he had bad feelings about his situation at Kentucky, and that the lack of support had grown to the point where he didn’t feel like he could stay on because he didn’t feel wanted,” Fox Sports’ John Fanta wrote Sunday night.

The second thing that may have pushed Cal towards Fayetteville was a friend. Former Tyson Foods CEO John Tyson is a billionaire chicken magnate and one of, if not the largest, Arkansas donors in the country. He also happens to be a long time friend of Calipari’s.

With the financial backing of his buddy, Calipari could pair that bankroll with the NCAA’s new name. image and likeness (NIL) rules to turn Arkansas into a recruiting powerhouse and further cement his legacy as one of the sport’s all-time greats.