John Calipari Kentucky Louisville Mar 21, 2024; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari reacts to a play in the first round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest moves of the college basketball offseason came shortly after the NCAA Tournament wrapped up.

After 15 seasons as coach of the Kentucky Wildcats and three Final Four appearances, one of which resulted in the school’s first NCAA Tournament championship since 1998, head coach John Calipari announced on April 9 that he would be leaving the school.

On April 10, Calipari was named the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, an SEC rival of Kentucky’s.

While a split felt inevitable for the past few seasons, as Kentucky hasn’t won 30 games in a season since 2018-19, which was also the last time they made it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, seeing it happen felt bizarre and surreal. Calipari had a lifetime contract with the school and was one of the longest-tenured college basketball head coaches at the time of his departure.

On Wednesday, Calipari explained his decision to leave on The Dan Patrick Show.


Coach Cal tells Dan why he left Kentucky.

♬ original sound – The Dan Patrick Show – The Dan Patrick Show

Calipari first discussed how a friend of his tried to recruit him to Arkansas in 2007 while he was still the head coach of the Memphis Tigers but the timing wasn’t right.

This time, however, was different.

“My friend John Tyson called me on Thursday night, I was at the Final Four, and he said ‘I need you to meet with the AD,” Calipari said, referring to Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek. Calipari was skeptical but Tyson kept on. “He said, ‘Give me 15 minutes to talk about you.’ I looked at my watch and I had to go, I had someone waiting downstairs that I’m flying with and I have to get down there.”

Tyson told Calipari he wouldn’t do anything until he heard back from the coach, but while at the Final Four, Calipari called Houston Cougars head coach Kelvin Sampson, a longtime friend. Yuracheck was the Athletic Director at Houston from 2015-17, and Sampson had nothing but nice things to say about him.

There was just one issue still bothering Calipari.

“I was having a hard time if I was going to leave because I have players I’d be leaving. Kelvin went crazy. ‘If you leave, they can leave. They can go with you. They could go pro. What are you talking about? This isn’t ten years ago.’ Then he said the one that got me. ‘If you stay, they can leave, they can go pro, this is different.’ That got me thinking a different way and within 36 hours I was ready for this new challenge,” the new head coach of the Razorbacks concluded.

[Dan Patrick Show]