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Criticism comes with success for Calipari and Kentucky

John Calipari speaks to fans at Big Blue Madness on Friday in Rupp Arena. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari speaks to fans at Big Blue Madness on Friday in Rupp Arena. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
When you're the Kentucky basketball coach and "arrows" and "bazooka shots" are being fired in your direction, there is no foxhole to take cover in.

For a guy like John Calipari who doesn't hide his opinion or the way he runs his program, you're practically target practice for the haters and the critics.

"If you want to coach here, you take a lot of crap," Calipari said in roundtable Q and A with local reporters a month ago. "If that's what I have to do to be the coach here then I'll take a lot of crap."

Coach Cal's shield? A bubble surrounded in apathy.

"Whatever you think I am, I agree," Calipari said at Thursday's Media Day. "Now let me go coach my team."

The phrase "Coach Your Team" is emblazoned to the left of Coach Cal's desk in his office at the Joe Craft Center. It's a daily reminder to him that no matter what is said about him, what rumors circulate and what "crap" is fabricated, it doesn't matter because his sole job is to coach his team.

"All our jobs (are) to care about those kids," Calipari said. "It's players first. Their job is to care about winning championships. Our job is we're about them. Every decision we make is about them. Then their job is to go out and basically drag us where we're trying to go."

So when things like an Internet poll come out or a fan tries to provoke Coach Cal on his social media outlets, he doesn't pay attention to it, quite frankly because he doesn't have the time. If he did, it would impair his ability to do his day-to-day duties.

That's why he has a staff in place (this writer included) to gauge the public perception. If it isn't a problem he needs to address, he picks up his whistle and moves on with his day.

"I don't have a computer," Calipari admitted to the media. "I don't look at Twitter, Facebook, newspapers, nothing.  If something's gone on, I get up in the morning, I'm getting a coffee and say, 'Anything I got to deal with?'  If it's something I have to deal with, (Executive Association Athletic Director for External Operations DeWayne Peevy) tells me.  If it's not something I have to deal with, he doesn't tell me and I go about my business."

Part of Calipari's indifference is that success breeds jealousy. After winning a national championship, sending 15 players to the NBA over the last three years and reloading with top-ranked recruiting classes, people try to slow the machine down, Calipari said.

"There are people that are not rooting for you," Coach Cal said. "There are people that are not rooting for this school, and you've got to deal with all that. It's OK. Right now we're at that point where it's like, 'How do you slow this down?' "

Calipari confessed that the criticism can sometime get to his staff. Some of them will wonder why he doesn't stick up for himself and the brand they've built.

Ultimately, Calipari believes it does more harm than good and would prefer to let the results of his players-first program speak for themselves.

"What do you want them to say?" Calipari said. "We're getting the kids. We're winning every game. What are they going to have a party for you? They're not going to have a party for you. They're not going to be happy."

He also understands that when you're at a "magnifying glass" like Kentucky, non-issues that arise at other schools become top-of-the-page stories at UK.

"Stuff that goes on other campuses, it goes on here, it's a big deal," Calipari said. "If it goes on over there, ah, he didn't mean it, the guy walked into the kid's fist. If it goes here, I'm telling you, it is huge."

The pressure to succeed and deflect the criticism that comes with it can be suffocating at times, but as Coach Cal often says, this isn't for everybody.

"It's just part of what it is," Calipari said. "It's not being paranoid. It's what it is. And you know what? To be here you deal with it, or go somewhere else and coach."

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