Reports: John Calipari finalizes deal to leave Kentucky for Arkansas coach job

John Calipari is reportedly in serious discussions to take over as Arkansas' next head coach. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

John Calipari is leaving Kentucky after all.

Calipari is finalizing a five-year deal to become Arkansas' next coach, according to multiple reports Sunday night. The deal, according to ESPN's Pete Thamel, is expected to be finalized within the next 24 hours.

The Wildcats' longtime coach will replace Eric Musselman, who left Arkansas earlier this month for the open USC job.

According to The Athletic newspaperTalks between Arkansas and Calipari intensified over the weekend. Calipari has referred to John Tyson, the billionaire heir to the Tyson Foods empire and a major Arkansas donor, as an “old friend” in the past as well.

Calipari is reportedly the second highest paid coach in the country making more than $8.5 million per season, which puts him behind only Kansas' Bill Self. Calipari's salary is more than double what Musselman was making at Arkansas. The school reportedly offered Ole Miss coach Chris Beard about $5 million earlier this month, but that deal never came to fruition. . Arkansas also contacted Kansas State coach Jerome Tang about the job, but Tang remained in Manhattan.

Calipari has been at Kentucky since 2009, and he had several dominant runs early in Lexington. The Wildcats reached the Final Four in four of his first six seasons with the program and won a national title in 2012. They won six SEC regular season titles under his direction as well.

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However, lately, there has been some struggle for him. The Wildcats are just 1-4 in their last five NCAA Tournament games. They were eliminated from the tournament this year by No. 14 seed Oakland in the first round. They fell as a No. 2 seed to No. 15 St. Peter's in 2022 as well.

After their recent exit, the calls for Calipari's job have grown louder, even with a $33 million contract buyout. Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart confirmed on social media after their championship loss that Calipari would return for a 16th season with the program next fall and Calipari himself said he was committed to getting the program back on track.

“This is the commitment I make to the fans,” Calipari said on his radio show last month. “Now let's come together and do something special. We can do it. We did it. Let's do it again.”

But now it appears Calipari has changed his mind. Since he's leaving on his own, the $33 million buyout isn't here.

Calipari will now be tasked with keeping Arkansas moving in the right direction after Musselman's departure. The Razorbacks went just 16-17 last season and missed the NCAA Tournament, but they reached the Sweet 16 three times and the Elite Eight twice in Musselman's five years in Fayetteville. This has been their best stretch in basketball since the 1990s, when the program won its only national championship.

It's unclear who will replace Calipari at Kentucky, one of the most coveted jobs in the sport. But most of the top jobs across the country have already been filled. No matter who replaces him, it's sure to be a very heated battle the first time Calipari has to return to Rupp Arena with the Razorbacks next season.

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