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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Tiger AD Cuts Trip for Calipari Talks

N.C. State focused on U of M coach, reports say

By Gary Parrish, Commercial Appeal

April 9, 2006

While John Calipari reportedly surged to the top of North Carolina State's coaching wish list, University of Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson canceled a trip Saturday to remain in town and focus on reworking the contract of his most-visible employee. "I have a NCAA Management Council meeting (this) morning (in Savannah, Ga.,), but I have called (C-USA commissioner) Britton (Banowsky) and told him I am not going to make it," said Johnson, who is simultaneously working on a new deal for football coach Tommy West. "I'm going to work diligently to get both contracts reworked. That is my focus right now."

Johnson's change of plans came as multiple media outlets reported that N.C. State's attention will now turn toward Calipari following Texas coach Rick Barnes reportedly declining an offer of more than $2 million per year. It's unclear whether N.C. State will make an official offer to Calipari, and if so whether it would be similar to what it offered Barnes. But, Johnson said Saturday no school has requested permission to speak with Calipari, which is a common courtesy in coaching searches, though not a prerequisite to engaging in talks. "Just about every year it's been like this with John, and I'm OK with that," Johnson said. "The more successful we are, this is going to happen. ... The good thing is that we've developed a pretty good core of donors."

With Calipari back in town following a week in which he fulfilled national TV obligations and went recruiting, he and Johnson could meet as early as today and potentially end this N.C. State speculation. Though Calipari has repeatedly expressed his desire to remain at Memphis, he has constantly been mentioned as a possible replacement for Herb Sendek, who left for Arizona State last week amid rabid criticism from fans.

Ironically, Calipari, unprovoked, took issue with that criticism before Memphis and N.C. State both played in the NCAA Tournament last month in Dallas.

"There are some people saying they should buy out Herb Sendek," Calipari said. "That is the business we are in. ... It is ridiculous."

Calipari's current contract runs through the 2009-2010 season and has a base salary of about $1.1 million per year plus incentives that could push the total package to roughly $1.5 million per year. For example, Calipari recently earned $200,000 in NCAA Tournament bonus money thanks to the Tigers advancing to the Elite Eight, which this year placed his pay at a minimum of close to $1.3 million (the season-ending loss to UCLA, it's worth noting, cost Calipari an additional $100,000).

Furthermore, Calipari will collect a $2.5 million annuity if he finishes the 2009-2010 campaign. Add that to the fact that the Tigers are expected to be Final Four contenders again next season, and leaving would require Calipari to walk away from a lot in favor of rebuilding N.C. State in the shadows of Duke and North Carolina.

Regardless, Johnson doesn't want things to get that far. That's why he's turned his focus toward securing a better deal for Calipari and his assistants as soon as possible.

"The analogy I use is that I'm the director of a Broadway play and my two lead actors are my football coach and my basketball coach," Johnson said. "They are the ones out front. They are the ones who get the perks and salaries and attention. I just direct the Broadway play. But my job as the director is to keep my two lead actors as happy as I possibly can, and that's what I'm trying to do."

- Gary Parrish: 901-529-2365

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