DESTIN, Fla. - This is a football-first event. That much is clear as Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive fields questions from reporters on topics ranging from college football's playoff picture to his league's changing football schedule.
Still, John Calipari draws a crowd at the SEC Meetings. And the Kentucky basketball coach always has something to say. On Tuesday, Calipari talked to reporters at the meetings and touched on a range of subjects, including ones dealing with the newly expanded, 14-team SEC.
What follows is a transcript of Calipari's morning session. Some questions have been modified for clarity, and portions of the Q&A do not appear here.
Do you have a preference at this point for the way the 18 (SEC) games get scheduled? Do you have a sense yet of how that's going to happen?
Calipari: You know what, I'm going to make some suggestions today that we deal with it today so that we and the (athletic directors) have some time to discuss the options. I think they have options on the table, and I just kind of heard, you know, what the Big East did was a couple hard teams, a couple easier teams, so that everybody has great balance. The ACC on the other hand is doing what I thought we should do in Conference USA back in the day: The top teams play each other twice and the bottom teams play each other twice, which means your RPI as a group is better and your top teams' RPI give you that high seed (in the NCAA Tournament).
Now the problem is, if you're not the best of the best, you may be saying, "I don't want to play 10 games against these guys; I may lose eight. Now all the sudden I'm 2-8. I end up being .500." But my point about it would be, "Yeah, you're at .500, but your RPI is so high, it doesn't matter."
So I'm going to discuss it today with the guys, but it'll be about balance. "I want what you have," and "He has what he has," and then we'll all get mad that we don't get six teams in the NCAA Tournament, if you know what I'm saying. But we'll see.
How is this going to mess up what you want to do nonconference-wise?
Calipari: Well, the 18 games moved me (to the point where) we can't have four nonconference games, two at home, two on the road. We can't do it. You don't have enough games. So now you're at 22. You can only play so many tough games. You can't say, "Just play 'em all." Well, you coach the team then, and play 'em all. I mean, you can't do it.
So as they added two (conference games), and then we need to (adjust). One of the things, the league tournament is going to be in, in three or four years, in Nashville. It's not in a football stadium. We're zeroing in on playing at least one football stadium nonconference (game) a year to get ready for postseason. So then it kind of narrows in. Then you play, if the (SEC-)Big East Challenge continues, another game. Then you play your exempt event; there's another game. Then all the sudden you're like, "OK, we have two games that we can win." The rest of them we may lose. Well, you can't. It's not fair for the kids.
Billy Donovan had all his players back trying to win a second NCAA championship. How do you approach this year with a lot of new players? Do you not even talk about the whole trying-to-win-it-again thing?
Calipari: I send a summer letter to my players every summer. After the players got it about a week ago, I put it on the (website) for the Big Blue Nation and whoever else, so you have an idea of what my vision is for team and what I want them to have for a vision. We're looking at perfection and excellence and all that other good stuff.
This has been the third team in a row - really my fifth team in a row - that's totally changed, that you come in, it's new. OK, how are you gonna play? What are you gonna do? Normally, all those teams, it took time for us to hit stride.
Is that kind of fun, starting over?
Calipari: Yeah, it is. I jokingly tell our fans, you don't have to be bored and watch the same team three straight years. Again, I don't like the (one-and-done) rule the way it is. I've worked with the (NBA) Players Association, talked to the NBA. How do we work this so that we can encourage kids to stay in school longer. It benefits the kids, it benefits everybody involved, because we all know it would be better for a young man to be in school a couple years - two or three or four years. But the way the rules are right now, it doesn't (encourage that).
Do you get tired of people pointing the finger at you?
Calipari It doesn't matter. I've said the same thing over and over. It's not my rule, and I don't like it at all. I even have solutions for it that I've put out there publicly. But those don't get (attention from) the national media that want to play that negative card. They don't want to put out there what I'm saying.
I would think it feels really good knowing that you've been to the top of the mountain. That's not anything anybody's ever going to ask you about again.
Calipari: It's better for my family and friends. It's one thing they don't have to explain. For me, I keep coming back to what we've been able to do for young people, where (they're) the first college graduates in their families. I'm the first college graduate, my sisters and I, in our family. So I understand what the means. My daughter's going to be a doctor. Are you kidding me? If you would have said 50 years ago someone from our family would be a doctor, they'd laugh at you. My grandparents came through Ellis Island, didn't know English. My parents are high school-educated. So that cycle of education, and also a cycle of poverty. You might say, "Well, not all the kids are graduating." Yeah, but their cycle of poverty has ended. What we try to do in a short period of time is teach these kids, be socially aware, to understand that you're being blessed. Good things are happening, make sure you're reaching back. There's things we try to do. If you ask me the difference (since) "Well you won it now." If you ask me, "A hundred and fifty families, their cycles have changed, from educational or financial cycle that they've been in their whole lives, for centuries, and we could be a small part of it?" That's what this is. The other stuff is ancillary. I keep saying, "If you do right by the kids, they will drag you where you want to go."
I'll be honest with you. Last year's team - not this past year, the year before - if we had played in a football stadium during the regular season, I think we would have won a national title then. I think we'd have won back-to-back. But we went into a football stadium, had never been in one, and shot 12 percent. Everybody says, "Well, everybody shot bad." We hadn't played that way all year.
Billy Donovan won two titles in a row, and Urban Meyer won two in three years, and there was a prevailing theme there that both of them talked about. It was kind of like, they seemed to reach a point where they say, "Now what?" Are you worried about ever getting to that point?
Calipari: No, because what it did was, it eliminated an issue. Here's what I was (asked) prior to the tournament, the Final Four. Guy says, "How does it feel to be known as the best coach to never win a championship?" And after we won, "How's it feel to be the worst coach to ever win one?"
He called you the worst coach to…? How did you react to that?
Calipari: That was my little joke. But the first one was asked. My point being, all I need to worry about is how many more young people and their families (can I help)? And it never gets boring. It's never "What's next?" I'm recruiting families. I'm in there seeing how they live and seeing DeMarcus (Cousins), his mother calls me in tears, "Coach, you won't believe this. I'm looking at the ninth hole." "What are you talking about?" "DeMarcus bought me a home, and I'm looking out at the golf (course)." I said, "What, do you golf now? No? Why'd you buy a (house on a) golf course, for God's sakes?" But he bought her a home, and she's, "I can't believe this. All that I worked for. Two jobs. Trying to raise these kids by myself. It's over. I'm now, through my son, I'm able to live our dream." Now tell me, does that ever get old? Now, if I'm doing it for me, what's next? You hear what I'm saying? But I look at this and say, "Who are the next wave of families and young people? Can we help their lives change?"
But if you start losing, all of the sudden you're an idiot instead of a genius.
Calipari: Yeah, that's true. If I'm listening to it. But these guys (who cover me) will pretty much tell you I don't listen to them say I'm the worst or the best. I don't listen to it. As much as they think ... because of the social media that I can ... tell them what I can do on a computer. If he slid it over, I probably could get that top open. Probably. But more than likely I could not turn it on. So I don't listen to it. I don't read it. I don't care.
How do you do that?
Calipari: I've got my own family.
Isn't there some temptation to look?
Calipari: No. If I need to see it, if there's something that's vicious that I need to get a lawyer or something, (Executive Associate Director of Athletics DeWayne Peevy) will tell me. He'll say, "Cal, you need to deal with this one," and then we'll deal with it.
I'll ask, "How's everything? Everything OK?" If he knows that I'll react - because I will speak my mind - it won't come to me. If it takes my mind off of the young people I'm coaching, why would I do that? I have a sign on my wall that goes all the way across in big letters. What does it say?
(Peevy: "Coach Your Team")
That's my job. All this other crap? Like, to be honest - can I be honest? To come here right now, this part of this, really to me, it's like going to the dentist. I was telling my wife, "God, I got to meet with these guys again." Like someone says, "We want to do an all-access ..." "No. Do it to another school." It doesn't do (anything) for me. But seeing those kids, Darius Miller and Eloy (Vargas) walk, get their college degrees, knowing we had a 3.2 grade-point average as a team, 10 players over a 3.0, knowing that the three freshmen (who have entered the draft) finished the term - all the term, in other words, two of them had four classes, one of them had five classes; they finished them all - over a 3.0. Three freshmen. So the point of, "Well, they don't go to school," that's all a bunch of crap. That's a bitter old man wanting to act like they can't do this stuff. And it's not true. But again, when you're changing cycles in families' lives, that's the excitement in this. I mean, for me.
And again, if we win another one, fine. Everybody thinks at Kentucky, that you have to win a national title every year. The reality of it is, then we'd have won 40. We didn't win 40. We've won eight. You win them about every 13 or 14 years. They want you in the hunt. Alabama football. Florida football. They want you in the hunt. If you're in the hunt, there'll be a small percentage that'll be upset, but the reality of it is, they want us in the conversation in recruiting. They want us in the conversation that you have a chance (to win it all). And they have the right to do that.
In a one-and-done period, you can change somebody's habits. You can change their lifestyle. You can give them a platform to be successful for life, can't you?
Calipari: Absolutely. And don't you think even the one year away from living at home, getting on your own, creating habits, is going to better prepare them than no years of doing that? The other thing is, "Well, how do you have a relationship with them?" I'm closer with those guys - they're texting, they're calling - I'm closer with those guys. Probably if they were with me four years, they'd hate me. They wouldn't want to be around me.
You say you don't listen to criticism, but Bobby Knight has been incessant about criticizing you. Is it more painful because he's a national championship-winning coach and also a member of the quote-unquote "fraternity?"
Calipari: No. I mean, if you talk to him about it, I think his issues are with Kentucky more than me. He's just not a big fan of Kentucky. Matter of fact, he and I, I had him look at the dribble drive. I went down to Texas Tech and spent a day with him and went through practice, and we've done some clinic stuff where we've been in the same time. I respect it. There are coaches that hate certain schools, and then whoever's there, you're part of it.
Beginning Wednesday on Cats Illustrated: The start of a series of Q&As from our exclusive one-on-one interview with Calipari.