Letters To The Editor: “We Can Move On Without Forgiving or Embracing Calipari”


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Our interview with Josh Pastner, and subsequent columns on Pastner and the need to forgive and move on from John Calipari have generated some interesting reader response.

Personally, I’m sick of the whole Calipari dialogue. That’s why I suggested inviting the man back – naming something after him (perhaps a Sno-Cone machine?) and putting the whole thing to bed.

Yet some people still feel passionate about Calipari’s exit – nearly 6 years later. I received a very long letter from a longtime Memphis fan – Rob L. – who now lives in Chicago. He makes some good points, and asks some good questions.

Rob hypothesizes that Memphis can move on from Calipari without forgiving him or embracing him.

I disagree, because I don’t think it works that way. Moving on without forgiveness is what Memphis has tried to do the last 6 years. Anyone that goes to Tiger games has to acknowledge there’s still a void, a pall hanging over the program. I don’t think it’s entirely attributable to Josh Pastner. I think the fan base is still wounded from their breakup with Calipari.

I think it’s time to fully embrace the man and acknowledge what he contributed. Perhaps this is a discussion that needs, for Memphis’ sake, to continue.

Anyway, here’s his letter:


I like the article and the topic is a fascinating one, without question. It’s certainly something we all wrestle with to some degree (whether we admit it or not), and the fact of the matter is it is something we have to ultimately get through – what happened, happened. I can’t make a case against all of your points but I’d offer up a challenge to a few of them:

1. 9 Years- Yes, he did stay at Memphis longer than expected but he was always paid accordingly and always got a raise (with little hindrance) when he wanted one. It’s difficult to paint him as someone who sacrificed opportunity to stay at Memphis when he was always compensated for doing that. Therefore, it’s hard to give him credit for staying longer than he “should” have. To your point, this is how the world works and he doesn’t get points for loyalty. Bottom line, if the other opportunities were better for him, why didn’t he take any of them? Because from either a monetary, autonomy/power, recruiting, wins/losses, or overall success perspective (or combination of), Memphis offered a better situation.

2. (2005-2009) is certainly among the best memories (if not the top) our generation has of the program. However, they are still vacated wins, so technically the numbers don’t back that up. It’s a fact. And Calipari has to deserve blame here. I mean, if you think about all the potential parties responsible or involved in the vacated wins (due primarily to Rose’s fraudulent SAT test) you have player, coach, university (represented by the president), NCAA, and let’s throw Worldwide Wes in there. Which ones ACTUALLY knew that the test was taken by someone else? Obviously the player did, but I’d venture to say there was more knowledge of fraud that lay with Wes and Calipari than with the university and/or NCAA. As you yourself mentioned in a previous article, these coaches are CEO’s – they know exactly what’s going on with their players lives day in and day out, even when they claim to not knowing certain details. And, with Calipari’s background and vacated Final Four at UMass? It’s hard to absolve him of any wrongdoing, yet lay blame with the university.

3. I think about this (that people should empathize with Calipari chasing his dreams to coach at KY) a lot. How much of the hatred stems just from Calipari alone, as opposed to the entire picture? What I mean is, had he left Memphis to go to NC State or South Carolina, would he be as hated? I honestly don’t think so. I think so much of it is about:

  • Kentucky – Kentucky was struggling to consistently succeed with Gillespie and their fan base – who is accustomed to winning – wasn’t happy. But the only way they could overcome that lack of success was to buy someone else’s successful plan. It’s the Yankees vs. the Athletics of the early 2000’s – one purchases success because they have unlimited funds – and apparently lack the tools to generate success on their own – and the other manufactures success out of sheer creativity since they have nothing else to rely on. Nobody likes to root for the former, and when individuals jump ship to become a part of it, that angers the people that are left in the wake. Again, if, instead, Calipari went to Pittsburgh for more money or hometown ties, I don’t think it would have caused as much pain and anger with our fan base.
  • Leaving just as things were starting to hit their apex with his system – No matter what, you have to give him credit for constantly tinkering with and perfecting his model to get to the point he’s at now. And that started at Memphis. For a little bit, he was known as a guy that recruits big men due to having DeMarcus Cousins, Nerlens Noel, and Anthony Davis (among others) on his team. But there was a time prior to that when he was known as a point guard coach since he successfully recruited Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, and John Wall. But all he was doing, really, was going after the top talent who would stay for only one year – and he was able to change his philosophy and strategy based on what the market bore out. For a while, the market provided point guards. Then, the market changed and provided top big men. He adjusted based on the situation – and no other coaches were able to do that. He deserves credit for it. The hardest thing to stomach for Tiger fans is that it was really on the cusp of paying off in the biggest way – a championship. A couple of Elite 8 appearances (and a few breaks away from them being Final Four appearances), then a dominant run to the National Championship (and REALLY a couple breaks from winning it), followed by what was supposed to be the mother lode of a recruiting class (Wall, Cousins, Henry, Bledsoe) to get us there again. Then, poof – it all just disappeared. What if it disappeared after we won a national championship, or two? Would there be as much hatred if we’d reaped the payout to some degree? Hard to say. I imagine there would be raw emotion about it initially, but I also suspect that Tiger fans would come to say, “hey, we got a championship out of it, and all good things come to an end eventually.”
  • Leaving Memphis to deal with penalties while he gets away unscathed – You have to consider the man and his history. This was a person who only took the U of M job because nobody else would hire him at the time. A vacated Final Four at UMass, running a dirty program there and also while at Memphis (more than half of the players on the 2007-08 team were dealing with legal issues at some point), so dirty that Kentucky didn’t want him initially when they hired Gillespie instead – these all point to the fabric of who he is as a coach. And then, heat comes down on the program from the NCAA (for things he played a part in), and all of a sudden he’s out the door to bigger and better with a squeaky clean image intact – and has IMMEDIATE and consistent success, while we’re left to deal with the ruins? And, to make matters worse, after he burns the program to the ground he picks through the bones to see what’s left on the way out. Where’s the accountability for the coach? Why doesn’t he have to pay any price for his wrongdoing? Very hard for our fan base to stomach.

Like I said, I think it’s more than just hatred for the man or the coach, it’s about the entire situation. You change any single aspect of it and I think the emotion lessens to a large degree, and it lessens even more when you change more of the factors. What if? What if we don’t go 2-17 on 3 pointers against UCLA in the Elite 8 in 2006 and end up making the championship? What if Joey Dorsey doesn’t trash talk Greg Oden the follow year and, again, Memphis makes the championship? What if Rose or CDR make one of those free throws, Dorsey doesn’t foul out, Calipari calls timeout, Rose actually fouls Chalmers, or Chalmers doesn’t hit that f-ing shot? What if Rose actually took his f-ing SAT’s??? What if Kentucky came calling a year later instead, and Wall, Cousins, and Xavier Henry lead Memphis to another title? What if Calipari goes home to Pittsburgh instead of Kentucky…after all of that? Nobody really knows, but I think the anger subsides quickly and Tiger fans are grateful to have had that kind of run and don’t hold any grudge. Now, I realize the point of your article is to make us all understand that we need to move on from the Calipari era in order to make progress with our program going forward. And I completely agree with that. But moving on, forgiving, and embracing are different things entirely.

Just my thoughts,

Rob L.