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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Frenzy Ends Without Incident

Frenzy ends without incident

Jeff Calkins, Memphis Commercial Appeal
April 12, 2006

You are now free to go back to your regularly-scheduled life. Do those taxes. Fertilize that lawn.
Don't waste another minute fretting that John Calipari is going to bolt for North Carolina State. Calipari is staying right where he is. As expected, Memphis barbecue carried the day.
Or Memphis hospitality.
Memphis humidity?
It wasn't the Memphis dollars, anyway.
North Carolina State offered Calipari roughly $2 million a year.
Memphis kept him by offering:
A base salary of roughly $1.3 million.
A salary bump for his assistants.
Improvements to the Finch Center.
Wait, you're saying. What else was there?
A modest share of the Memphis riverfront?
The Zippin Pippin?
Mineral rights to Shelby Farms?
That's it.
It's going to be a hard day for cynics, isn't it?
Calipari decided to stay in Memphis for roughly $700,000 a year less than he was offered by North Carolina State.
Go ahead, read that again.
Calipari decided to stay in Memphis for roughly $700,000 a year less than he was offered by North Carolina State.
The guy took less money to stay in a city he likes, to coach a team he believes in.
That's what you call a life lesson, isn't it?
So endeth our civic mini-drama and it's hard not to feel a little ridiculous about it all.
Just look at the way we've acted the last few days. Over a basketball coach.
By agreeing to meet representatives of North Carolina State, Calipari caused otherwise reasonable people to do unreasonable things.
Witness the scene at Olive Branch Airport early Tuesday morning. had been reporting that Calipari went to Raleigh, N.C., for a visit. Shortly before midnight, word traveled by fan message board that a jet from Raleigh was arriving at Olive Branch Airport.
How did the fans know this?
Because of a Web site called, which tracks the flights of private planes. Punch in a departure site and a destination, and you'll get a list of all the planes making that trip in a defined time period.
There was a flight from Raleigh scheduled to arrive in Olive Branch at 12:20 a.m.
So the news hit the message boards and, soon, hundreds of fans were tracking the flight on its lonely trip through the skies.
Mind you, there was no evidence to suggest Calipari was actually on the plane. It could have been a businessman, drawing up an agreement to buy a North Carolina timber farm, blissfully unaware he was being tracked.
Gary Parrish, who covers Tiger basketball for this paper, went to the airport to meet the flight.
"There were two cars of fans already there," he said.
It was after midnight, on a Tuesday, and two groups of fans showed up to watch a basketball coach get on or off a plane.
Oh, and the plane was diverted to Memphis International Airport. Nobody saw a darn thing.
But why let a detail like that get in the way of our fervor, or should we call it craziness?
Calipari's decision notwithstanding, the coaching arms race has gotten out of hand. When one school is desperate enough to pay a coach $2 million a year, every other school eventually has to do the same.
A decade ago, $500,000 was a hefty salary for a basketball coach. Now $1.1 million is a slap in the face.
How long before the number hits $5 million? Or $10 million? Is any number too high?
Ahhhh, that's just the market at work, you say. Just like anything else.
But it's the market at work in a university setting, and doesn't that change things a bit? Shouldn't universities have values apart from market values? If not, what's the difference between college and pro teams?
The nice thing is, Memphis now has its two high-profile coaches signed to long-term deals. Calipari agreed to his new contract Tuesday. Tommy West put the finishing touches on his, too.
So y'all can relax and get back to whatever you were doing before the panic broke out.
It's done, over.
At least until next year.

To reach Geoff Calkins, call him at 529-2364 or e-mail

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