Tyson Names 2 Big-Time Coaches on Yurachek’s Radar Besides John Calipari

John Tyson, Arkansas basketball
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

It’s been about two weeks since Arkansas harnessed the financial power of processed protein to fire the shot heard ‘round the college basketball world and hire John Calipari as its next head basketball coach.

John Tyson, the billionaire chairman of Tyson Foods and a longtime Razorback fan and booster, used his friendship with the legendary coach to act as a “conduit” between him and athletic director Hunter Yurachek. The two sat down for a meeting in Phoenix, and the rest is history.

“If we’re going to try something, let’s swing big,” Tyson told Yurachek when he was asked who Arkansas’ next coach should be.

And swing big they did, luring in Calipari from a blue-blood school and flexing Arkansas’ prestige and financial capabilities to the rest of the country. Calipari’s $7 million salary makes him the second-highest paid coach in the sport. He’s at the helm of a program that has only two players and yet is considered among the top dozen most likely programs to win the 2025 national title by numerous sports books, as you can see using the bet365 Bonus Code.

In addition to his handsome salary, a nationally-competitive NIL war chest is putting Calipari in the mix for some of the top players in the transfer portal, including Florida Atlantic’s Johnell Davis, who is rumored to have a price tag well into the seven-figure range.

But it turns out that Calipari wasn’t the only big fish on the chicken man’s radar. In an interview with Bob Holt of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Tyson said the other names he suggested for the job included UConn’s Dan Hurley and Kansas’ Bill Self.

Phew. That’s a far cry from the Chris Beard and Jerome Tang rumors. The two highest-paid coaches in college basketball and the guy who just won back-to-back national championships…fire up the plane trackers, I guess.

But seriously, Tyson saying this shows a radical level of self-belief in the power of the Arkansas program. He wasn’t joking when he said that to Yurachek. He truly thought that the job was good enough to lure in that caliber of coach – and clearly, he was right.

Yurachek said in a Hogs+ exclusive that he talked to a total of eight candidates about the job – who exactly those were will never be known for sure. In the end, it was Calipari who ended up in Fayetteville as the splash hire.

Arkansas’ deep pockets quickly became known to the rest of the country, who reacted with raised eyebrows and confused expressions when the news broke. To be fair, Razorback fans did the same thing, just for different reasons.

It turns out that Calipari and Self being mentioned around the Arkansas job isn’t a new thing. In fact, that’s been happening for the last 22 years. What’s happened in the two decades since then is a lot of turmoil, followed by a recent surge back to respectability and competing on the national level that has put the Razorbacks back at the table with college basketball’s elite.

2002: Bill Self and Arkansas (In Another Lifetime)

Back in 2002, Arkansas was looking for another head coach after the controversial dismissal of the great Nolan Richardson. After more than a decade of great success, including a national title, Richardson was run out of town after his relationship with the university administration had soured and on-court results had taken a dip.

Illinois coach Bill Self, coming off of back-to-back Big Ten titles and deep NCAA Tournament runs, was rumored to be the top candidate for the job. Instead, Arkansas opted to hire lesser-known Stan Heath, then the head coach at Kent State.

Heath had only one year of experience as a head coach, winning a conference title and taking the Golden Flashes to the Elite Eight, but the fact that he was a minority head coach made him a more appealing candidate to an administration at Arkansas that was currently weighed down with the baggage of Richardson’s racial discrimination lawsuit.

CBS’ Gary Parrish described the move as the UA brass “playing a public relations game.” Hindsight is always 20/20, but this move is always one that’s going to haunt Razorback fans.

Self stayed at Illinois for one more year before accepting the Kansas job, which he’s held ever since – winning two national titles and 16 Big 12 titles along the way. Heath, on the other hand, was canned after five years. He left Arkansas with a 31-49 record in SEC play and zero NCAA Tournament wins.

There’s an alternate timeline where Self becomes the head coach at Arkansas, and the Hogs have spent the last 20 years dominating the SEC – maybe with a few NCAA violations along the way. Sources at the time indicated that Self would have taken the job if it was offered, though he publicly denied those rumors.

The two schools have squared off just twice in the years since then, with the Razorbacks ironically getting the better of the Jayhawks both times. In the 2005 Maui Invitational, former player and current Arkansas assistant Ronnie Brewer led the team in scoring with 23 points en route to a 65-64 victory.

The other matchup came very recently in the second round of the 2023 NCAA Tournament, a matchup in which Self was missing from the sidelines after a health scare. Arkansas again secured a one-point victory, winning 72-71 to advance to its third straight Sweet 16.

2007: If You Love Someone, Let Them Go

After Heath’s firing, Arkansas was once again in the market for a new head coach. This time, the coaching carousel went completely off the rails after a long line of top candidates all turned the job down. That included Self, who declined the Razorbacks now that he was firmly entrenched in Lawrence. 

It also included an east-coast dynamo then stationed at Memphis by the name of John Calipari. Small world, huh?

At the time, the hotshot Italian was coming off back-to-back Elite Eights and conference titles with the Tigers, making his situation a pretty cushy one. He was not looking to leave the loaded team he had that included upperclassmen Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson and freshman named Derrick Rose. Calipari also publicly big-timed Arkansas when he killed the hotly-contested rivalry between the two schools, suggesting his perception of the Razorbacks was far from glamorous.

“We have to play national games,” Calipari told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2002. “You can’t play regional games if you’re being a national program. We don’t need Arkansas to sell out our building.”

Clearly the new Head Hog has changed his tune in recent years after coming face-to-face with the fearsome nature of Arkansas basketball during his time at Kentucky, when the Wildcats had their fair share of heated showdowns with the Razorbacks.

Five years removed from the exit of Richardson, it was clear that the Arkansas job had lost a little bit of its luster after the mediocrity during the Heath era. After the infamous Dana Altman incident, the Hogs had to settle for hiring another up-and-comer in John Pelphrey – who also ended up being a total bust in Fayetteville. He was fired after four seasons with a combined 25-39 conference record and just one NCAA Tournament appearance.

Looking back at the history surrounding Arkansas and elite coaches like Self and Calipari, it’s fascinating to see how the popular perception of the program has changed over the years. A lot of credit is due to the hard work of Mike Anderson and Eric Musselman to get the program back to the level that it deserves.

Back to the level where college basketball’s elite have no choice but to pick up the phone when Arkansas is calling – all it takes is a billionaire middleman with friends in the right places to connect a few dots.


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