A friend who doesn't closely follow college basketball asked, while watching Arkansas beat the University of Memphis, "Will they fire Calipari if he doesn't win the first season?"
She was serious, and who can blame her really. Firing coaches has become rather routine at the U of M. During the last four years, Larry Finch, Rip Scherer, Tic Price, and baseball coach Jeff Hopkins have all been dismissed. Of course none of those coaches were hired with the hoopla of John Calipari. Neither were any of them paid as much money. But the answer to my friend's question is, "No." Even if he loses all of his remaining games. Cal will be back.
Like Calipari, I thought that the record after the first eight games would be better than 2-6. Four-and-four seemed about right. I certainly didn't expect the Tigers to have their worst start in 48 years. Even with the tough schedule, that is embarrassing.. The incompetent Moe Iba never had a season start as badly as this one has.
But as frustrated as some Tiger fans are, they've got nothing on the coach. After the loss to Ole Miss, Calipari was as down as the Memphis press had ever seen him. After the win over UT-Martin, he was angry. After Ole Miss he was depressed.
Tony Barbee tells Calipari he's mellowed since the days Barbee played at UMass. The coach himself admits that he has not been as tough on this team because they are such a fragile bunch. The players have had to adjust to Calipari's hand-on style of coaching after going through a season with the more laid back style of interim coach Johnny Jones, which followed a season in which their coach was more interested in an illicit affair with a coed than in making them better.
On his radio show, Calipari pointed out that this team did not make a run last season until it was too late, after the season was lost and the pressure was off, the Tigers went on a winning streak. The players on this team do not know how to respond to pressure, whether it is the full-court defense of Arkansas or the rantings of their new coach.
Calipari has a team that does not have any perimeter game on offense or defense. It also lacks leadership and plays with very little emotion. Good shooting might make up for the lack of leadership and emotion, but poor shooting just makes the negatives more glaring. Calipari says this is the worst shooting team he has ever seen.
Like the disclaimer in a mutual fund prospectus, past performance is not necessarily an indicator of future success. Calipari did not come with a money-back guarantee. There have been plenty of coaches who only went to the final four once.
But I still think Calipari will win at Memphis. Before the season, I thought the Tigers had a legitimate chance to make the NCAA tournament. Today that looks unlikely.
The coach has not given up. "We're going to get it done, I just hope that it's sooner rather than later," Calipari says. "This has been hard."