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Arkansas hire John Calipari to coach the Razorbacks, a day after stepping down from Kentucky

Arkansas hired John Calipari as men’s basketball coach on Wednesday, a day after the Hall of Fame coach stepped down from the Kentucky program he led to the 2012 NCAA championship.

The 65-year-old Calipari signed a five-year contract with an annual base salary of $7 million through April 2029 with a maximum of two automatic rollover years for NCAA Tournament appearances that would extend the contract to 2031.

The deal includes a $1 million signing bonus and features retention bonuses of $500,000 each year of the contract along with one-time bonuses for making the NCAA Tournament, reaching the second round, Sweet 16, Final Four and winning a national championship.

Kentucky had been paid Calipari $8.5 million annually.

Calipari is the winningest active coach in men’s college basketball, with a career record of 855-263 in stops at Massachusetts, Memphis and Kentucky. He has led his programs to six Final Fours and three national championship games. He has won numerous awards, including AP Coach of the Year in 2015.

Arkansas vice chancellor and director of athletics Hunter Yurachek announced Calipari’s hiring in a news release on Wednesday. Yurachek noted Calipari’s reputation as an elite recruiter and success in the Southeastern Conference as contributing factors for the hire.

“As I visited with coach Calipari during this process, he acknowledged the tremendous opportunity we have at the University of Arkansas to attract and retain top players and compete for championships,” Yurachek said in a statement.

An introductory news conference is scheduled for Wednesday evening in Fayetteville.

Calipari replaces Eric Musselman, who left for the job at Southern California. Calipari inherits a program that went 16-17 last season after three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, including the Sweet 16 a year ago and the Elite Eight in 2021 and 2022.

Arkansas, like Kentucky, has a rich history. The Razorbacks have been to six Final Fours, won the national title in 1994 and lost in the final in 1995.

Calipari announced that he was stepping down as Kentucky coach on Tuesday, saying in a video that the program “needs to hear another voice.”

He left the Wildcats after going 410-123 in 15 years, including 23-10 this past season. But the past few campaigns have been disappointing by Kentucky standards with a 1-3 mark in its last three NCAA trips, including first-round losses to No. 14 seed Oakland last month and No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s two years ago. The Wildcats were top-three seeds both times.

The most recent NCAA loss set off immediate calls to fire Calipari before athletic director Mitch Barnhart stated soon after that Calipari would return next season. Doing so would’ve triggered a buyout of more than $33 million to dismiss him under the terms of a 10-year, “lifetime” contract signed in 2019.

Money is no longer an issue for Kentucky with Calipari’s announcement and Arkansas’ seismic move that at first glance makes the Razorbacks immediate SEC contenders given the coach’s track record. Kentucky won six conference tournament championships and six regular season titles, though it hasn’t won the tournament title since 2017.

“It was my dream job,” Calipari said in the video. “Anybody in our profession looks at the University of Kentucky in basketball and said, ‘that is the bluest of blue.’ The last few weeks we’ve come to realize that this program probably needs to hear another voice that the university as a whole has to have another voice giving guidance about this program that they hear and the fans need to hear.”

Credit: AP

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