Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari woke up Thursday and decided to publicly make the case for his program to get a new practice facility. So he talked with The Athletic’s Kyle Tucker, explained how he had to stop a recent workout because the roof was leaking in the 15-year-old Joe Craft Center, and eventually said the following: “This is a basketball school. It’s always been that. Alabama is a football school. So is Georgia. I mean, they are. No disrespect to our football team. I hope they win 10 games and go to bowls. At the end of the day, that makes my job easier, and it makes the job of all of us easier. But this is a basketball school. And so we need to keep moving in that direction and keep doing what we’re doing.”
It took less than two hours for UK football coach Mark Stoops to respond.
When I read the story I honestly interpreted the whole thing as little more than Calipari being so frustrated with a lack of action from his administration that he wanted to put some public pressure on them to get a new practice facility off the ground. So I assumed Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart might be a little bothered by Calipari’s words, but I did not anticipate Stoops coming for Calipari’s throat on Twitter.
That’s what he did, though.
I don’t remember anything like it.
Let’s start with Stoops’ hashtag in his initial tweet — #4straightpostseasonwins. That’s in reference to UK’s football program winning the Citrus Bowl in 2018, Belk Bowl in 2019, Gator Bowl in 2020 and Citrus Bowl again in 2021. What it also highlights is how UK’s basketball program hasn’t won a postseason game since 2019, most recently losing to Saint Peter’s in the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament after going 9-16 in the 2020-21 season and completely missing the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
After that, Stoops retweeted these:
Then Auburn’s football coach, Brian Harsin, and Auburn’s basketball coach, Bruce Pearl, decided to have some fun with the situation while playing off of Pearl’s postgame interview after a victory over Calipari’s Wildcats earlier this year, during which the coach of the reigning SEC champions declined to call Auburn a football school or a basketball school and instead just called Auburn an everything school.
There are a million different places I could take this column from here — but the most interesting thing from Thursday is how it served as the latest bit of evidence of just how dramatically things have flipped on Calipari at Kentucky.
Back in the day when he was at UMass, Calipari was the most powerful person on campus. At Memphis, he was the most powerful person on campus. For much of his time at Kentucky, he’s been the most powerful person on campus. But now he can’t just snap his fingers and get the new practice facility he wants to be built (like I’m certain he believes he should be able to do). So he complained about it publicly. And when he called Kentucky a basketball school — which, let’s be honest, it definitely is — the offended Kentucky football coach felt empowered enough to retweet a person who pointed out that the football program has been more successful lately than the basketball program.
And most UK fans seemed to side with Stoops!
Did you ever think you’d see the day?
The Kentucky football coach publicly clapping back at the Kentucky basketball coach, and largely getting Kentucky fans to side with him, was literally unimaginable not too long ago. But Calipari just backed the worst season in modern UK history with a loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to the second place team from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and UK fans no longer worship him like before.
It must feel weird.
Either way, my guess is that Calipari is about to deliver a big season, advance deep into the 2023 NCAA Tournament and possibly compete for the national championship, at which point he’ll have all Kentucky fans back on his side again, and nobody will be too offended the next time he calls UK a basketball school. But the fact that the UK football coach got offended Thursday when Calipari called Kentucky a basketball school, tweeted about it and then seemed to win the awkward #TwitterWar is a reminder of just how badly Calipari needs that big season this upcoming season.
UK basketball hasn’t made a Final Four since 2015.
If that’s still true next April, Mark Stoops’ hashtags could get interesting.