UPDATE (6:22 p.m.): University of Memphis President Dr. M. David Rudd has just released a statement canceling the school’s plan to honor our former basketball coach. It was a wise decision.
Someone at the University of Memphis has the bright idea to bring John Calipari back to the FedEx Forum on December 28/29 to honor him for homecoming. Whoever had this idea obviously wasn’t around in 2009 and apparently didn’t take into account the lack of fan support in bestowing this “honor.”
Please, for love of everything good and decent, undo this awful decision before it’s too late. It will not go well. It will only result in an awkward, embarrassing moment for John Calipari and the University of Memphis. A hero’s welcome it shall not be. He will find himself boo’ed all the way back to Lexington.
I know the Calipari years were wonderful for Memphis basketball…until they weren’t. Whoever it was that saw fit to “honor” the former coach has either forgotten or never really understood what he did to the program on his way out. First, he left escape clauses in the letters of intent for his last set of recruits. Just before leaving for Kentucky, John Calipari made sure his recruiting class, which he rounded up on our dime, would be willing to de-commit and follow him out. Second, our 2008 Final Four appearance was vacated after an investigation into Derrick Rose’s eligibility that we knew nothing about until after he was gone. Third, the former coach has had some not-so-nice things to say about Memphis “…sitting at the little table. You never got to carve the turkey. You had plastic forks and plates and that’s what it was.” So why in the world would he even want to come back for an “honor” at the little table?
Once-upon-a-time, the University of Memphis and John Calipari were a perfect match. When we hired him back in 2000, he was a down-on-his-luck former college basketball coach who had been fired by the New Jersey Nets and who was at the time serving as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76’ers. At the same time, we were a down-on-our-luck basketball program one year removed from the short but ignominious Tic Price era. Both the coach and the program had their pedigrees. It just took some rejuvenation. And both the coach and the basketball program soared.
Then the coach soared out of Memphis, which, by itself, isn’t why Memphis fans are so hostile toward John Calipari. We have long memories because he raped the program on the way out. And in an instant, 9 years of goodwill were completely wiped out, and then some.
Perhaps there will come a day when John Calipari will be welcome again in Memphis. I don’t know when that day will be, but it isn’t even close yet. Next time, University of Memphis, do a better job of gauging fan support before springing the idea on us. We love honoring former Tigers, for sure, but for the time being John Calipari remains persona non grata.