LEXINGTON, Ky. — While Kentucky waits on a decision from John Calipari, former Wildcats coach Rick Pitino says Calipari would do just fine if he takes the job.
Pitino said today the Memphis coach has the track record to restore some of the luster to college basketball's winningest program.
"He's done a great job at UMass. He's done a great job at Memphis and he would do a great job at Kentucky if that's their pick," Pitino said.
Calipari is considering an 8-year, $35 million deal, ESPN reported. It would make him the highest paid college basketball coach.
There had been no decision made early today. Kentucky spokesman DeWayne Peevy had no comment on the situation.
Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown, who hired Calipari twice as his assistant — first at Kansas and then with the Philadelphia 76ers — has talked with Calipari and said Calipari's decision was difficult because he loves Memphis and his players.
"That community, that town, just adores John and respects what he's done. But it's a once in a lifetime opportunity," Brown said this morning after the Bobcats' shootaround.
Brown pushed Calipari to take the Memphis job in 2000, and Brown noted Conference USA was different then with Louisville, Marquette and Cincinnati still in the league. He also thinks Calipari is curious to test himself in a big conference after coaching in the Atlantic 10 and lightly regarded C-USA.
"I think all along he's always been thinking in the back of his head, 'I'd love to be (on a big stage).' And how can anybody fault him? If he leaves, they're going to be upset, but it's because he's done such a phenomenal job," Brown said. "If you leave and you've done a bad job they're happy that you're gone. So you can't win."
Winning has never been a problem for Calipari, who is 253-68 in nine years at Memphis and 446-139 overall. His name has popped up as a candidate for other jobs during his stay with the Tigers, but he has likely never been tempted like this.
Calipari certainly seems to be Kentucky's choice to succeed Billy Gillispie.
The school received permission to talk to Calipari on Monday, though Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson said the program would do whatever it takes to keep the coach who has spent the last nine years turning the Tigers into a national power.
While the waiting game continued early today, sentiment to lure Calipari to the Bluegrass continues to grow. A Facebook group touting Calipari had increased to more than 16,000 members this afternoon.
The Wildcats have deep pockets, play in a major conference and a national presence. What they haven't had since Pitino left in 1997 is a charismatic leader who could bring some electricity to the program.
Calipari would certainly provide that, but it'll be costly.
He has four years left on his contract paying him $2.35 million annually. He also has an annuity averaging $1 million over the deal through 2013.
Throw in whatever settlement Kentucky negotiates with Gillispie, the Wildcats could have near $10 million invested in the head coach of its basketball program next year.
It could be money well spent for a school that is quickly trying to move on after Gillispie's hurried departure after just two seasons.
AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn., and Mike Cranston in Charlotte, N.C., and Associated Press Writer Malcolm Knox in Louisville contributed to this report.