Kentucky's John Calipari closes in on big deal for Arkansas head coaching job: Sources

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By Shams Sarania, Dana O'Neill and Kyle Tucker

Kentucky coach John Calipari, who has been at the school for 15 seasons, is closing in on a big new contract to leave the Wildcats and become the next head coach at the University of Arkansas, two sources said. Athletic.

Razorbacks officials have focused their head coaching search on Calipari in recent days and intensified their search over the weekend, sources said. No deal was finalized as of Sunday night, the sources said.

Calipari called John Tyson, the billionaire heir to the Tyson Foods empire and a major promoter of Arkansas, a “longtime friend.” Arkansas is looking for a coach to replace Eric Musselman, who left for the same role at USC on April 4.

Calipari, who led the Wildcats to seven Elite Eights, four Final Fours and a 2012 national title, is signed to UK through the 2028-29 season — but he doesn't have to buy out for leaving school early.

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Had he been fired after this season, the school would have owed Calipari $33 million. It became a hot topic in Lexington after its second first-round NCAA tournament exit in three years. The Cats haven't reached the Sweet 16 since 2019, haven't won the SEC title since 2020 and haven't made the Final Four since 2015.

Many in the fan base were ready to walk away from Calipari after this year's loss to 14th-ranked Oakland, but he and athletic director Mitch Barnhart came out publicly days later to say they were working together to turn the program around. This sudden mutual interest between Calipari and a new suitor in the same Southeastern Conference has Calipari, a 65-year-old Hall of Famer, hoping that the fresh start will ultimately be better for everyone. Calipari is the second longest tenured coach in UK men's basketball history behind Adolph Rupp (41 seasons).

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Calipari, who led Massachusetts and Memphis to the Final Four, has won 410 games at Kentucky, and his .769 hitting percentage ranks behind only Rupp and Rick Pitino among UK coaches of more than one season. Kentucky's 2012 national title under Calipari was the eighth in school history and the first since 1998. Before he arrived in Lexington in 2009, the Wildcats hadn't reached the Elite Eight since 2005 or won 30-plus games in a season since 2002. 03.

Calipari and Kentucky are the no. 2 have a recruiting class that includes three McDonald's All-Americans. Notably, the last time he traded from Memphis to Kentucky in 2009, he took his recruiting class with him, which included John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.

Arkansas reached three NCAA Tournaments — including two Elite Eights — in five seasons under Musselman. A 16-17 record in 2023-24 — the worst record of Musselman's tenure — knocked Arkansas out of the NCAA Tournament this year. The Razorbacks are approaching the 30-year anniversary of their last Final Four appearance.

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