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OT: Did Mitch want Cal the second time around?

  • I was talking to a guy at work about Petrino as head coach, which then lead to a discussion of Coach Cal. I was always under the impression that Lee Todd was against Coach Cal the second time around, but he said it was Mitch was also against it as well. He said the only reason Cal was hired the second time was due to Pratt begging Mitch to do it.

    Does anyone know the truth to the story or having any links that shows how the process went down?

    This post was edited by princeuk21 17 months ago

    Follow me on twitter @ TailgatingCzar

  • Wrong. That rumor got started because of fans that don't like Barnhart wanted something else to use against him. Ask Mike Pratt, even he'll tell you that isn't true.

    Darrell had a story about all of this in our yearbook a few years ago. I'll see if I can find it and post it.

  • If you could post that it would be great.

    Follow me on twitter @ TailgatingCzar

  • Here you go. Written in summer of 2009.

    Darrell Bird
    The Cats’ Pause

    On March 27, five days before John Calipari would be introduced as Kentucky’s new basketball coach, Mike Pratt was at home watching North Carolina take apart Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament when his cell phone rang.

    “It’s 11 o’clock at night and it’s buddy of mine in the NBA’s director of player personnel,” Pratt begins. “He says, ‘Hey, I just got done talking to Cal, can you talk?’”

    At some point after midnight, Pratt believed the coaching search might be taking a fascinating turn.

    “Cal talked to my friend because he knew that it would get back to me, that’s how it’s done,” Pratt said. “From that point forward, just by the verbiage used in that conversation, I knew in my heart that Cal was really, really interested in the job. I called Mitch the next day.”

    Pratt, a former Kentucky All-American and current basketball color analyst and the K Fund’s director of major gifts in UK’s Louisville office, had been asked by athletics director Mitch Barnhart to join a foursome to find Billy Gillispie’s replacement. President Dr. Lee Todd and Rob Mullens, deputy director of athletics, would complete the team.

    Pratt’s role, which he joked as being a silent partner until Barnhart announced it a press conference causing him to nearly tumble off a treadmill, was to be the initial contact point. Pratt then went on, in an address to a UK fan convention in Middletown, Ohio, last summer, to explain in fascinating detail how the process to bring Calipari to Kentucky played out.

    “Everybody works through an intermediary,” Pratt said. “You don’t talk to coaches and coaches don’t talk to athletic directors until everything is out on the table.”

    Having been burned by a bad hire in Gillispie two years earlier, Kentucky was certain not to repeat mistakes.

    “First off, with all us UK fans yapping at his heels, for Mitch Barnhart to admit that it was a mistake and we’re making a change and to do it without belittling Billy … that was a stand-up guy,” Pratt said. “And in the world of sports there aren’t a lot of stand-up guys. There are more guys who will roll you under the bus.

    “But this time we discussed at length where we were going. We knew we had to get it right the first time,” Pratt said. “Once that decision was made, our president and A.D. were ultra-prepared. They were going to step to the plate and knock a grand slam.”

    Things moved quickly after Pratt’s late-night cell phone call. Soon after, the search committee was flying out of Bardstown to Chicago to meet with Calipari in a hotel suite. Pratt said the interview lasted three and a half hours.

    “I’m observing a very high level hire, and it was very interesting,” Pratt said. “I will say this. Mitch Barnhart and Lee Todd did their homework. They were prepared as well as anybody. In essence, they told John how they wanted the program at Kentucky to be run, what they wanted in the academic and athletic pieces. They talked about the ambassador they wanted that they didn’t have.

    “As a former coach and player, I kind of had some things that I would have asked,” Pratt added. “These guys hit it on the head with what they wanted to ask this man.”

    Across the way, Pratt said Calipari was equally impressive.

    “Cal listened. Then Cal came back and told them, ‘This is what I do at Memphis and this is why I do it at Memphis. And this is how I did it at UMass. Now, I’m going to tell you this is how I’m going to do it at Kentucky.

    “When he said to us, ‘Look guys, over the last few years when Kentucky came into the room in a high school gym, nobody was afraid. Nobody got up and left.’ He said, ‘I’m going to recruit against Carolina, Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Indiana. I’m going after the same people they recruit. If I take this job, when I walk in those gyms people ultimately, someday are going to walk out because I’m going to go back to Kentucky being Kentucky.

    “I watched the president sit up and I watched Mitch sit up,” Pratt said with a smile. “And from my vantage point, that’s all I needed to confirm my earlier conversation with my friend. This man had done the research. He understood. It told me he had followed this program and knew the strengths and weaknesses.

    “He wanted this job,” Pratt was thinking. “We got a guy that wanted the job.”

    Wins and losses, however, was not a point of discussion.

    “Cal didn’t talk about national championships. He never talked in those terms,” Pratt said. “But he understands that players wins championships. As Coach Rupp used to say, ‘Boys, donkeys don’t win the Derby.’ Cal understands that.

    “When is Cal going to win a championship? I don’t know. How many will he win? I don’t know. But I will tell that the next five to 10 years with him is going to be a lot of fun. Kentucky is back in the conversation.”

    So on the surface, Kentucky dismissed Gillispie on a Friday and introduced Calipari the following Wednesday. But Pratt says it’s not nearly so simple when all the intangibles are considered.

    “Some A.D.s have a reputation of being able to make great hires and you wonder, how did they do it? Everybody wants to know, ‘How did they get that guy?’” Pratt said. “Well, sometimes it’s luck. Sometimes it’s timing. Sometimes A.D.s do a good job of researching people and getting out to meet them.”

    That’s for a normal coach search. Imagine the several layers of intrigue that must be added when a program like Kentucky is involved.

    “What I found out through this whole process is this: You think, as a Kentucky fan, that the University of Kentucky can hire anybody they want. I’m prejudiced toward UK so I think they can hire anybody, too,” Pratt said. “But what I found out is that the world has changed. We’ve got a great practice facility. Rupp Arena is cool. We’re on television. Well, a lot of people are on television now. A lot of people have the same practice facility. A lot of people are in really good leagues like we are. The playing field has been leveled.

    “And the kicker,” Pratt added, “is that the money these coaches make is mind blowing. But people think that if Kentucky can pay somebody $3 million then they ought to come. Well, Tom Izzo makes $3 million all totaled at Michigan State. The guy at Pittsburgh makes $2 million. And those guys are probably happy with where they are living and coaching.

    “The difference is that there is nobody out there, with the possible exception of Roy Williams at North Carolina, that lives in the glass bowl that is University of Kentucky basketball. That’s what you find out.

    “There are a lot of really good coaches and really good people who look at this situation and say, ‘I can sit here in Boise, Idaho, and make $1.5 million and it’s a little, bitty glass bowl,” Pratt said. “Or I can go to Kentucky for double my salary but every time I get up in the morning it’s recorded.’ That really, really means a lot to these coaches. They understand. They know it.”

    Having obvious candidates who might not want the baggage that comes with being coach at Kentucky is just part of the issue. The other is appeasing major egos in some instances.

    “Here is the dilemma you face,” Pratt said. “Once you go out, like we did with Billy Donovan two years ago, and you put all your clothes on the street – who you’re after and what you’re going to pay – and you don’t get them, you’re in a world of hurt.

    “In the world of coaching, they all want it to be, ‘Am I your guy?’” Pratt continued. “You wouldn’t believe how many times coaches, through representatives, would ask, ‘Am I the guy?’ They want to be No. 1 and if they’re not No. 1, they’re not interested. Well, everybody can’t be No. 1.”

    Instead of No. 1, Pratt said it begins with every athletic director’s infamous “short list.”

    “You look at these guys, you have a pecking order and you ask yourself, ‘OK, who can I really get?’” Pratt said. “That’s the hardest thing folks because when you fire that first shot at whoever you want, it better be a perfect shot because if you miss suddenly you’re in a free fall. Suddenly, you’re trying to go back and hire someone who is now saying, ‘Well, I wasn’t No. 1.’ Or they’re agent is saying, ‘Well, you were going to pay Joe Schmo $2.5 million. Now, we want $3.5.’ It’s just brutal.

    “If you’re not Kentucky, or a school like Kentucky, then it’s not an issue,” Pratt said. “But when you’re Kentucky with that high profile and the perceived bottomless pit of money, which isn’t true, then you’ve got to be right. That’s what’s so hard.”

    In the end, Kentucky’s first shot was a bull’s-eye.

    “I think we got the right guy, and most of all, we got the guy who wants to coach here,” Pratt said. “This guy, John Calipari, wants to coach at the University of Kentucky. He relishes living in that huge glass bowl. He really wants that challenge.”

  • Thanks, this is exactly what I needed.

    Follow me on twitter @ TailgatingCzar

  • Darrell,

    wish you would pin this to the top so that it would not disappear. I'm so tired of people with an anti- Barnhart agenda misrepresenting what actually happened with the hiring of Calipari.

  • Crickets from those who have perpetuated this false rumor in an effort do discredit Barnhart.

    Am I surprised? Nope.

  • This is a great article and Mitch should be congratulated upon his hire of Cal, which I never brought up, but Im still not a Mitch fan and there are "legitimate" reasons out there for those who also arent fans of his but they cant truthfully use the false story about Mitch not wanting Cal to justify their dislike.

  • Funny one of my friends who is a Louisville fan was just talking about this very thing yesterday, saying Barnhart's hand was forced.

    Nice article Darrell.

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