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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Chicken Magnate Lures Calipari to Arkansas in Seismic Move

  • The coach had been at Kentucky since 2009.
  • His old employer does not owe him a buyout because he left.
Sam Upshaw – The Courier-Journal

The chicken man blew up college basketball last night.

John Calipari is headed to Arkansas from Kentucky, according to multiple late-night reports Sunday, and Tyson Foods billionaire John H. Tyson was instrumental in making it happen.

ESPN had Calipari and Tyson’s friendship as the “key relationship to help the deal come together,” while the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that “the billionaire has been the driving force behind Arkansas’ pursuit of the Kentucky coach.”

Tyson is the CEO of and billionaire heir to the Tyson Foods empire, which has long been a power player in Arkansas sports. Its dominant track and field program competes at the Tyson Center. Calipari called John Tyson a “longtime friend” in a 2022 social media post.

Whatever the nature of their relationship, Tyson had to cough up some serious money to attract Calipari to Fayetteville. Calipari, who has been the coach at Kentucky since 2009, had five years and $44 million left on his deal there. His new salary at Arkansas will be “slightly less” than the $8.5 million he was making at Kentucky, according to ESPN, but there are other inducements. With Tyson’s backing, Calipari’s Razorbacks will reportedly have an annual name, image, and likeness war chest in the $5 million range, enough to compete with the nation’s best programs.

And what can’t be quantified is the degree to which things had soured for Calipari in Kentucky. Though the 65-year-old is a legend in the state for his 2012 national title and four Final Four trips, things had soured on the court recently. Calipari continued to attract elite recruiting classes, but couldn’t translate them into on-court excellence in recent years. The Wildcats have won just one NCAA tournament game in the last half-decade, suffering high-profile first-round pratfalls to the likes of Saint Peter’s and Oakland in recent years. After the loss to 14th-seeded Oakland last month, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart had to put out a statement confirming that Calipari was returning for another year.

Kentucky would have owed Calipari a $33 million buyout if it fired him. Now, it’s wriggled out of any financial obligations to the coach and is free to direct those millions toward finding a successor.

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