If tradition means anything in sports, in basketball, then the comparison between Billy Gillispie and John Calipari so far has been a study in contrasts. I've been following Coach Calipari on Twitter the past couple of months and he is so immersed in everything UK that you can hardly believe that he's only been there for 4 short months. Here are some example twitter updates just from today:
UKCoachCalipari: With 450,000 followers, I am so humbled by the breadth and depth of Wildcat Nation.
about 3 hours ago from TweetDeck
UKCoachCalipari: Got up real early (time change) 2 run on the Strip, which was still cool. Met Perry Stevenson's HS coach's wife. KENTUCKY fans r everywhere!
about 5 hours ago from TweetDeck
Granted, we've yet to see Calipari in games and press conferences when his team inevitably loses games, but they certainly can't go any lower than Gillispie's odd encounters with reporters on national TV. And so far, Calipari has been the anti-thesis of Gillispie's un-Kentucky-like introverted personality, one which led to a very public disagreement with athletic direction Mitch Barnhart about the UK head coaches role as the "good-will ambassador," instead insisting that all that he needed to do was to work hard at recruiting and coaching.
My own opinion is that tradition does matter, especially in a basketball crazed town like Lexington. I lived near Bloomington, Indiana for a year and its the same at IU. Coach Tom Crean gets it. Tradition matters, it matters to what kind of leader you will be. When I think of Coach Calipari so far as head coach at UK, I think of this great quote from former University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler on leadership and history:
WHEN YOU ARE THE LEADER, YOU ARE THE ORGANIZATION. You are the company, the school, the team. You are it. Now if you want to act like some kind of jerk where guys who worked for the program and led the program and sacrificed for the program are not welcome to come back—well, you're not going to have much of a program. And you certainly won't have a family. But if you respect your history, you'll get a lot more in return.Ultimately though, in the competitive environment that is Kentucky basketball, coaching success will be determined more by wins and losses than public appearances and twitter followers. Still, there is something to be said about respecting history, and understanding the power of culture. Something that Coach Calipari obviously gets in the way his predecessor never really did.