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Despite The Talk, Tomorrow’s Not A Must-Win For UK’s Calipari

Fans and media love to overhype things.  We enjoy making grand declarations.  We want definitive answers.  So anytime we can attach the words “once and for all” to something, we do so.

John Calipari has a chance to prove “once and for all” that he’s a great coach tomorrow in New Orleans.  If his Kentucky team defeats Rick Pitino’s Louisville squad — and then wins again on Monday — he’ll be given a key to the Mt. Olympus of college basketball coaches.

If he loses?  Then we’ll know “once and for all” he’s not worth the hype and praise he so often receives.

Folks across the SEC and that nation have been beating that drum all week:

“A loss here not only would be a loss with the best team with a national championship in sight, but a loss to Pitino, of all coaches, at Louisville, of all teams.  It wouldn’t erase what Calipari has accomplished in three years, but it would leave those accomplishments receding quickly.”

– Eric Crawford, The Louisville Courier-Journal

“Bottom line: (Calipari) can’t lose this weekend.  Not Saturday or Monday.  Especially not Saturday.  Not to Rick Pitino.  Calipari has his own aura, but it’s in need of an upgrade that only a national championship can provide…

For all the games he’s won at different program, Calipari doesn’t have any national titles.  It’s time to correct that oversight.  It’s time to win the only game he’s never won.  The one that matters most.  The last one.”

– Kevin Scarbinsky, The Birmingham News

Personally, I like both of those writers’ work.  And I obviously understand where they’re coming from.  As noted above, we as a people love “all the marbles” type games.

But win or lose, Calipari’s career won’t end on Saturday or Monday.  He’ll coach another season.  And then another.  And then another.

We want the race to be run yesterday.  But to quote “Ben Hur,” the race goes on.

Take for example the 2009 Indianapolis Colts.  As they were preparing to face the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl, the national ESPN-driven theme of the week went something like this: “If Peyton Manning wins his second Super Bowl he’ll be the best quarterback ever.” 

But what if he’d gone back to the big game five more times and lost them all to finish with a 2-5 Super Bowl mark?  Think folks would still be saying “best ever?”

Ask Tom Brady.  He was 3-0 in Super Bowls and now, having lost two — one in the final minute and one on a failed Hail Mary pass — he’s written off as just another good quarterback. 

But what if Brady reaches five more Super Bowls and wins them all to finish with an 8-2 Super Bowl record? 

Granted, it’s doubtful Manning or Brady — as great as the are — will either one reach five more Super Bowls, but you get the point.

Calipari is in the same boat with Manning, Brady and every other player and coach in the country in this day and age — his last game is the ultimate decider.  Win and he’s legitimized (until he falls short again).  Lose and he’s a joke (unless he goes right back to the Final Four next year and wins a national title).

I get the size and scope of tomorrow’s game from the standpoint of fans in the Commonwealth.  It’s huge.  We’ve said that since Monday.  Another game this is not.  It’s massive. 

But it’s not the final exam for Calipari that we in the media and on the messageboards and on talk radio want to make it out to be.  Until he hangs up his thousand-dollar suits and his coaching whistle for good, he’ll still be writing his legacy.

That means next March many of the same folks talking about his legacy now, will be doing the same thing all over again.



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