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Thursday, November 29, 2012
Calipari's State of the Commonwealth

By Andy Katz
ESPN The Magazine

John Calipari
Calipari says Kentucky fans aren't obnoxious -- but they do watch a whole lot of tape.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 10 Interview issue. Subscribe today!

KATZ: When the Kentucky job became open in 2007 after Tubby Smith resigned, how interested were you at that point?
CALIPARI: I was waiting on a phone call that never came. But as my wife has said many times, it was the best thing that could have happened for me and for the kids in the program at Memphis. The players at that time needed me there at Memphis. It ended up working out well for the team and for me -- and I ended up at Kentucky anyway.

KATZ: Why was the timing right in 2009?
CALIPARI: The timing was better because Tubby had won a national title [in 1998], and everybody in town still loved him. So following him would have made the job much harder for me. No disrespect to Billy Gillispie, but it didn't go well [during his two seasons at Kentucky]. If, following Tubby, we had a bunch of good players who left early, fans may have been up in arms. I tried to tell them that having five players taken in the first round of the NBA draft was the best thing to happen to our program, but there were people who fought me then, saying, "This isn't about the championship." Well, it is about championships. But the kids bring you championships, so at the end of the day, it's about the kids. The program is bigger than all of us. But you've gotta make this about the players, and that's what I do. They may not have accepted that in 2007.

KATZ: What have you learned about coaching at Kentucky that you didn't know four years ago?
CALIPARI: Everybody wants to say that Kentucky fans are vicious or obnoxious. They're not. They're crazy in that they watch the tape of our games more than I do. But they're passionate and smart. Someone said, "I'll bet your fans were mad that you lost to Duke [on Nov. 13]." They weren't. They said, "Hey, we're young. We're gonna get better." What these fans want is for the program to be in the conversation as far as recruiting, national titles, all the other things. It doesn't mean we have to be the best at everything, just striving for it. The students are the same way. But everything you say and do is deciphered more here than anywhere else. It's almost like you're the president, like anything you say is going to move the market. So where before I could joke around, now I have to be careful, because anything I say takes on more meaning.

KATZ: You've figured out how to use social media to your advantage. A lot of coaches don't use it. Why did you see the need to maximize Twitter and Facebook the way you have?
CALIPARI: It wasn't for recruiting. It was to connect with fans of our program. I don't believe it's having the effect on recruiting that everybody else thinks it is. But it does connect our fans, and it also connects the haters. I don't even have a computer. [Executive associate athletics director] DeWayne Peevy does most of the tweeting; I can't. Nothing goes out on Facebook or Twitter without me seeing it, but I don't look at the responses. So if someone is sending good stuff, I don't see it, and if a hater thinks he's sending something that would get my goat, he's wasting his time.

When John Calipari speaks, the people in Kentucky listen -- whether in person or on social media.

My son, Bradley, looks at his computer while he watches TV. That's where we're moving. It's either going to be on the computer or the phone, and it's all going to be about social media. And so when DeWayne came to me about starting a Twitter account, I said, "Explain what it is." And then we set up a Facebook page and started a website [in 2009]. In the last year, we've had close to 5 million page views. And more than 50% of those came from women. I hope they're mothers of recruits, but we don't know. We're still trying to figure out: What the heck do we have here?

I think part of the reason some coaches don't want to be involved with social media is that they expect to be able to do it at a certain level. A lot of them are like, I'm not going to do it if we can't hit 100,000 or 200,000 followers. Well, you're not going to right away. In the beginning, we became one of the ones you were supposed to watch.

KATZ: Your two daughters, Erin and Megan, are out of the house, but Bradley's still home. You have an intense, pressure-filled and time-intensive job. How do you find time to be a father and a husband as well as a coach?
CALIPARI: The people who get cheated most in this profession are the wives and children of coaches. You spend a lot of time out of your house. You leave at 7 in the morning and get home at 9 or 10 at night. But as I've gotten older, I've learned to make time. You start figuring out how to work smarter, how to use your time more efficiently. My son probably has it best of all my kids because he's in the gym all the time. He's shooting the ball while I'm talking on the practice court. I try to make most of his games. My wife runs the house. She raised our kids with me only partly there. It's just what coaching is. A lot of times you're raising other people's children, sometimes at the expense of your own. I hope that wasn't the case with my children, but at times it probably was.

KATZ: What has challenged you the most professionally?
CALIPARI: I think the greatest challenge we have is getting to know our kids and learning what we can do to help them be the best version of themselves. Every kid is different, and every kid needs something different from us coaches. You can't come in and say, "This is how I'm doing it with everyone." It doesn't work that way. But I don't feel challenged by any other coach. I'm not judging myself against this coach or that coach. If I look at the other coach that way, then I become jealous and start thinking stuff if I lose a player -- He cheated, or he's not a good guy, or he doesn't care about his players. If you're obsessed with someone or something, you lose. If I go into a game thinking, I need to beat this guy because he challenges me personally ... well, over the years when I've felt that way, I've done a terrible job of coaching that game. Because then it's more about me than it is about coaching my kids.

KATZ: Besides Louisville, which program is or should be Kentucky's biggest rival?
CALIPARI: We treat every game the same, but if we're playing Louisville or Indiana, North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, UCLA -- and I could probably name Tennessee, Florida and a couple of others -- those games matter more in our fans' minds. We have a lot of [big] games because of who we are. But a rivalry can't be one way. It has to be big for both schools.

The Louisville game is huge in this state. But because I don't have a team full of players who are from Kentucky, it's not as big to them. There's no disrespect for it. In their minds, it's simply another game that we have to play, and they know that the other team's going to be jacked up, like every other team we play. Our game against Duke was played up big on TV, so that game was big to them because we were playing a team that was ranked, that has a very good reputation, but our players didn't know the history of Duke and Kentucky. They didn't know who Christian Laettner was. The players only know about the last three years.

KATZ: How long can you keep up this pace coaching at Kentucky?
CALIPARI: Probably another six years, maybe seven. This is a 10-year run, then I'll pass it on to somebody else to keep this program going, because it's so important to this state. I'm not the kind of guy who could retire on the job, who'd just stay to get paid. I'm not doing it for numbers or to pass everyone's win record.

KATZ: What's the biggest misconception about you?
CALIPARI: I don't know, nor do I care.

Andy Katz interviewed Calipari on Nov. 15, 2012. Follow The Mag on Twitter (@ESPNmag) and like us on Facebook.