Regardless of what you think about them personally, the Commonwealth of Kentucky is fortunate to have two Hall of fame coaches manning the programs for the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals. Between them, John Calipari and Rick Pitino have 1190 wins, 3 National Titles and 11 Final Four appearances. Pitino recently gained entry into the Hall of Fame and Calipari is probably just a year or two from inclusion.
Pitino’s entry has stirred up a lot of debate as to whether he should be recognized as more of a Kentucky coach or a Louisville coach. It’s an interesting debate and each side has their merits, but there is another interesting and unique angle to this discussion. Despite all of their individual and career success, neither Rick Pitino or John Calipari will ever get to be known as the greatest coach at their current school.
Think about that for just a minute. Two Hall of Fame coaches will never get to be known as the face of their program when all is said and done in the history books, If Rick Pitino wins another title at Louisville, he may at least enter the conversation, but until then, it is a moot point.
Like Pitino before him though, John Calipari plays in the building named for Adolph Rupp, who will forever be considered the greatest coach at Kentucky. During his tenure, Rupp won four NCAA Titles and advanced to the Final Four six times. Those numbers are a bit misleading as Rupp also was awarded two Helms Titles, some schools recognize as a national title and some of the NIT championships were considered the same. At Kentucky, Rupp won 876 games.
John Calipari’s numbers at Kentucky have been inpressive with a NCAA Title, two Final Fours and 123 wins. Even if you look at Calipari’s career numbers of 526 wins, a national title and four Final Four appearences, his numbers pale next to the Baron. Even Joe B Hall, who followed Rupp directly paled in comparison, with a national title, and three Final Fours. As successful as Pitino was at Kentucky, he amassed 219 wins with a title and three Final Fours. It says a lot about Rupp’s legacy that these three coaches still fall short of his accomplishments.
The same type of situation also is present for Rick Pitino at Louisville.
While Pitino played in a building named for his predecessor at Kentucky, his teams play on a court named for Denny Crum at Louisville. In his 24 years at Louisville, Denny Crum won 675 games, two NCAA Titles and advanced to six Final Fours. Crum will always receive the credit for building Louisville basketball and like Hall after Rupp, Pitino charged with maintaining it.
And that he has done. Pitino has 310 wins a title and three Final Four appearances. He will never catch Crum in wins at Louisville, but if he can add another title, maybe he can enter the conversation for best Louisville coach ever. When it comes down to it, Pitino will probably need to win two more titles at Louisville as Crum built the program and it was an established brand when Pitino took over.
None of this is meant to disparage either Pitino or Calipari, but just an interesting storyline to coaching college basketball in the Commonwealth. By winning titles, both Calipari and Pitino would be instant legends at almost any other school in America, and probably would instantly be the “best coach ever” at the majority of them.
However in the basketball crazy Commonwealth of Kentucky, they are merely upholding the brand and legacy of guys named Rupp and Crum.