When the Vols get knocked out of the NCAA Tournament, we immediately turn our attention to spring practice. When Kentucky goes down, rumors on the future of their head coach are always right there to fill the void.
I'm not here to add to those rumors or to stir that pot - Tennessee fans know better than anybody the stress and wild rumor-chasing that comes with finding a new head coach, and I wouldn't wish that on any fanbase. The fine folks at A Sea of Blue have been on the 2011 edition of the Calipari rumors since Friday, this time coming from Gary Parrish surrounding the New York Knicks job.
The real selling point in this discussion isn't what Calipari supposedly whispered to someone in a dark room about how he'd love another shot at the NBA and blah blah blah. But there will be smoke and possibly fire for a number of high profile NBA teams very soon.
There's enough truth in rumors of future openings in at least three major NBA jobs to catch everyone's eye, and Calipari has had enough high-profile success and an incredibly impressive tournament run to make him an obviously attractive candidate to the masses. The New York Knicks have assembled a team with plenty of pieces, just not any of the ones that Mike D'Antoni's style naturally meshes with. The Miami Heat, regardless of what happened yesterday, are flaming out in the second round of the playoffs against the Boston Celtics, and when that happens more and more people are going to wonder if Erik Spoelstra is capable of doing the job there. And this could be it for Phil Jackson, leaving an opening in Los Angeles with his retirement. Even Doc Rivers could step away for a few years, though simply for my own personal sanity I hope the Celtics don't knock on Kentucky's door twice. Boston is the team I care about the most after the Vols, and if they hire John Calipari I'm really not sure what that will do to me, but it will probably involve a hospital.
Anyway, you could have the three most attractive NBA jobs open at the end of the year, plus the opening in Miami that is certainly attractive right now. And because of Calipari's success, these rumors aren't going away for the next several weeks.
But here's my question: as Tennessee fans, do we really want the rumors to be true?
Two years. We had all the ingredients for an epic rivalry, and we only got two years out of Bruce Pearl at Tennessee and John Calipari at Kentucky. The only way Cuonzo Martin is going to get under Cal's skin the way Pearl did is to beat him, and that's a huge to be continued with a giant question mark at the end right now.
But I was so excited when Cal came to Lexington - it was hate consolidation. Kentucky fans should realize that while most teams in the SEC don't like them because of their success and don't like Cal because of his sparkling personality, Tennessee carries a longer and deeper disdain for that man because of his time at Memphis, and his blatant disrespect for our program during his tenure there.
Our excitement for Cal in Lexington was built on the fact that we knew Pearl could beat him, going 2-2 against him in the Tennessee/Memphis rivalry and earning the biggest win of their series on the road in the 1 vs. 2 game. This wasn't like our hatred for Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer, or even Rick Pitino, guys we didn't like and couldn't beat. Pearl and Calipari had the best kind of rivalry: nobody liked anybody, but both sides won. And Pearl got him again in 2010, beating his 27-1 Kentucky team in Knoxville. That evened their series at 3-3; the Cats ran an exhausted Tennessee team to death in the SEC Tournament, then swept us this year to make it advantage Calipari overall.
But Pearl still made us believe we could beat a guy we enjoyed hating so much. I hope Cuonzo can continue to keep the Vols competitive in this rivalry, but the point remains: there's not a coach in America who could come to UK that we would enjoy beating more than John Calipari.
So I hope he stays.
In the best rivalries, you want the other side to be good. I want Alabama to be good in football; it's what the Third Saturday in October deserves. And it's not like Cal came to some johnny-come-lately program and is the sole reason for their success: Kentucky may fire blanks on a Billy Gillispie every now and then, but generally speaking UK is always going to be good. If Cal did leave, they would attract the type of coach that could keep them moving forward.
I hope the Vols continue to be good enough to stand and fight against Kentucky. And I don't think most of us will dislike Kentucky any less just because Calipari likes our new coach more than our old one. Derek Dooley coached under Nick Saban and is (was?) a good friend of Will Muschamp, and neither fact has changed my feelings about Alabama and Florida an inch.
If Cuonzo Martin can keep us in the fight against Kentucky - which means, you know, beating them and not just being content to play them close - then we're going to enjoy it more against Calipari than anyone else. Kentucky will always be good, made the Final Four this year, and should be a Top 5 team next year if the right pieces return. I hope Cuonzo has the Vols ready to continue the rivalry. And I hope it's John Calipari on the other sideline when we do.