Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops still doesn’t appear to be totally over his colleague, Wildcats basketball coach John Calipari, calling UK a “basketball school.” At a post-practice interview on Saturday, Stoops remained passionately defensive of his program — winners of (as Stoops now-infamously noted on Twitter) four straight bowl games. 

The interview, which was followed by comments from athletic director Mitch Barnhart, could have been a general diffusing of the coaching brouhaha. Instead, Stoops doubled down on his objections by outlining the work it took to get the Wildcats program where it is now. 

“I don’t care about what anybody says about their program. That’s not my business, it’s not my lane,” said Stoops. “But when you start talking about our program and others that we compete against … I don’t do that. I stay in my lane. That’s in defense of my players, in defense of the work we’ve done. Believe me, we want to continue to push. But don’t demean or distract from the hard work and dedication and commitment that people have done to get to this point.

“Listen, we all know this program wasn’t born on third base,” he continued. “Some may, but I can promise you this football team didn’t wake up on third base. [They] did a lot of work, we did a lot of work.”

Calipari responds

Stoops and Calipari have yet to speak since the initial comments, though Calipari said on Twitter that he was aware of Stoops’ press conference and had reached out previously. 

“I was told about comments Mark Stoops made in his press conference. I reached out to Mark Thursday & will try again,” Calipari tweeted. “Comparing our athletic dept. to others was my bad. I have supported Mark & the football team through good and bad. I will continue to support them & cheer them on.

He continued, “Now I’ll do what I’ve done for 30 years: Coach my team and block out the clutter.”

The full scale of Calipari’s “basketball school” comments were part of a public push for a new practice facility. In stumping for more support from the athletic department and university, Calipari said something he probably didn’t think he’d receive much pushback over.

“It’s always been [a basketball school],” Calipari told The Athletic. “Alabama is a football school. So is Georgia. I mean, they are. No disrespect to our football team. I hope they win 10 games and go to bowls. At the end of the day, that makes my job easier, and it makes the job of all of us easier. But this is a basketball school. And so we need to keep moving in that direction and keep doing what we’re doing.”

What happens next?

Stoops said he is done talking about the matter. Publicly, it’s unlikely he’ll fire off any more thoughts about it. For his part, Barnhart tried to downplay the situation. “We aren’t a football school. We aren’t a basketball school. We are both of these and so much more,” he said

Calipari may not have meant it disrespectfully, but Stoops certainly took it that way. It’s hard to blame him for taking umbrage and commenting about the football program not being “born on third base.” When Stoops took over Kentucky ahead of the 2013 season, the Wildcats were coming off a 2-10 record and hadn’t won more than eight games in any season since going 9-3 in 1984. After going 12-24 in his first three seasons, Stoops’ Wildcats have enjoyed a 47-29 record, with 10-win seasons in 2018 and 2021, and gone to six straight bowl games.

Meanwhile, Calipari inherited a Kentucky program that has long been one of college basketball’s true blue bloods. While he’s continued to produce NBA talent, the Wildcats haven’t won a national title since 2012 (an eternity in the eyes of Kentucky basketball fans) and made one just one NCAA Tournament since 2019 — a first-round loss to Saint Peter’s in March.

“We will be a grateful (athletic) department. We will not be entitled,” Barnhart said.  

All of that said, Calipari was speaking the truth. Kentucky is a basketball school, but there’s no need for him to be dismissive of what the football program has accomplished in recent years in a public forum.

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