With John Calipari
Written by: Jim Cavale - January 16, 2020
Coach Calipari shares stories about his upbringing, his coaching philosophy, how culture plays such an important role at Kentucky, and the impact that social media has had (and will continue to have) in college athletics.
Coach Calipari talks about “the best time in [his] life,” working at basketball camps and as a volunteer assistant, paying for ESPN instead of furniture, and putting all of his focus into basketball.
Coach Calipari shares a story about his upbringing, lessons learned from his mother about paying it forward, and how having a mindset of “giving” opens doors and creates ambassadors for you in the community.
Coach Calipari explain his philosophy around coaching, how he approaches putting players first, and the positive outcomes he hopes he can create through the culture at Kentucky basketball.
On Kentucky players playing professionally: “…the best compliment that’s ever been paid to me, is by Pat Riley, who said ‘All of your guys come to this league and are good teammates. That’s what I love about your guys.’ And he’s got Bam and Tyler Herro right now.”
Coach Calipari explains his approach to using social media, and how he’s been able to create a community of supporters who have become a part of the conversation when others say things for or against him.
Coach Calipari talks about the social media and branding training at Kentucky basketball, and shares insights about the potential impact of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL).
More episodes of the “I Want Your Job” podcast to be announced soon! Stay tuned, and subscribe to be one of the first to get updates about this new podcast.
Jim Cavale: Welcome to season two of the I Want Your Job podcast presented by INFLCR. I’m your host Jim Cavale, the founder and CEO of INFLCR and the host of this podcast here throughout season two, which we’re so excited about. We had a phenomenal first season, thousands of people tuned in for each of our 12 episodes, featuring head coaches like Eric Musselman, the head men’s basketball coach at Arkansas; athletic directors like Allen Greene, the AD at Auburn; and commissioners of conferences like Division I conference commissioner, Amy Huchthausen from the American East Conference.
And so, in season two, we’re just going to build on it because we know that you, our listeners, want to hear more from the leaders you admire, in regard to their philosophy on leadership, their rise to the position they’re in today because they’ve all paid dues, and had a lot of learnings along the way.
And so, to start season two, we wanted to start out with a bang here in episode one, and so we’re starting with Coach Cal. Now, John Calipari, I mean, he’s a guy who we all know has more than 700 wins as a head men’s basketball coach at the Division I level, schools like UMass, Memphis. And now, the blueblood power of Kentucky basketball is where he’s at the helm. And his story is amazing. But this is not an X’s and O’s interview. So if you’re a college basketball coach, and you’re thinking, I really want to hear about his X’s and O’s, that’s not this.
This is about his leadership philosophy. He has taken what he’s learned from Coach Wooden in the Pyramid of Success and created his own and it starts not with wins and losses, not with national championships, not even with NBA draft picks. It starts with putting the players first and what does that mean? And it continues with character values like honesty and transparency, and how he does his social media which, by the way, this guy was one of the first Power Five men’s basketball or football coaches to ever be on Twitter. And he’s still one of less than 10% of those coaches that’s on Instagram. How does he tell a story? Why does he tell it so often? Why does he post when they lose, when they struggle, not just when they win? All that stuff and more is going to be packed into this interview. You’re going to hear his leadership philosophy, his branding and social philosophy, how it plays into the lives of his student athletes, how it plays into their lives after they leave and go to the NBA or into the career world. All that stuff is in this interview. So without further ado, let’s get to it. Episode one, season two, Coach Cal.
So Coach Calipari, I mean, there’s so many things that I want to ask you, so many things that anyone who gets the honor to sit down with you and get to know you would want to ask you, but I think the best place to start is when did you first realize that you wanted to be a basketball coach.
John Calipari: Well, I think the first thing you have to know is that I grew up in an area, it was a, you know, middle class, lower middle class that all of us looked up to our teachers and coaches. And to be honest with you, even when I was in high school, my whole thought was I was going to be a high school basketball coach and a teacher, didn’t have aspirations to be a college coach or an NBA coach or coach at Kentucky. And when I was in third and fourth grade, I used to go with the baseball team and travel with them and be the bat boy, because my dad played softball with Ray Bosetti the basketball coach or the baseball coach. His assistant was Bill Sacco who was also the assistant basketball coach.
So then I started traveling as the ball boy with the basketball team, which was later in the day, those games were at night. And it just put me in a position where I looked up to coaches, you know, I wanted to play. I knew I wouldn’t be, you know, I used to dream about NBA but I didn’t think I’d be good enough to play in the NBA and the NBA wasn’t that big back then. And… but that’s where it all started. And, you know, coached the sixth-grade team, ran basketball camps when I was in college and, and did different things. And when I went to college, it was, man, maybe I’d like to do this. And then I, you know, I get out and I’m doing the college thing and, man, maybe I would like to be in the NBA and I get a job in the NBA and, and then they fire me. So then I get back to college coaching.
So, you know, it’s, it’s kind of like, you know, what’s happened for me, there are things that are presented, and you roll with it. And, you know, if it feels like it’s what you want, you kind of roll with it. And that’s how it’s played out. There was no grand design as a youngster that I was going to be a college coach and all that stuff. It was, I looked up to the teachers and the, and the coaches that I played for and that, that taught us.
I mean, I want to dive into that. So, so, first of all, all of us have people around us throughout our lives who are pouring into us that we either look up to, by example, and or we learn from through teaching. And we look back, especially as we get older at those folks, and some of them, in your case are folks that, that everyone knows, like a Larry Brown, but some of them are these, these folks that you just mentioned that along the way showed you the culture of coaching and teaching and you looked up to them and then you got involved.
We all have a big break too that, that we’ve gotten in our lives at some point that’s given us an opportunity to maybe be more of a leader. For you go into, first, UNC Wilmington and then Clarion, how did you get the shot to then go in 1982 to Kansas and be a part of what Larry Brown was building there?
Well, Larry Brown wasn’t the coach when I went there. So…
Ted Owens, right?
Yeah, there was Ted Owens, but there was a coach that was an assistant. His name was Bob Hill who later coached the Knicks, the Spurs, the Indiana Pacers. And he was an assistant at Pitt at the time. And I got to know him. Well, he ends up going to Kansas, and he’s working for Ted Owens. And he sees me at the basketball camp and says, “Why don’t you come out and work our basketball camp at Kansas?” And I went, “Okay, I’ll do that.” So Pete Strickland and I who was an assistant, he played at DeMatha, played at Pitt and was an assistant. I can’t remember what school. We drove from Pittsburgh all the way to Kansas on I-70. And I-70 goes right to Lawrence, Kansas. And we drove cross country, went, work to camp. Ted Owens watched me work camp and just said to me, “You know, why don’t you… why don’t you stay out here and be on my staff?” And I said, “What position?” He said, “Volunteer assistant.” I said, “Volunteer assistant,” I said, “How much is that guy make?” And so, I worked their camp, made a few thousand dollars. I worked the training meal, the Sinclairs had the training meal for all the athletes. So I worked there so I could eat. I lived with Dolph Carroll who was the part-time coach that was probably making $12,000. We lived in an apartment together. We had a choice between furniture to be rented or ESPN. And you won’t believe this. We picked ESPN. So we sat around on pillows. Each of us had our own bedroom, a kitchen table and we had pillows so that we could watch ESPN, the greatest time in my life, had enough and had no worries, loved basketball, we’d spend hours on end with it, would start in the evening to put together tomorrow’s to-do list and start on tomorrow’s to-do list that night just because, you know, you’re excited to be coaching. I’d be in the, in the coach’s locker room and think Phog Allen was in this locker room.
And so, I was so lucky. And, and, you know, what you… money never played a factor in any kind of decision on that. And I’ll be honest with you, you know, the decisions I’ve made, if I make a mistake, it’s usually based on money. You know, the decisions you make are about people. And if, you know, you, you bring… a friend of mine taught me early, he said, “If you surround yourself with good people,” he said, “Good people can come together. And it could be a lot of good people and it ends up being a bad deal, stuff happens. But you can never have a good deal with bad people ever. Be around good people, surround yourself with good people. It may smell right, be… you think it’s bad people, it’s never going to work.” And I’ve kind of learned that early and kind of lived by it to be honest with you.
I was just talking to some guys. I don’t invest in businesses, I invest in people, people that I trust, people that treat other people right, people that are involved in community things and give back to the communities they live and, and those are the people I want to invest in. What’s their business? It really doesn’t matter to me what their business is, that’s what I invest in; I invest in people.
And the only thing to really scale anything, whether it’s a business or a team is great people. And you have had a track record of surrounding yourself with great people throughout your career starting with going and working for Coach Owens and eventually working with Larry Brown. But this whole path you just described also speaks to you, you barely mentioned it, but you knew certain people that got you the opportunity to work at that basketball camp, and then being in that basketball camp, you were able to meet more people to get you the opportunity to go be a volunteer assistant. Have you always been a networker? Have you always been a relationship-building guy? I mean, did that start at a young age for you and you just always had the vision to know that every person you come across, you never know how that person might be somebody you could help or they could help you?
Well, I didn’t, it, it mostly the other way instead of that way. What they could do for me is more or less what I could do for them. But I grew up in a home where I had a mother that her whole thing was pay it forward. And, I mean, we never, you know, we’d have Christmas but, but we never had enough to buy other people gifts. So she would regift, which was whatever we had, if someone came in and they brought us something, she’d go to the back and wrap something that someone else gave us and give that to them, saying, “Here, we got this for you.” So we would read gift. She’d always pay it forward. She… if she gave away something of mine, I’d say, “Mom, I just got that sweater. I never even put it on.” She, “They need it worse than you need it.” And so, you get into this mindset of paying it forward. It doesn’t matter what you have, you can always give something, what’s the impact you have on them, and I learned that at an early age.
I mean, I remember I bought something for a, I think I bought it for a teacher and she gave it to my uncle. And I said, “Mom, where, where is that?” She said, “Well, I gave it to your Uncle Jim.” I said Mom, “I got that for so and so,” and she, “Well, go get it from him.” So I drove to my uncle’s house and I said, “We gave you the wrong thing.” I, you know, and my uncle said, “Well, I already gave it away.” He gave it to somebody else. So that, that was kind of our family. And, you know, it… when you’re, when you’re brought up that way that, like, anything you have is basically borrowed, it’s not yours, it’s borrowed, you think about it different. You’re not thinking about gathering. You’re thinking about giving. And so, that, that was my mom and, you know, it’s, I think it versus how can you help me if I have, it’s how can I help you. And in the end, those people become ambassadors for you. And you don’t know who, what they’re saying or what they’re doing but it’s probably going to be good. You know, you have people out there that would give a kidney for you because there’s something you did and you didn’t even remember doing it.
But I’ve kind of… I’ve been, look, I, I always say there’s no crying on the things that have happened for me. I’ve been blessed. And I don’t know why I’m in the seat of Kentucky, but I imagine that it’s, I can help a lot of people from this seat. And I’ve been able to try to look at this as how many families can we help. And I’m talking of our players and their families, and I’m talking about families in this community. How can we use this seat and leverage the seat I’m in because I only rent it, this is Coach Rupp’s seat. But I’m renting it for the time being, how do I leverage what I’ve been given to help others? How do I get people involved in the things that I’m doing to double, triple, quadruple what we’re able to do because this seat helps me gather people to do stuff?
Well, obviously, when you look at the seat you’re sitting in, success is of course equated by wins and losses and things like national championships and NBA draft picks and all the things that if you walked up to any coach and asked them, “Would you like to have these things?” they of course would say yes. But I love looking at the pyramid in, in your locker room for the leadership model that you’ve developed over your career. And while national championships and NBA draft picks are, of course, the, the, the end goal, the end result, it really starts with the players and this whole servant leadership mindset that you’re talking about even going back to the Christmas gifts and the giving and the give-first mentality. It seems to be a huge part of the culture at Kentucky and I’m sure it was a big part of the cultures at the previous schools that you coach. Can you just talk through the pyramid and how it developed over the years?
Well, I, you know, I’m a big fan of Coach Wooden’s and, you know, he spent years and years and years putting together his pyramid. And I looked at this and I said, you know, the culture that we have here is all based on these kids and how we do this. Every decision we make is based on what… is this right for these kids? It doesn’t mean you give them whatever they want. It doesn’t mean that every one of them is the star. But it’s how do I help each of these kids achieve their best version. What do I do? How do I do it? And so, it started with an inverted pyramid, which I probably saw somewhere in the business sense, they talk about your own people before you talk about profits and all the other stuff. How do you take care of your own people?
I was just meeting with Kent Taylor. And, and he runs the Texas Roadhouse or owns and they have 600 stores, Texas Roadhouse, and what he did is each person that has one of those stores can be a part of the profit. They have 10% of it. And that means, the more you make, the more you get, and you’re buying into this, and you’re able to do whatever you want with this. And it’s been ultra successful because he takes care of his people. And I think that in our case, what we’re trying to say here is it’s about players first. It’s the player, how we travel, how we feed them, what we do, the way we play, our terminology, how we train, how are we preparing them for the rest of their life. Are we also preparing them with social media? Are we preparing them with media training? Are we preparing them financially? Do they understand how to get money to work for them instead of them work for money? Do they understand what it means, what power of attorney really means? Do they understand that what they’re about to undertake, fame and fortune, money has wings and fame is fleeting, what are you going to do while you have it? All this stuff of teaching ends up being about them. And if we take care of them, and we love them, and we hold them accountable, they are going to take care of us and they’re going to take care of each other. If you’re so concerned about yourself, how are you going to be a great teammate?
We have to build a team in short order four months. If they don’t trust me and what I’m saying, you can’t do it. You never can do it. If they trust because they weren’t promised starting positions, “You’re going to be one of two or three players, we do this different. We only recruit two or three and then you guys shoot all the balls.” Yeah, but you tell them that to seven guys. Okay, so now two or three guys go there and they’re not going to be shooting all the balls, this guy is and that guy is. We don’t promise… I want them to come in and understand you’re going to earn what you get here. This is a culture that you will never change. But it can help change you. But you’re not changing this culture. This culture is about achievement. It’s about work, the grind, the day to day, learning how to fight for what you want, that it’s not going to be given to you, learning how to play when the other team is playing out of their minds.
Super Bowl game, the sell outs, every game we play means something to the other team. And it doesn’t matter who it is, whether it’s here or on the road, all of a sudden you leave here, different mentality. Every game we play at home, there’s 50 media there. You got to go up in front of them. You learn how to deal with media. You’ll understand that you can brand yourself here. How do you do that? How do you give information without trying to read everything? How do you do all this stuff that’s going to help you for the rest of your life? And that’s what we try to do here. But aside from that, we got to win.
Like what I’m telling this team right now, I want each of you to do great. We got two or three guys here that aren’t playing well, and I’m trying to get you going, but let me say this, not at the expense of winning. I’m coaching to win this game, you may not play. I may put you in and you’re not getting your job, not going to play it because I’m trying to coach to win. What about me? Well, you better help us win. And so, last game, I played three guards and two bigs and then sub one other guy in and that was it, win the second half, because we had to win the game on the road. And we did. So this, this is, they got to grow up fast. If they’re delusional, they don’t make it here. If you came in being delusional and then someone beats you out or is better than you, and either you didn’t fight to get the position back, you just accept I need to go somewhere else, that’s fine.
We haven’t had many transfer here, probably four or five in my 11 years, but we’ve had a few. But you know what’s great, Jim, they, they still call back here. They call me. They’ll call staff. Before major decisions they’ll call me, “What do you think coach?” And that makes me feel good that they understand none of this… I don’t take this personal. This is about them. It’s not about me. My life has been fine. This is about what I’m doing for them. And if they choose to go to another school, I’ll help them play right away. I’ll say whatever I got to say. The reason is, it’s not about me, “Why they should… they’re dumb, want to punish them.” Why? What are you talking about? They think it’s better to be in another school to help themselves, then let them go.
So this, this stuff here is, is unique and different. And I had to tell… we just had an individual meeting with one of the players and said, “You picked this school, which means you weren’t afraid of it. And that’s why I wanted you here. Now you got to break through. It’s time to break through. Let’s talk about how I can help you. Where can I get you the ball? Do you want it early in the game? How do I get you to where you’re not thinking about every shot I take is a draft position? How do I get you to just play basketball?” You’re playing every minute you can play so don’t tell me I come out when I make mistakes. Your pressure is what do they think of me. It’s not coming from me. It’s coming from within all this stuff that other guys probably don’t have to deal with we deal with here.
Well, I mean, first of all, you talk about guys who have left, small amount, still call you. I think the fact that you can serve somebody but also serve them by being honest is a unique talent in leadership. And you’re talking about this whole, we don’t promise guys a starting spot concept. I mean, the most famous story of that, at least with you is, is Anthony Davis, right? I mean, you wanted Anthony Davis to come to Kentucky but you weren’t going to tell him anything different than you tell any other recruit, right, and treating every player the same.
I told him, “This will be the hardest thing you ever do. And this is not for everybody.” And I said, “It’s just not.” He said to me, “I don’t care what you do, what you say, I want to win. I don’t care where you play me, I’ll earn my way.” And he ends up being the fourth leading shot taker, the MVP, outstanding player of the national championship game. Do you know what he shot in that game?
What did he shoot in that?
He’s 1 for 10, and he was the outstanding player because he walked in at halftime and he told his team, “I cannot make a shot. I don’t know what’s going on. So I’m just going to block shots and rebound, you guys score.” And he was the outstanding player. And he, he, he was, he was so comfortable in his skin. He, you know, but he’s unique. Now, I’ve lost a lot of players that want to be told they’re going to be the main guy and you’re going to take all the shots and you’re going to play this way. I’m just not willing to do it because I want to sleep good at night. I don’t want to lie to kids. I don’t want to use a kid and… for my benefit. I want him to use me. I don’t want it to be the other way around. I want him to use me for everything I know, everywhere I’ve been, everything I’m doing. But I’m going to tell you, I can’t do it for him. You know, if you think this is going to be easy, you’re going to be under that rock for a while. I mean, and you’re going to be in that hole until you figure out this is really hard. There’s no easy way in this. Shai Alexander was our 10th or 11th best player the start of two seasons ago. And you know what? Ended up being our best player by the end of the year and ends up now looking like he’s going to be a max player in Oklahoma City or wherever he chooses to go.
And we see that a lot with your guys in the NBA. I mean, Devin Booker didn’t start games at Kentucky. And look what he’s doing now at the NBA.
Well, you got a bunch of guys, you know, that are there that were part of a team.
We, most anybody has shot here per game shots wise has been about 17, 16. Like this year’s team, the most guys are shooting, the 13 or 14. If you’re used to shooting 25 shots, you can’t come here. Now, if you think you’re going to go to the NBA and be a volume shooter you could do that from here. And if you want me to name them all, I can go right down the line of a Devin Booker, a Jamal Murray, an Anthony Davis.
You know, well, Malik is not being the volume shooter in the NBA right now but so is De’Aaron Fox, so is missing name but we have about 10 of them that went to the league as volume shooters. They just weren’t here. But the other 30 weren’t and learn how to play basketball, learned how to defend, learned how to share the ball, learned how to be a great teammate. It’s the best compliments ever been paid to me is by Pat Riley. He said, “All of your guys come to this league and are good teammates. That’s what I love about your guys,” and he’s got Bam and Tyler Herro right now, who had 18 and 19 last night in a win over Indianapolis. I mean, it… this is, this is a unique kind of place that way, it really is.
And at the top of this pyramid, the inverted pyramid, if you can picture it, we’ll put it on the blog that goes with this podcast so people could see it. But at the top of this pyramid is NBA draft picks, and I know for you, and that’s, and that’s next, national championships to the left, NBA draft picks to the right.
And then the draft is, you know, the green room, being in there and getting drafted. And, and along the way from the apex, which is an inverted pyramid, every decision we make is about the players, players first. And then it talks about the next two, being great teammates and, you know, holding guys… it goes to that next level of teamwork and all of that stuff. And then the top is you’re winning a championship and you’re getting drafted. That’s how we try to do it.
So for you, obviously, every year, you’re out to win a national championship. But when you get up in the morning and you go to your office, you have a report that shows you how your guys are doing at the next level, and you take great pride in continuing to be a resource in their lives, continuing to develop those relationships, and you just named a flurry of guys who are having success. You know, how important is it to you, whether it’s the NBA or whether it’s working for a company and being a leader, how fulfilling is that for you as a coach with all the guys you’ve coached to see all those stories and all those families they now represent and the lives that they’re living after coming through your program?
Here is what I would tell you that’s really great and gratifying. Trying to tell them about fame and fortune. It’s fleeting and money has wings and what you’re doing to impact people, the greatest award for players in the NBA that they love is the Community Assist Award. And whether it’s John Wall who’s won it, Anthony Davis who’s won it, DeMarcus Cousins, Devin Booker, I’m trying to think, there’s been like five or six of our guys that have had that as a weekly or, or the year, for the year award, Karl Towns has gotten it. I mean, that shows me the impact not just in basketball, the impact that we’re having.
We had a dinner the other night, and there were six ladies helping us on the road. And I went around to six different players and said, “Here, give this to that lady.” I want them to understand about tipping. And it was… this was a team meal. You didn’t have to tip but I wanted them. You always, you know, you leave a hotel room, you let your, the lady that’s cleaning your room, you do stuff for other people, small things that way. And, and I’m proud of that for our guys. I mean, it’s, you know, I think guys leave here and understand, man, we’ve been blessed, things that have happened to us probably fate has intervened and helped us more than anything. And, and it’s time now that we do pay it forward.
So we skipped a lot, obviously, and you know, you get your first head coaching opportunity. You build UMass into a power. You’ve been known as a guy who, early in your career could take a group of guys that might not have the most talent but turn them into a team like you’re talking about. You broke my heart back in ‘92. I’m a Syracuse guy and one of your assistants, Tony, was on the team at UMass that beat my Orangemen. They had Mike Hopkins back then, I think, and…
Yeah, we, we won in in Worcester. They, they can… I’ll tell you the game, we’re playing in Worcester and Harper, they come out and go man to man. And you know they never played man to man.
It was the last possession of the game. And they went man to man, and we were confused and my center shot a ball from the three point, my center, because we, we, we broke down and it went in. And that’s how we won the game. So, great coaching too, by the way, Jim.
Hop was all bloody that game. He had a butterfly in his eye.
Yeah, Tony, Tony, I think, gave it to him.
So, so you have success at UMass. You go to the NBA. You come back. We talked about, you mentioned that briefly, coached with the Nets. You go back into college, and go to Memphis, have success there. And then you get this opportunity at Kentucky. And the time that that happened was the same time that the media was starting to change. The iPhone had come out in 2007. And as we know, it’s the screen of choice today for people to consume content in every industry, not just sports. And Twitter really started to become big in 2009 and you have this team with, with John Wall and Eric Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins and in this team was, was a team that was really the first big one you had at Kentucky first year you’re there. But it was also during the time when social media was just getting started and you had a presence on it right away. DeWayne Peevy from your staff likes to tell the story about USC giving him a call and say, “Hey, Pete Carroll is on social, and we want to do a challenge, see which college coach can build a following faster,” but you are at the forefront of it. And so just talk about when you first hear about social media, what’s your thinking? And what’s your ideology ended up becoming around how are you going to use social for yourself and the program?
Well, here’s what I would say, Jim, it was, the, the thing that I was intrigued with, up until then the media cornered the market on defining people. If you tried to defend yourself, you’ll look foolish. Hard to have a lot of other people defend you, even though they’d want to, they wouldn’t know how to. And if the guy wanted to write lies about you, or wanted to have an agenda to do anything he could to make you look bad, and switch anything around, they did. In the old days, writers wouldn’t go after each other. So, if a writer went into a town and went crazy and buried it, no one else would say, “That’s not right. You shouldn’t do that.”
So when this came out, it wasn’t that I wanted to define, I just wanted to be transparent so that you can see who I am, not what he says I am. I never would believe that I’m ever as good as anybody would say. But I know I’m not nearly as bad as everybody would say, but here’s who I am. And you could figure it out yourself. And so, when I looked at this, I said, “Wow, what a great way to be transparent,” to be able to say, here’s what I am.
And what we ended up doing was, if I was somewhere, if I did something and, you know, we would say, here’s what he’s doing, here’s how it is, and we had fun with it. And I never read, listened to a response, not once. So I was giving out information and not listening or seeing it come back. You could respond to what I said. We found out there was a lot of trolls, a lot of, you know, people that were haters that would go on to and respond, but I never saw it. So it didn’t bother me. I never, never heard of it. All I know is I was giving out information. You know, some of it encouragements or, you know, if people passed away or a friend of mine or I wanted to promote something or somebody, I did. And, and you start defining yourself.
Here’s what else I found out. And this is by chance. You just start an army of defenders, who when a guy would write something that was a bald-faced lie, he would get, oh my gosh, 100,000 people would call him out and go point by point, “You are a liar. You lie.” And it would be 100,000 people. Well, guess what, it ended up being 500,000. It ended up being a million, a million six. Now, of that, probably, five or 600,000 are haters, but the other million are not. You have an army that will call out somebody. And what ends up happening now, if you’re going to write stuff about this program, it may just be truthful and be right. Don’t… your agenda doesn’t work anymore. A lot of times guys were tied to other coaches and other programs. And their job was to bury this guy, that guy, that guy, put the black hat on this guy, that guy, that guy and put the white hat on this guy, that guy. They have no control over that anymore, absolutely zero.
The accountability aspect from social media and all facets, whether it’s recruiting, whether it’s what you’re talking about is sky high.
Yeah, I mean, there, people say, “Well, you can write anything and do anything,” yeah, you can. But you’ll be held accountable. Someone is going to call you out. You want to say this, this and this and it’s not true, it’s not true. So I’m saying in this let’s just talk in terms of politics. For, for the sake of this, the left will just say that the left, it doesn’t matter what I say, they’re with me. Okay. The right, maybe people at other schools or rivals, it doesn’t matter what I say, they’re against me. But the independents are who you try to win over and the people who are just there that don’t have a side. Or, you ready? The mothers. What do they say when they read it?
I don’t care what the guy in the far right does, it doesn’t matter. If they looked and I was walking on water, you’d say that cheating son of a gun is walking on water, it wouldn’t matter what happens or what they saw. And I’ll be honest with you, the left, it doesn’t matter. They’re with you. It is all the people in the middle. It’s all those mothers. It’s all the people that aren’t into the sport that way that look and say, “Wait a minute, this guy does what? He does this. He’s this. He’s that. I kind of like the guy,” or they may not like, but it’s not agenda driven. It’s, here’s what’s real. Here it is.
And what comes with that is the opportunity to really show the multidimensional person that you are with how you tell your story because like you said earlier, you’re not just going out there preaching one message. You’re showing holistically the guy you are as a father, a husband, a friend, a coach, all these different roles.
Yeah, I think they’re surprised when my daughters come after me and, and, and they’re teasing or my wife now who’s on Instagram, and who’s put stuff out about me taking the garbage cans down or whatever, and people are surprised that we’re that kind of family, but we are. That’s who we are. They don’t put me on a pedestal. I’m their dad. And I’m there. To be honest, being a basketball coach, their mother raised them more than I raised them. So yeah, they have respect and they’ll fight for me. If you write something about me, my two daughters are… they’re on you. Okay. But my kids have fun together. They enjoy being around us. They love teasing us. We’ve teased each other and had fun our whole lives. You get a chance… this is who we are. You may not like it, hey, but this is who we are. “I can’t believe his daughter would say that about him. He’s the basketball coach at Kentucky. He should be on a pedestal.” They don’t take it that way. It’s not how they do it.
So, for me, watching you be one of the first coaches ever on Twitter, you’re… less than 10% of Power Five head basketball and football coaches are on Instagram. You’re one of those. You’re an active, transparent storyteller on social. You have been for more than a decade. You obviously got a great team there helping you from a content standpoint, but you’re intentional about it. And so, for me, I’m getting ready to build a new company. And I want to really help athletes brand themselves better on social and I look around the country basketball, football, to start, who’s the number one team and coach that I want to partner with. And it was clear to me that if I could write it down on a board before I raised any dollars or put any of my own money in or hire anybody, Kentucky basketball would be the best place to start. And through connections, I ended up getting the opportunity to meet Eric Lindsey from your staff, Guy Ramsey and put together what became the first of now more than 100 college athletics partnerships for INFLCR together with you guys.
Why do you think your team and when I was meaning to say your team, I mean your staff, as well as even your players, were so excited to adopt something like INFLCR that’s helping the players brand themselves?
Well, Eric and Dwayne and the other people that are not my coaching staff, they’re my staff that… and I say staff, I work for them as much as they work for me, but they had to teach me all this stuff and why Instagram was so important, and why you need to have a Facebook page. Why do I have a Facebook page? I’m not going to go back and forth with anybody. That’s fine. It’s another platform. And then we went through a website. Why… a website? And then we, you know, and so all of a sudden we have all this social media. Do you know the stories that we write are read by more than any newspaper that would write a story? Like the local newspaper doesn’t have as many followers as we do reading our stories. And it becomes now like, okay, here’s who we are, I’m going to come back to it’s about transparency, more than anything else. You may not like this, but this is how we do this. This is who we are. We give you the background. Here’s how we are, here and here. You may not like it. But if you watch it, that’s who we are.
And so, those guys came back and said, “Let’s do this.” It went from Twitter, 20,000, which I thought was great to 50,000 to 100,00 to 400,000. We’re at 800,000. What? We hit a million. Are you kidding me? I mean, and then all of a sudden, the Facebook followers, 600,000 700,000, what? Instagram and all the other stuff, finding out that most recruits are on Instagram. They’re not on this other stuff. If you direct message them, they’ll hit you right back, short of that, a lot of them aren’t on that stuff. But I come back to this, nothing that goes out, either I didn’t put out or they didn’t come to me and say, “We need to put this out,” or “it’s so and so’s birthday.” Or I may say so and so passed away and I want something out. It is all my stuff. But I don’t do it personally, because I’d probably hit the wrong button. But I would tell you that they’re so far in front of what most of these schools are doing, it’s not even funny.
And so, for us and our partnership, just going on those stats, when you look at the collective unique following of your players, and then you start to throw in a lot of your active alumni who are in the NBA and active on social, you’re talking about more than 10 million people following these athletes on the different social media platforms, which obviously outnumbers any TV game even that you have if you look at TV ratings.
And we… I was just there with you a couple weeks ago for the Louisville game and before the game you got P.J. Washington Instagram storying about how excited he is for UK and their big rivalry matchup with Louisville. You got Julius Randle. You’ve got all these guys in the NBA and at the same time, before and after the game, you’ve got Ashton, your current point guard Ashton Hagans, and you got Nick Richards and Immanuel Quickley who had career games posting after the game.
And so, all this storytelling that’s happening is not only helping the Kentucky program because more than a quarter of the followers of these millions of people are recruits and more than half of them are fans and, of course, that’s what you’re trying to do and engage with those folks. But it’s helping them build a brand that is sustainable and able for them to be able to leverage when they leave the program and go to that next level. How awesome is that for you to see how cutting edge your program is in thinking about that for them?
Well, we do the social media training and explain this stuff in working with you about pictures and all the stuff that they can put out that have a bigger impact. But kids come here and their following will go from 500 to 20,000. And now all of a sudden you find out name, image and likeness is probably going to be tied in some way to their following, which means that there is an advantage with Kentucky, but also understand the rest of their lives, you are branding. Part of your stuff is going to be who you are, what you’re about, the transparency you show, the impact you have on others and that people can see it. And I think, again, I think our kids in the shoe deals because of that probably get, I’m guessing, 30% more than the normal college player would get on a shoe deal. I mean, our kids have done well based on, “Hey, they’re, they played at Kentucky, they’re…” the brand of Kentucky,” yet us helping them brand themselves is like a double whammy so to speak.
No doubt about it. No doubt about it. When you talk about name, image and likeness, I mean, there’s absolutely no doubt that digital and social is going to be tied to the way this thing plays out. And to be able to tell your story with no advertising, complete authenticity now is, is a foundation for your guys. And they’re doing it on a regular basis.
Yeah, it’s been, and again, it’s been a learning experience for me. And like I said, it’s, you know, I just want to be transparent. I’m not as good as anybody thinks and I’m not as bad as anybody thinks. I am who I am, you know, try to care about people and have that kind of heart. But the reality of it is, people can have their own opinion. And, and what I’m saying with all this, and why there are coaches that are upset with social media, I said, I’m not. I’m not. I don’t want to be defined by somebody else. I don’t want someone else who has an agenda or is tied with another coach or a school define who I am or why we won or how I do my job. How about you just look at it here. Come on in and look.
You know, we had 40 people in our gym today that were from the Young Presidents’ club that they meet and they’re from… throughout our state, and they came in to watch us… I don’t care if anybody watches me practice. I’m not out there throwing balls or punching anybody or cussing. I mean, I, here’s how I raised the bar. And I’ll raise my voice at times. But this is about how do I help these kids get better. Here’s who I am. You, “Well, geez, I never thought that’s who you are as a coach,” it is who I am. But you could be defined now. And this thing here has made it so that, you know what, this is what it is, believe it or not, be happy, not be happy, but this is who it is. And I’m comfortable. I’m comfortable with it. And, and again, I understand there are things that can be written that aren’t true, but I’ll tell you what, the army will go after it. If there’s something that’s written, that’s just not true, before, you’d have to wait a week to go on your radio show and say that’s, that’s a bunch of crap. Not true. Think about that. And by that time, it didn’t matter what you say. And if you end up saying, “I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it,” you know what they say, “Man, he did it.” I mean, it’s crazy. I can’t even believe I survived and got the Kentucky job to be honest with you. And now, I mean, it’s, you know, wow, but again, I don’t expect… I used to tell my daughters when I was growing up, we’d be out in UMass and we had the program rolling pretty good. And one of my daughter is eight, the other was five and we’d be at the mall or we’d be ice skating or roller skating. And everybody, “Coach,” you know, they come up to me, and I’d seen, I’m looking at my girls, and I call them together. And I said, “Erin, Megan, I want you to understand this. Not everyone likes your dad. I know you see these people coming up to me. And so you start thinking everybody loves your dad, please, believe me, it is not true.” And even today, they laugh about that. They said, “Dad, we figured out you were… being really truthful here, a lot of people that don’t like you,” but the girls have gotten good. How about my wife in Instagram?
She’s an influencer.
John Calipari: My wife everywhere I go, someone says, “I love following your wife.”
I follow her.
Coach, I mean, you got a lot going on. I’m not going to keep you any longer. I could ask you 20 more questions, but I’m so thankful we all are here at INFLCR for the partnership we have with Kentucky basketball, with Kentucky Athletics, and just with how forward thinking you are with social and new media, with your players and yourself, it’s really awesome to be partnering with you.
Jim, I’ll say one thing, and then I’m going to go. As long as you keep making this about people and how you can help people better themselves and do it. The karma coming back at you and all the goodwill coming back at you is going to be ridiculous, and you’re going to have an ultra-successful company. And what you’re doing in your mindset right now is how do I help. If you have your company and that’s your culture, craziness. Players first, if you stick with that in what you’re doing, it’s going to have a lot of fun and I’m going to have fun following you.
Great stuff from Coach Cal, can’t thank him enough for making time, and listen, this season is jam-packed with awesome leaders. On the next show you’re going to hear from Danette Leighton from the Pac-12. What a story she has being a woman leader in sports for the Pac-12 conference on the digital and marketing side. You’re going to hear a lot of great stuff from her. And it’s just going to continue. Ross Bjork, the athletic director from Texas A&M will be joining us this season, and many others. I won’t, you know, tell you too much because I want you to stay tuned. And I want to surprise you with some of the guests we’re going to have.
But I want to thank everyone at INFLCR, especially our marketing team led by Andres Berrios for putting this podcast together. I want to thank all of our clients, all of our athletes. We have now more than 100 college athletics clients, more than 500 college athletics teams, more than 15,000 college athletes active on the INFLCR app. We are rallied around you. I want to thank you for believing in INFLCR and for being forward-thinking for your athletes and your school because as we know, as Coach Cal said, “Social is where everything is going.” And with NIL, that’s what it’s going to be tied to. And so, we’re just so excited to be a part of this with you, and we’ll be back with episode two next week here on I Want Your Job. For everybody in INFLCR, I’m Jim Cavale, thank you for tuning in.