Kentucky John Calipari, Arkansas nearing blockbuster deal for head coaching job: Sources

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Written by Shams Charania, Dana O'Neill and Kyle Tucker

Kentucky coach John Calipari, who has been with the school for 15 seasons, is close to a blockbuster new deal to leave the Wildcats and be the next head coach at the University of Arkansas, two sources familiar with the matter said. The athlete.

Razorbacks officials have focused their head coaching search on Calipari in recent days and intensified their pursuit over the weekend, sources said. Those sources said that no agreement had been finalized as of Sunday evening.

Calipari has referred to John Tyson, the billionaire heir to the Tyson Foods empire and a major supporter of Arkansas State, as an “old friend.” Arkansas is searching for a coach to replace Eric Musselman, who left for the same role at USC on April 4.

Calipari, who led the Wildcats to seven Elite Eights, four Final Fours and the 2012 national title, is contracted with UK through the 2028-29 season — but does not owe the school a payout due to his early departure.

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The school would have owed Calipari $33 million if he was fired after this season. This has become a hot topic in Lexington after a first-round NCAA Tournament exit in three years. The Cats haven't reached the Sweet 16 since 2019, haven't won an SEC title since 2020 and haven't reached the Final Four since 2015.

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Many in the fan base were ready to move on from Calipari after this year's loss to 14th-seeded Oakland, but he and athletic director Mitch Barnhart came out publicly just days later and said they were working together to get the program back on track. This sudden mutual interest between Calipari and a new suitor in the same Southeastern Conference suggests that Calipari, the 65-year-old Hall of Famer, ultimately believes a fresh start might be better for everyone. Calipari is the second-longest-tenured coach in UK men's basketball history behind Adolph Rupp (41 seasons).

Calipari, who also led Massachusetts and Memphis to the Final Four, won 410 games at Kentucky, and his .769 winning percentage is behind only Rob and Rick Pitino among those who have coached UK for more than one season. Kentucky's 2012 national title under Calipari was the eighth in school history and the program's first since 1998. Before arriving in Lexington in 2009, the Wildcats had not reached the Elite Eight since 2005 or won more than 30 games in a season since 2002. 03.

Calipari and Kentucky have a No. 2 recruiting class, which includes three McDonald's All-Americans. It's worth noting that when he last left for a job — from Memphis to Kentucky in 2009 — he took a crowded recruiting class with him, which included John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.

Arkansas reached three NCAA tournaments — including two elite tournaments — in five seasons under Musselman. A 16-17 record in 2023-24 — the worst of Musselman's tenure — kept Arkansas out of the NCAA Tournament this year. The Razorbacks are approaching the 30th anniversary of their last Final Four appearance.

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