Chalk Up Some Unusual Language in Calipari’s Contract to His Likely Historic Age

John Calipari, Kentucky basketball, Arkansas basketball
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — The formalities are complete and John Calipari has officially been named the new Arkansas basketball coach.

After 15 seasons at Kentucky, the Hall of Fame coach will be introduced to the public inside Bud Walton Arena at 6 p.m. CT Wednesday.

The hire was announced earlier in the morning, though, with the final step being the UA System Board of Trustees approving his contract, which it did so in a unanimous vote.

Calipari received an incentive-laden five-year deal that will pay him an annual salary of $7 million, with multiple opportunities to increase that number based on NCAA Tournament success, according to a copy of the contract obtained by Best of Arkansas Sports via a Freedom of Information Act request.

That makes him the highest paid coach of any sport in UA history, surpassing current Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman ($5.25 million). According to the contract, that money will come from “a combination of private funds and non-taxpayer, self-generated UA funds.”

Even though Calipari will be making slightly less than the $8.5 million he was making at Kentucky, he is still the second-highest paid coach in the country, according to USA Today’s database. Only Kansas’ Bill Self makes more, at $9.6 million last season.

The contract at Arkansas runs through the 2028-29 season, but has a pair of automatic one-year extensions built in that would be triggered by his first two NCAA Tournament appearances. That would keep him employed through the 2030-31 season.

Not included in the above figures are his one-time $1 million signing bonus, which will be paid on May 1, or the $500,000 annual retention bonus he’ll receive each year on June 30, assuming he is still the head coach. Both of those will be paid with private funds.

Incentives Based on Success of Arkansas Basketball

Much like Sam Pittman with the football program, John Calipari’s contract includes significant incentives that could be worth several million dollars over the life of the deal.

Not only will he receive a couple of automatic one-year extensions by making the NCAA Tournament, but he’ll also receive a pay raise – not a bonus – determined by how far the Razorbacks make it.

Here are those amounts:

  • NCAA Tournament appearance – $50,000
  • Reach the Round of 32 – $100,000
  • Reach the Sweet 16 – $250,000
  • Reach the Final Four – $350,000
  • Win the national championship – $500,000

Calipari is eligible for each of those raises only once and can get only one of them per year. Also, these are not one-time payments, but rather an increase to his annual salary.

For example, if in 2025 Arkansas makes the NCAA Tournament and loses in the Round of 32, he would be paid $7.1 million annually over the remaining five years of his contract. If the Razorbacks then reached the Final Four in his second season, he’d trigger a $350,000 raise to make his annual salary $7.45 million from that point forward.

The max raise he can achieve by the end of his current deal is $1.25 million and the more success he has early in his tenure would mean more money in the long run because it’d apply to more years on the contract.

Details Based on John Calipari’s Age

At 65 years old, John Calipari is believed to be the oldest person hired as a head coach of a major sport in UA history. That is reflected in the contract, which appears to be set up for Arkansas basketball to be the final stop in his illustrious career.

Not only is Calipari incentivized to achieve postseason success as early as possible, but a few other details in the contract seem to factor in his age.

If the Razorbacks were to fire Calipari for convenience, they’d be on the hook for 75% of his remaining deal, with that paid out in equal monthly payments. Those payments would also be offset by any “athletics-related income” he receives in a future job.

That language is relatively common, but the clause also specifically points out that Calipari “shall not have an affirmative duty to mitigate.” Most contracts at Arkansas include such a duty, which requires coaches to actively seek comparable work in order to receive their buyout. That was a point of contention for former football coach Bret Bielema. It was likely left out by Arkansas because Calipari is close to retirement age.

If Calipari chose to leave Arkansas at any point during his term, he would owe the UA a $6 million buyout. That number doesn’t decrease at any point.

However, there is a clause that stipulates he wouldn’t be required to pay that buyout if a “serious disability or illness” prevents him from continuing coaching. He can also retire after July 1, 2027, without being responsible for the buyout — as long as he doesn’t accept another “coaching or administrative position with another college, university, or professional organization” before April 30, 2031. If he retires and then unretires within that time frame, he’d be on the hook for the full $6 million.

Arkansas’ Non-Compete Clause for Calipari

Another interesting aspect of John Calipari’s contract to be the next Arkansas basketball coach is that it includes a non-compete clause.

He is barred from seeking or accepting any coaching job within the SEC during the length of his contract, even if he doesn’t remain employed by the UA for the entire period. That means he can’t be poached by a conference foe.

Furthermore, if Calipari chooses to leave, he would have to wait one year before recruiting any high school junior or senior or rising junior college prospect that he recruited while at Arkansas, unless said player was already being recruited by his new institution.

That would prevent him from doing to Arkansas what he’s expected to do to Kentucky with the No. 2 recruiting class he compiled with the Wildcats. The Razorbacks are believed to be strong candidates to flip multiple players in that class.


See the masses cheering Calipari’s arrival here:

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