MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The vote had been taken. It was unanimous. John Calipari was leaving. He was going to accept the NC State job.
Every assistant on the private jet flying through the spring night in 2006 from Memphis to Raleigh had his hand up. Assistant John Robic, who had been with Calipari at UMass, voted with his leg. It was their way of assuring the coach that they would all make the move to the new school with him.
John Calipari has had a rocky road at Memphis, but it is getting smoother as he’s turned the Tigers into a national championship caliber team.
“Yeah, we were gone,” Calipari said last Friday as he ate fried chicken in one of his many spots along Beale Street, within eyesight of the FedEx Forum.
Calipari was enticed by NC State’s commitment to the program, the financial considerations for his staff, and the challenge of facing the blue bloods at Duke and North Carolina.
Meanwhile, the Memphis Tigers were coming off an Elite Eight run ultimately ended by UCLA. It was the last game of Calipari’s sixth year at Memphis in what had been a bumpy ride to resuscitate a once nationally known program.
“The thing I can tell you about coaching is that we make decision and career moves when your nerves and emotions are still raw, right after the season,” Calipari said last Friday. “It’s the worst profession for that. Other professions, they have time to sit back and process and logically make a decision. … Emotionally, we don’t have a chance to decompress, to make a good decision. Thankfully, people got involved in the decision.”
When Calipari flew back with his staff, he took a midnight walk with the Memphis team minister along the golf course where Calipari resides. He later spoke with some of his new influential friends at FedEx.
“The NC State thing was the most emotional thing we’ve been through here,” said Calipari’s wife, Ellen.