Kentucky AD: Calipari will return as coach, despite calls for his firing after early NCAA exit

Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart confirms on social media that John Calipari will return as men’s basketball coach despite calls for his firing following the Wildcats’ third consecutive early exit from the NCAA Tournament

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart confirmed on social media that John Calipari will return as men’s basketball coach despite calls for his firing following the Wildcats’ third consecutive early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Barnhart posted Tuesday night on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he and the Hall of Fame coach have talked about the direction of the men's program. He posted: "I can confirm that he will return for his 16th season as our head coach."

Kentucky was seeded third in March Madness, but fell 80-76 to No. 14 seed Oakland in the first round on Thursday. This latest loss in Pittsburgh came a year after the Wildcats were ousted in the second round, and two years after they were upset as a No. 2 seed by 15th-seeded Saint Peter's in their NCAA opener.

Kentucky's quick exit drew immediate calls for Calipari’s firing on sports talk shows and social media, with many criticizing his reliance on so-called “one and done” freshmen and Kentucky’s defensive weaknesses. Calipari's dismissal would’ve triggered a $33 million buyout under terms of a lifetime contract signed in 2019.

The coach, for his part, sounded like someone intending to return during his season-ending radio show Monday night as he reiterated his love for players and the state. He also hinted at retaining his roster combination of talented freshmen and experienced players through the NCAA transfer portal — albeit with more beef.

“We've just got to get the right transfer,” he said. "We've got to keep coaching these young kids. We've probably got to use the summer a little bit different because of where this has all gone. We've got to get more physicality, more time in the weight room. ... But on top of that, we’ve got to first of all see who’s going to be here from this roster. And who won’t be here.”

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness