John Calipari is the new head men's basketball coach at Kentucky. He is coming to a school that some would say has the richest tradition in college basketball history.
It's one of those "dream" jobs that college basketball coaches would love to have. It pays well (8 years for $31.65 million dollars). But with the big money comes even bigger pressure. A lot of pressure. He's going to attempt to do what Rick Pitino did at Kentucky, and what Calipari's successors (Tubby Smith and Billie Gillespie) couldn't do, which is bring a national championship to Lexington.
He's got some big shoes to fill.
The question is, are his feet big enough for the shoes?
A lot of college coaches have come into situations similar to Calipari's. Take Notre Dame football. Lou Holtz was a legend there. They even erected a statue of him at the stadium. While he was coach, Notre Dame was a national championship contender each year.
Once he left, his successors were unable to continue on with the tradition. The pressure to win was too much. One by one, they all were let go. Bob Davie, George O'Leary, and Ty Willingham all were fired. It seems that each week the current head coach Charlie Weiss is always in danger of losing his job unless he turns the team around.
How about North Carolina basketball? Dean Smith was so loved there that they named the home arena after him (The Deandome). When he left, he was replaced by longtime assistant Bill Guthridge. He only lasted a couple of years before the pressure got too much for him and he retired. Matt Doherty was brought in, and then resigned after only three years at the helm.
There are other places that are viewed as elite jobs. These jobs all carry a lot of pressure with them. Places like Alabama, Auburn, Michigan, Ohio State, Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska are all great football coaching jobs that carry an enormous amount of pressure with them. Great basketball coaching jobs are found in places like UCLA, Indiana, and Arizona. These are all pressure filled jobs.
Some might ask if anyone can coach in these places? Is the pressure just too great?
My answer is no. It can be done.
Some of the current coaches in college sports that fit the bill as "larger than life" are Rick Pitino (Louisville basketball), Roy Williams (UNC basketball), Pete Carroll (USC football), and Mack Brown (Texas football). All of these coaches understand what it takes to win at these big schools. They also understand how to deal with the pressure of their high profile jobs. They all have the big feet that it takes to fill the big shoes at their schools.
However, not anybody can do these jobs. It takes a special kind of person. This type of person needs to be "larger than life". They need to have a lot of character, and a lot of charisma. This type of person needs to want to be "that guy".
One thing that coaches need to understand when taking jobs at these schools is that people are very passionate about their sports. If their team isn't winning at the caliber that the fans are accustomed to, then the pressure gets turned up many more notches.
Will John Calipari be able to withstand the pressure? Are his feet going to be big enough to fill the shoes of a successful Kentucky basketball coach? Only time (and the Kentucky faithful) will tell.