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With extension, Cal can see himself retiring at UK

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John Calipari has agreed on a contract extension that will make him the head coach at UK through the 2018-19 season. (UK Athletics) John Calipari has agreed on a contract extension that will make him the head coach at UK through the 2018-19 season. (UK Athletics)

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John Calipari has said on numerous occasions that if he's coaching in 10 years, something drastic has happened.

With Monday's announcement that Calipari has signed a contract extension that puts his new deal at eight years, Calipari will coach 10 seasons at Kentucky if he finishes out the entirety of the new contract. Currently 52, the deal would put him at 60, an age group that Calipari says he doesn't want to coach too far into.

If that's true, with six years remaining on his previous contract, why add two more years to it at this stage in his career? For Calipari and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, the answer was easy.

"I think you want to let everyone know that I'm happy here," Calipari said in a phone interview Sunday. "We all understand our state and our university. We wanted to work with them and be fiscally responsible, yet Mitch wanted me to know that, 'Hey, we appreciate what you're doing and I want you know that I want to extend your contract and we'll add some stuff at the end.' I was fine with that."

Barnhart echoed that sentiment Sunday, pointing to Kentucky's recent trip to the Final Four, a .889 winning percentage and an unparalleled nine NBA Draft picks over the last two seasons. Barnhart has also been impressed with the success of Calipari-coached teams off the court as the team posted a 3.14 grade-point average in the spring 2011 semester in addition to a score of 974 in the NCAA's latest Academic Progress Rate, which is tied for the highest mark among all men's basketball programs in the Southeastern Conference.

"The basketball program, he's clearly got it back and relevant nationally," Barnhart said. "We're winning championships in our league and recruiting at a very high national level. Clearly, we're in the conversation for national championships again and that's what Kentucky basketball is all about. I thought it was important to secure that for a long time to come."

As far as the timing of the new deal, Barnhart said he doesn't know if there is ever a good time to do it.

"We're coming off two really fine years, and while I can't speak to Cal's entire coaching career, I thought it was one of the finest jobs he's ever done," Barnhart said. "He took a team that was not anticipated to make a run or do some of the things we did and turned it into a special season. To not honor that in some way, shape or form and not communicate that it was special and we want to continue to have those moments was not the right thing to do. With any of our coaches, whether it's our volleyball coach or softball coach or baseball, we always try to keep them out there and let them know we appreciate what they've done and grow them."

The new deal, which begins with the 2011-12 season and expires on March 30, 2019, could be worth up to $43.3 million at the end of the contract if all performance-based incentives are met (the base is $36.5 million). Calipari could make as little as $3.8 million in a season in 2011-12 and 2015-16 and as much as $5.75 million in 2018-19, depending on whether or not incentives are met.

Although it's a pay increase over his previous $31.65 million deal (plus the opportunity for incentives) with UK, Barnhart said Calipari's contract more than pays for itself in the form of increased royalties and a record enrollment of applications at the university, both of which have benefited from the basketball program's success.

"There are two programs that make money for us at Kentucky in terms of our athletics and they are football and basketball," Barnhart said. "Those two programs have got to make it for the rest of our other 20 programs to be able to sustain themselves and for our department to sustain itself. Anytime we have success in football and basketball, our fan base is going to jump in."

The constant centerpiece of the offseason coaching carousel, Calipari is hoping the new contract will reaffirm his commitment to Kentucky and put to rest any rumors of him leaving for another job.

"I have the best coaching job," Calipari said. "Financially I'm rewarded very handsomely. So why would I leave? What would lead me to leave? When you look at Kentucky and our institution, it's the best coaching position and best college basketball situation for players."

If Calipari were to leave at any point between now and March 30, 2014, he would owe the school a $1 million buyout. Coupled with the $1 million he'd lose from not fulfilling the $1 million retention bonus, that's $2 million Calipari would be leaving on the table.

"I think (the new contract) sends a strong message that Cal is committed to us and the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Barnhart said. "It sends a message to other folks in our leagues that he's here to put a signature on his career at Kentucky. ... I think it's really important from our perspective that we stabilize that piece. You want to maintain that success level and grow on it and build on it. The goal is to win national championships. We want to continue to aspire to hang more banners and grow student-athletes like we've done."

Should Calipari finish the deal and retire after the 2018-19 season, he would tie Tubby Smith as the coach with the third-longest tenure in Kentucky history, trailing only Adolph Rupp (42-plus seasons) and Joe B. Hall (13).

"If I finish the contract and continue to coach, it's because I'm really having fun and I'm really having great enjoyment out of what I'm doing; the rewards I get out of draft night, of seeing guys like Darius Miller do what he did at the conference tournament, to seeing guys like Josh (Harrellson) and DeAndre (Liggins) improve," Calipari said. "As long as I'm still getting great enjoyment from those types of things, I could see myself finishing this contract.

"If it ever gets to where I'm not enjoying that, it's not as though I have to do this. That's the great thing. I want to enjoy myself and I want the fans involved. I want them watching our team saying, 'Man, those kids are having fun. It makes it fun for us.' And I want to be able to say we're competing for national titles ever year. That doesn't mean you win every year, but you're one of those teams (in the mix). You're significant on the basketball court and the commitment to these athletes is still there."

Having said all that, Calipari still has a hard time seeing himself coaching into his 60s. When it's time to walk away, he said he'll have no problem doing it because he's not into records or career milestones.

"I'm not putting my record on my tombstone," Calipari said. "I don't feel that I have anything to prove other than I'm taking care of these kids and it's a players-first program and people around me are benefiting more than me. With that being said, I'm not doing this to say, 'OK, what's the next step?' People don't understand that I've been doing this half my adult life with a gun to my head."

Clarifying, Calipari referred to his 29 years in the college and professional ranks as both an assistant and head coach. Although he's enjoyed every step of the job, it's taken a lot out of him to reach the pinnacle of his career at a place like Kentucky.

"I've been doing this a long time," Calipari said. "I've enjoyed every minute of it, but the one thing you've got to understand is it's taken me my whole career to get to a job like this. You have guys that have been coaching at these kinds of programs -- maybe not quite Kentucky -- but in those 10 spaces right in the area of Kentucky for 25 years. It took me how many years to get to a job like this."

The new contract is realigned to match Barnhart's new eight-year deal, which was awarded by outgoing UK President Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr. in February. The new deal certainly brings some continuity between the two and should define a relationship that has been questioned at times. 

"Mitch and I are fine," Calipari said. "Mitch hired me to be the coach at Kentucky and Mitch gave me the opportunity to coach at this place. I appreciate that and I will always appreciate that. My relationship, whether it's with Matthew (Mitchell) or Joker (Phillips) or any of the other sports, hopefully all the coaches know that I'm there for them. It's truly kind of a family situation. Mitch has built that with the kind of people he's brought in. Everybody works together. Hopefully we all have that type of relationship."

More than two weeks ago, Barnhart tweeted to fans that he was in the process of extending Calipari's contract. The holdup, Calipari said, was nothing more than his busy schedule.

"It always cracks me up when people say we don't see eye to eye on things," Barnhart said. "Are we going to see eye to eye on everything? No, we're not. I don't know that anybody does. Cal and I are both competitive guys and we want the same things. We understand what the mantle of the University of Kentucky is athletically. Are we going to have discussions about it? Absolutely. If we don't, something's wrong. ...

"What this contract for Cal says is that we believe in what he's doing for our university. We think he's an important part of that university structure. We will continue to agree, disagree, work at it and try to find a way to do what we think is best for the University of Kentucky to get to a place where we can hang banners for our fans and graduate our student-athletes to go on to the next stage of their lives. Cal and I don't disagree that much."

If the next eight years are anything like the first two that Calipari signed up for, Kentucky fans will be happy to have him around even longer. When he signed the original contract in the spring of 2009, he vowed to return the program back to national prominence, and he's done so in leading the school to an Elite Eight in 2010, the school's first Final Four appearance in 13 years in 2011 and nine NBA Draft picks.

Looking back to his original decision to sign with UK, Calipari said the job has been everything he expected and more.

"What you don't understand is the passion that's around it," Calipari said. "You don't understand how much it's the Commonwealth's team. You don't understand that people breathe with our wins and losses. You don't understand that our fans tape our games and then watch our games more than once. It means so much to them."

Barnhart admitted that Calipari has turned the program around faster than anticipated, which was reflected by Monday's contract extension.

"I'm not sure I ever expected it quite this fast," Barnhart said. "We've won pieces of three conference championships in two years. To get to an Elite Eight and then a Final Four -- and quite frankly, we were a couple of shots away from two Final Fours -- it's been a heck of a run. This sets the stage for some incredible moments in the future."


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