Other than the logo on their blue pullover, John Calipari and Mark Stoops have little in common. Why should they? They coach different sports, manage distinct types of athletes, and bring their own unique approach to the game they both adore. Against the backdrop of an idea that UK is historically incapable of excelling in dual sports, football has always been the second fiddle to the hardwood Cats. This may be true in banners and win records, but Kentucky fans have an insatiable appetite for college football.
In unmistakable fashion, Calipari and Stoops represent two different mentalities. Calipari is the bright colored sports car with more than enough horses under the hood to handle challengers with ease. He is flash and luxury, unable to hide the overt ooze of prestige. There is no denying that this hot rod can go fast and is pretty to look at. This car needs the perfect conditions to perform at peak capacity though, smooth roads with no harsh weather.
Stoops on the other hand is a late model pick-up truck with knobby tires and a couple of rust spots. This vehicle is dependable, will always crank over, and has enough grit to take care of any job. It can go over the most treacherous terrain and through rain, muck, and mire, it gets it done. To some this type of vehicle is not much to look at, but to Kentucky faithful this 4x4 is downright beautiful.
Both coaches coddle egos and elevate the young talent that choose to attend UK. They bring strategy and an unwavering sense of pride to their respective sports. They fight daily to remain relevant and elevate their program. The difference is that Stoops is required to punch above his weight. He has no “greatest tradition” tent speech to give to his recruits. He understands that he is hunted in the recruiting pool, not the hunter who takes his pick of five-star high school athletes.
No one should be surprised by Calipari’s comments, as tone-deaf to his fellow athletic head coaches as it was. He was trying to garner attention to his program’s apparent needs, blasting to anyone who would listen. Crossing his fingers that the latest/greatest/newest facility would be the key to defecting the next big player. This approach works when the public is rooting for you, but fans are quickly pointing out the lull of late and the compounding disappointments of early exits in March. There is no question Calipari can recruit and coach at the highest level, somehow managing to do so even as his foot continues to find his mouth.
Because both head coaches have such differing personalities, the comments that Calipari made were amplified. If these sentiments were made 10 years ago, not too many people would think it out of line, but Stoops has been pushing his massive boulder up the hill since then and is not about to let it come tumbling down on his head. He has put respect on Kentucky’s name during his tenure and offered fans and players another version of status quo. The fan base understands the difficult nature of Stoops’ job, competing against the best in the country every week. Feathers became ruffled because of the monumental nature of Stoops’ commitment.
Calipari has apologized for his gaffe, but if given the chance for a redo he would again take the path of self-adulation. The thought of high tide raises all ships is only ok if Cal and his team are on top. Reality is that Stoops has commandeered a part of Calipari’s big stage and does not intend to relinquish the space. Unlike previous pokes between the two coaches, Stoops decided this was not a brotherly shove, but a strike to his progress. If we have come to know anything about Kentucky’s head ball coach, it is that he’s not about to back down.
Jim Jackson resides in Franklin County. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.