John Calipari's first head coaching deal paid $63,000. He's pocketed more than $112 million since.
USA TODAY Sports tracked Kentucky coach John Calipari's pay over 31 years and found his base salary has increased 5100%, even when adjusted for inflation.
John Calipari was just 29 when the University of Massachusetts hired him as its head men's basketball coach in the spring of 1988.
At his introductory news conference, he spoke about everything from his recruiting philosophy and coaching style to his goal of creating "a love affair between the university and our basketball program." But he did not talk about the financial terms of his contract.
"It's between $13,000 and $7 million ... but closer to $13," Calipari quipped, according to The Boston Globe.
That high-end number – $7 million – would have seemed ludicrous at the time. He might as well have said "a bajillion."
The son of a cafeteria worker and an airport fueler who never made more than $16,000 a year, Calipari likely couldn't have imagined making that much money in a lifetime, let alone as a college basketball coach.
Now, in his 14th year at Kentucky, it's what he makes for roughly 10 months.
Calipari, 64, is far and away the highest-paid men's college basketball coach in America this year, according to USA TODAY Sports' annual analysis of coaching compensation. He is making north of $8.5 million during the 2022-23 season – $2.5 million more than any other Division I head coach.
Given that gap, and Calipari's stature in the sport, USA TODAY Sports decided this year to not only track his total pay for 2022-23 but the money he's made throughout his college career. USA TODAY Sports obtained employment contracts from his stints at Massachusetts, Memphis and Kentucky, as well as outside income reports and pay sheets for some – but not all – of his time as a college head coach.
The documents reveal that Calipari has signed at least 21 different contracts or amendments during his 31 seasons as a college head coach. His base pay has increased more than 5100% over that time, even when adjusted for inflation. And all told, he has pocketed at least $112 million while coaching college basketball – including $97 million in his current role at Kentucky.
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When asked whether he's been worth the money, Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart said: "Absolutely."
"When you look at television ratings and you look at crowds and you look at NCAA tournaments and things like that, the name Kentucky resonates with a lot of people in a lot of different places," he said. "You have to have someone that is able to lead that program and have that ability to understand the landscape of what it entails. And Cal does that better than anybody. He gets it at every level."
Calipari declined an interview request made through a Kentucky spokesperson. University president Eli Capilouto also declined to comment.
This examination of Calipari's career pay offers a glimpse into his rise as a coach, showing how a blue-collar kid from the Pittsburgh suburbs became the slick, suit-wearing recruiting guru that he is today.
It also illustrates the broader evolution of the college sports industry, where boosters and an influx of television money have driven coaching salaries to once-unthinkable heights.
May 1988: The first deal
Calipari's first contract as a Division I head coach is just five pages long, and it appears to have been drafted on a typewriter. It is dated May 30, 1988.
The deal was for four years, with a clause indicating that he would receive one-year extensions on a rolling basis at the end of each season. And his total pay was $63,000, with a 5% raise after the first month and normal cost-of-living increases after that.
In previously unpublished comments, Calipari told USA TODAY Sports in 2007 that he believes he was the highest-paid coach in Massachusetts history at the time.
"They gave the football coach a $10,000 raise the day they hired me, because he was making $53,000," Calipari said. "He came in my office and kissed me."
Calipari's first contract had just one stated perk – 16 free season tickets to home basketball games – and one bonus provision. He would receive 10% of the athletic department's net receipts if the Minutemen participated in the NIT or NCAA tournament, as they would in seven of the next eight seasons.
June 1992: A Sweet 16 reward
Calipari got his first significant raise in the fall of 1991, after Massachusetts finished fourth in the NIT – an amended contract and a bump up to $76,149 in base pay.
One year later, after a run to the Sweet 16, he was one of the hottest young coaches in the sport. In contemporaneous news reports, he was linked to coaching vacancies at Oregon, UNLV, Villanova, Wichita State and others. He told The Boston Globe that the Shockers had approached him during the season and offered to double his salary.
"Money is not the end-all to everything," Calipari told the newspaper at the time.
Yet, at around that time, he did start making a lot more of it.
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After leading the Minutemen to their best season in school history, Calipari was rewarded with a deal that paid him a base salary of $120,000, plus some substantial bonuses – including 35% of all income the school received for both its performance in the Atlantic 10 and its participation in the NCAA tournament.
He also received $20 for every season ticket sold over 1,500, with a cap of $30,000. And he got to take home all of the school's net income from one away game, which he could help select.
July 1995: The 10-year deal
As Massachusetts kept winning, Calipari's annual base pay continued to rise – to more than $140,000 in 1993, then $422,000 in 1995.
The latter amount came as part of a new 10-year contract he received after leading the Minutemen to the Elite Eight. It was the first deal to pay Calipari an additional sum specifically for "speaking and media fees" and the first to give him an annual stipend ($10,000) to lease a car. Both clauses are now almost ubiquitous in coaching contracts.
Calipari also received a nice post-retirement perk. If he stepped down from coaching, the contract stated there would be a job waiting for him in the chancellor's office, paying him his usual base salary. The position would be guaranteed until he turned 60.
"It's a good contract," Calipari, who was 36 at the time of signing, told The Boston Herald. "I looked at my wife and said, 'It looks like we're going to be here awhile.' "
Nine months later, after a Final Four run and amid an eligibility scandal involving star player Marcus Camby, Calipari left for the NBA, signing a reported five-year, $15.5 million deal to coach the New Jersey Nets.
March 2000: 'Supply and demand'
Calipari's brief foray into the NBA did not go well. He was fired after going 72-112 in just two-plus seasons with the Nets.
One year later, Calipari landed at Memphis, where he and athletics director R.C. Johnson famously sketched out on a cocktail napkin the basic terms of his five-year contract.
The then 41-year-old coach would make $770,000 in base pay, including a $15,000 annual clothing allowance. He would also get a guaranteed slice of the school's apparel contract. But even with perks, it was about one-fourth of what he was paid in the NBA.
"I said, 'That's fine,' " Calipari told USA TODAY Sports in 2007. "Because in this profession, if you do what you do and you have confidence that you’re going to create value for yourself, either they see it and they meet that value or you go somewhere else."
Those words proved prescient. In 2001, following Calapari's brief flirtation with South Carolina, Johnson bumped the coach's annual base salary up to $1 million – even while admitting publicly that giving a coach that much money struck him as "absolutely ridiculous."
"There's no basketball coach worth that much more than an outstanding professor," Johnson told The Commercial Appeal, which is part of the USA TODAY Network. "But we're dealing with the law of supply and demand."
April 2006: Amid temptation, a raise
Over the next five years, Calipari led Memphis to four regular-season conference titles, an NIT championship and three NCAA tournament appearances – including a trip to the Elite Eight. His contract was also amended three times.
In 2006, after being publicly linked with the Indiana job and meeting with officials from North Carolina State, Calipari signed an amendment pushing his base pay to $1.3 million. The Commercial Appeal reported the Wolfpack had offered him a contract worth close to $2 million annually.
"This wasn't about money," Calipari said, according to the newspaper, "because if it was I wouldn't be standing here."
This latest deal did offer a new income stream, however: In addition to the $300,000 that Calipari received in connection with Memphis' apparel contract, he would also be allowed to negotiate – and personally profit from – additional shoe and apparel deals.
USA TODAY Sports was unable to verify Calipari's outside income during his time at Massachusetts and Memphis because he was either not required to file outside income forms or those forms are not publicly available.
April 2008: Annual pay hikes
Toward the end of Calipari's tenure at Memphis, his name was constantly being linked with job openings, both in college and the NBA. The Tigers were making deep runs in the NCAA tournament. And Calipari's pay was skyrocketing on an annual basis.
In the spring of 2007, he signed an amended contract with a 41% raise in base salary. One year later, after taking Memphis to the national title game, it went up another 26% to $2.35 million per year, not including perks and bonuses.
"I want to do everything we can to keep John happy and keep him here," Johnson, the school's athletics director, told The Commercial Appeal in 2008.
The last substantial amendment that Calipari signed with the school also featured seven-figure retention bonuses, starting with $1 million if he re-signed following the subsequent season. He would receive as much as $5 million if he stayed through the remainder of the contract, which ran through 2012-13.
March 2009: Kentucky bound
In late March, Calipari told local reporters that Memphis was "where I want to coach."
Two days later, however, he met with Barnhart and then-Kentucky president Lee Todd in Chicago, to discuss their school's head coaching job. And two days after that, he inked an eight-year contract with the Wildcats worth $31.65 million.
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The deal, which Kentucky said was fully funded by donors and athletic-department revenue, made Calipari one of the highest-paid coaches in college sports. It also prompted industry leaders to wonder if coaching salaries had gotten out of control.
"You have to ask some very hard questions, whether this is really in tune with the academic values (of universities)," then-NCAA president Myles Brand said at the time.
Calipari's deal also included a buffet of perks. The university would give him two "late model, quality automobiles," a country club membership and prime tickets to home basketball and football games. Plus, he would be eligible to pocket up to $850,000 per year in academic and athletic bonuses.
May 2012: NCAA title boost
It didn't take long for Kentucky to get rolling, nor for Calipari's base salary to balloon. The Wildcats reworked their star coach's contract in both 2011 and 2012, with the latter move coming on the heels of a national championship.
By the time Calipari arrived at the White House with his team to celebrate that title, his base compensation had increased 40% from his starting salary at Kentucky, to at least $5.2 million per year including retention payments. The deal made him one of the highest-paid coaches in college sports and in the entire sport of basketball, college or pro.
Barnhart said this raise, and Calipari's subsequent contract adjustments, stemmed from a combination of factors – including shifts in the marketplace and the team's performance. He referred to the reworked deals as byproducts of "a partnership, and a friendship."
"He’s earned an awful lot of respect and reward for the things that he’s done here," Barnhart said. "He’s had some incredible, incredible accomplishments."
July 2014: Fending off the NBA
Calipari led Kentucky to a third Final Four appearance in four years during the 2013-14 season, and chatter about a potential return to the NBA intensified. ESPN reported the Cleveland Cavaliers offered him a 10-year deal worth nearly $80 million.
Instead, the 55-year-old opted to return to Kentucky under another reworked contract. This deal offered a significant hike in base pay – $7.5 million per year, on average, over eight years – while eliminating almost all of the bonus provisions in his past contracts.
In lieu of bonus payments for conference titles and NCAA tournament runs, Calipari would now be eligible to earn a single bonus of $50,000 if his team met an academic benchmark in a given year.
"It was one of the things he was really adamant about," Kentucky deputy athletics director DeWayne Peevy told USA TODAY Sports at the time. "He didn't want any bonuses based on what the student-athletes accomplished."
July 2019: A 'lifetime' deal
For years, Kentucky administrators talked openly about trying to sign Calipari to a "lifetime" contract, essentially tying him to the school until retirement. He signed such a deal in the summer of 2019, and it remains his current contract today.
The 10-year contract stretches through June 30, 2029, at which point Calipari would be 70, and pays him an average of $8.6 million per year. It also would allow Calipari to leave coaching at any point after next season and step into the role of "special assistant to the athletic director." That job would pay him $950,000 per year.
"I think it’s being respectful on both sides," Barnhart said of the arrangement.
Since signing that contract in 2019, USA TODAY Sports found that Calipari has made roughly $33.6 million. That brings his career earnings as a college coach to $112.5 million, or $142.7 million when adjusted for inflation.
That figure will only continue to grow in the years to come, as Calipari's contract also has significant guarantees. If he is fired without cause, he will be owed 75% of the money left on the deal. As of April 1, that would be $41.3 million.
"I think what we’ve done is we’ve come to a place where we think the importance of the job lands in a certain spot, and we’ve honored that appropriately," Barnhart said. "Knowing that the job is an immense job, and that it’s an important one, and that he’s done it at a high level for a really long time. That’s how we see it."
March 2023: Present day
Contributing: Tom Weir, The Associated Press
Follow the reporters on Twitter @Tom_Schad and @ByBerkowitz.