football Edit

How Arkansas and Hunter Yurachek hired John Calipari

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas Athletics Director Hunter Yurachek once again delivered a hire that rejuvenated a fanbase that was becoming apathetic with the addition of Kentucky's John Calipari as the Razorbacks' new head men's basketball coach.

Not long ago, Yurachek made the call to bring former head football coach Bobby Petrino back as offensive coordinator for the Razorbacks to ignite Hog fans following a 4-8 showing by head coach Sam Pittman's squad in 2023.

On Wednesday, the hiring of Calipari sent waves of Arkansas fans to Drake Field to watch him walk off a plane and to his car, and then fans made their way over to Bud Walton Arena in the evening for an incredible turnout to watch the new Head Hog be introduced.

National media pundits have spent plenty of time ragging on Arkansas as being a step down for Calipari. Yurachek said you never know if you can get a guy like that until you try.

"He spent 15-20 minutes bragging about how great of a job this was," Yurachek said. "So, if it’s so great of a job, why don’t you want it? And he kind of sat back in his chair a little bit and I think started to think about that. So I’m sitting in the presence of a Hall of Fame coach talking about other coaches for my job and he’s telling me how great a job this is. I’m not doing my job if I don’t ask him if he’s interested, right?"

Yurachek said he talked to "8 to 10" different coaches about the job as he went through his process of interviewing and eventually hiring Calipari.



"I’m very thorough in that search process," Yurachek said. "It’s a very tight, closed search process. But I don’t just zero in on one person. I didn’t know for sure that he was going to take the job so I had to keep my search ongoing while he was taking into consideration the opportunity that was in front of him.

"Here’s what I want to be clear about, in spite of reports, there was only one person offered this job, and he’s sitting right next to me. I think it’s interesting his name never got out during the process, because he wanted this job in the end. He wasn’t looking for something else at his institution that he was in."

Now the 14th head coach in program history, Calipari is one of the biggest names in the college basketball coaching world, if not the biggest. He led arguably the nation's most storied program to a 410-122 (.771) overall record with a 198-65 (.753) mark in SEC play across 15 seasons in Lexington.

ALSO READ: Calipari embracing blank-slate mentality at Arkansas

Calipari is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and he led Kentucky to 32 NCAA Tournament wins, four Final Four appearances, seven Elite Eight births and eight Sweet 16 showings in his 15 seasons at the helm — all of which are more than any other school in that time period.

So why leave Kentucky?

"Never entered my mind about coaching (at Arkansas), one week ago," Calipari said Wednesday. "It never entered my mind. Thursday night was a, 'Hey I need you' (from) my friend John Tyson. Whatever John Tyson would ask me to do, I’m doing. (He said) 'I need you to meet with our AD. He’s going to go through some stuff. I want you to talk to him and help him out. He’s a good man. You’re going to love meeting him, and we did.'

"All of a sudden, Saturday and Sunday, we did. I said I’m not doing anything during this championship. These kids have done too much. They deserve it. It got out, but we didn’t speak. Neither one of us spoke. We’re not talking about it. You can insinuate all you want."

Tyson's friendship helped a lot, but it doesn't hurt that he's reportedly set to help contribute some NIL funding.

"Coach Cal and I talked about NIL robustly," Yurachek said. "We talked about it on the plane. Him and I are on the same page of where it needs to be for us to be competitive. We’ve got some ways to go to get there. Reports make it sound like it is a done deal and the money’s in the bank. What I will tell you is that’s not the case.

"We’ve got a pretty good program in place but we’re going to need help from people across this state to make sure that we give Coach Cal the tools that he needs to put a great team on the floor, not only this year but next year and the following year. So him and I are on the same page for what it needs to be and it’s my job to give him the tools to make sure that he can be successful."

While the relationship with Tyson, the NIL money, the storied program and a solid athletic director were all enticing, it was an hour-long walk that really helped Calipari, he said.

RELATED: Breaking down John Calipari's contract with Arkansas

"I’m telling you what happened to me, we were out West and we had a priest with us," Calipari said. "A Catholic priest, he gave mass in the morning. And I said to him, ‘Father, I’ve got to decide what I’m going to do here. One is Arkansas, the other is Kentucky.’

"He told me, go for an hour walk and have it in your mind you’re the Arkansas coach. And then on the way back, have it in your mind you’re the Kentucky coach, and you’ll see what moves your heart and what you want to do. And I did that. I’ll be honest, when I thought about coming here and building this program and making it something special, it got me excited."

He also got some help from a phone call with Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson, who worked under Yurachek from 2015-17.

"(Sampson) and I are dear friends, and I said, tell me about Hunter," Calipari said. "Well, he almost jumped through the phone, and I said, what are you talking about? I talked to his assistant who used to work for me, Bilal, and he said, when you need things done, then he goes and does it. He’s, what can I do to help you, and then we’re going to get it done.

"I mean, what he did at Houston, the building, the practice facility, all this stuff. What Kelvin needed so he could coach basketball. That got me to where I had to listen, because I’m going to say it again, basketball coaches win games. Administrations win championships, and you know why? Because they want to, and it’s important to them."

Calipari made it clear that he wasn't exactly pleased that news broke late Sunday evening that he was likely making a move to Arkansas, as he wanted to respect the UConn and Purdue players and coaches who were participating in Monday’s national championship game. According to him, though, he hadn't made a decision by Sunday. Calipari said it wasn't until Monday night that he made a decision.

"My thing to (Yurachek), probably at some point on Sunday was, I feel really good, just give me time," Calipari said. "This is going to play, I think Monday night was when it was done, but it was probably 11 o'clock at night or later. And then Tuesday morning, I did the video and my wife did a video and then we did this. Can you imagine that it happened in three or four days?"

In his 15 years with Kentucky, Calipari coached names like Anthony Davis, Devin Booker, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, De'Aaron Fox, Jamal Murray, Karl Anthony-Towns and more. The time he spent there and the players he coached clearly meant a lot to him.

ALSO READ: Calipari discusses Arkansas coaching staff philosophy

"I was happy," Calipari said. "I mean, I loved it there. My wife loved it there. You know what? Fifteen years, I was there. Did everything I could. Gave every ounce of everything I could, and you know what? I’m jacked about another opportunity. I’m like, let’s go. Now, I met with the team. There is no team.

"Hunter is extremely confident, but we’ve got to get a roster together. And some of it is a little bit of everything, but we will. It may take a little longer because there are kids that put their name in the NBA Draft that are going to go through some of the process, which means, do you wait for that kid? Or do you go take somebody that’s not quite as good and you’re going to be juggling balls. That’s what we do now."

Calipari will follow a disappointing 2023-24 season that resulted in a 16-17 overall record — the team's first losing season since 2009-10 — under former head coach Eric Musselman, who is now at USC. With zero projected scholarship players for the 2024-25 roster, Calipari has his work cut out for him.

"If you’re not into basketball, you won’t come here," Calipari said. "If you’re smoking, clubbing, drinking, chasing. This is about being at a place that has zeroed in on a culture that creates professional habits, and that includes academically.

"We didn’t have any issues, they all finished the term, we didn’t have any APR problems. We had 32 kids graduate, we had six graduate in three years. You can do all that, you can care about the kids and still win. What’s changed a little bit is that kids are older."

HawgBeat will closely follow all movement regarding Arkansas basketball's roster and coaching staff, so stay tuned to The Trough premium message board for the latest.