A Simple Truth Behind John Calipari Not Calling the Hogs at His Introductory Pep Rally

John Calipari
Craven Whitlow

As if Arkansans needed any more fuel for piety, this week may be the devout’s greatest example of a higher power hearing his people.

In other words, God answers prayers. 

The atheists may see it differently: Hunter Yurachek’s luck just might have saved his ass. Or maybe it was just John Tyson’s dough.

The poultry meat billionaire and Razorback supporter got a hero’s applause at the introduction of John Calipari as the Arkansas basketball coach on Wednesday evening:

As well he should have. Calipari wouldn’t be Arkansas’ coach right now were it not for the Razorback booster’s friendship with the four-time national coach of the year and the millions he’s giving to keep him in Fayetteville.

Not long after landing in his new home, Calipari took the podium at his introductory press conference with a decidedly less jumpy energy than his predecessor. Just a week ago, Eric Musselman left Arkansas after two Elite Eights and a Sweet 16 when the fan base not only abandoned him and called for his head, but claimed him a failure both on the court and off as several players dealt with personal issues, slander and threats from that same fan base. 

When the times were good, though, few Razorback coaches have ever called the Hogs with such electricity. Five years ago, Musselman came to Arkansas still very much striving to make his mark on the world of college basketball. In fact, that’s how every modern Arkansas basketball coach had arrived in Fayetteville until today. Calling the Hogs is natural for anybody who wants to ingratiate themselves to the fans.

John Calipari Doesn’t Call Hogs at Introduction

John Calipari, you might have noticed, didn’t feel a need to kowtow to the masses during his intro. Calling the Hogs would have come off as strange for someone who was so despised by Razorback fans even just a few days before. “I’m stunned that I’m getting this kind of reception because the only reception I ever get in this town is not friendly,” Calipari told Matt Zimmerman and Quinn Grovey on Hogs+.

So, Calipari simply didn’t publicly call the Hogs at any point during the evening. That’s something Kentucky basketball writer Nick Roush practically Tweet-shouted as he saw his former coach walk off the stage: “Calipari DODGED Calling the Hogs, leaving the stage before Arkansas sent him off with their signature cheer. ‘I’m gonna go talk to these coaches.'”

No, this was not “SHOCKING” “DISRESPECT,” Nick.

Sure, perhaps it was a bit intentional. More than likely, though, the rah-rah stuff just doesn’t resonate with someone of his level of accomplishments.

Calipari arrives as by far the most established Arkansas basketball coach ever, going well beyond the great Nolan Richardson in terms of Final Four appearances, overall wins, league titles, NBA draft picks, etc. in this case, it was way more the Hogs calling Cal than the other way around. How he gets along with Sam Pittman and Dave Van Horn is ultimately going to matter more when it comes to his success at this position than appeasing the crowd with a perfunctory “woooo pie sooie.”

Plus, it’s not as if Calipari sidestepped giving it the the old college try backstage. Click on the video below to see him getting trained up in the ways of the woo by Chuck Barrett, the Razorback color radio announcer, and Kyle Parkinson, the Razorback sports information director.

Judging by the emergent technique, Calipari has some nice finger-wiggling potential but it gonna need to amp up his intensity factor by at least 300%.

Look, even if Calapari’s tenure at Arkansas ends as badly as that first attempt at the Hogs’ signature chant, his legacy is already secured. That means he doesn’t really need to force himself to do things he’s not feeling.

Like stay in a place that couldn’t wait to send him packing.

Calipari racked up four Final Four appearances at Kentucky, including a national championship, but that didn’t prevent the Big Blue Nation from devouring him the last couple seasons. Kentucky’s recent underachievement – only one round-of-32 appearance since the COVID-shortened season – extended the fans’ claws. If you’ve ever seen a Kentucky basketball message board, such a development is not a surprise. Sanity and intensity are not pleasant bedfellows.

Yurachek could not have planned a better hire. In fact, he very much did not. Chris Beard, he of an assault-by-strangulation arrest, was Arkansas’ initial first choice – and many fans’ – but he reportedly balked when the school included a non-compete clause in its proposed deal. When Kansas State received word the Razorbacks were sniffing around Jerome Tang, KSU’s administration offered Tang a raise and extension. Will Wade’s name came up, but someone, or more likely several someones, decided the NCAA helicoptering around campus would probably not be ideal. 

Arkansas Basketball Threw Out Its Net

Arkansas was not at the bottom of the barrel, exactly. Chris Jans’ two years of success at Mississippi State drew him an interview. Darrell Walker’s status as Arkansas player-icon satisfied the segment of the board that wants an Arkansas Man when he was interviewed. But neither were the type of needle-moving hires a program that claims itself as one of the best in the country makes. The donors pulling the purse and marionette strings, and especially John Tyson, ponied up. Calipari will make almost twice what Musselman did when he was in Fayetteville.

A deserved sum. Calipari has made the NCAA Tournament 23 times with six Final Four appearances and that one title so far. On the Mount Rushmore of 21st-century college basketball coaches, Calipari is next to Bill Self. As such, does Arkansas carry the prestige Calipari desires long-term? Maybe not, though it’s more likely Fayetteville is a final stop for the 65-year-old.

It’s also not an unfamiliar one. Not only has Calipari coached against Arkansas just about every year since 2009-10, he’s also coached at Memphis, a place with different vibes than Fayetteville, but still southern, still passionate and still a little bit insane (OK, a lot insane in Arkansas’ case).

The good news for Arkansas is that it finally appears to have shed its tight-fisted, conservative ways. Calipari, a mask supporter and a coach who kneeled with his players in protest in 2021, isn’t exactly an Arkansas Man. But the deep pockets crowd saw enough from Musselman, another progressive (well, for a coach), for them to ignore a lack of roots and good-ol-boy sentiment. Not something easy to give up around here.

Arkansas has its Southern hospitality and is a welcoming place for visitors, so long as those visitors are respectful. And it’s becoming more and more welcoming regardless of people who may be different. Have no doubt, John Calipari is different. He’s not an Arkansas Man. He’s from western Pennsylvania and coached in Massachusetts and New Jersey before finding a second home in the Deep South. Calipari’s not Protestant, even. But by the looks of things on Wednesday, none of that mattered. The pious, the agnostics on the fence, and maybe even an atheist or two, are practically singing “Alleluia, the savior has arrived.”


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