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Why does Calhoun get a pass and Calipari can't catch a break?

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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Do you remember this from Bob Knight?

It was December 2009 and Knight, overcoming his fits of shyness, verbally assaulted John Calipari.

"We've gotten into this situation where integrity is really lacking and that's why I'm glad I'm not coaching," said Knight, while speaking at a fundraiser. "You see we've got a coach at Kentucky who put two schools on probation and he's still coaching. I really don't understand that."

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Knight received pats on the back from around the world. Good for you, people said. Stick it to that cheater.

Just more than a year later one of the greatest coaches in a generation, Jim Calhoun, was punished by the NCAA for failing to create an atmosphere of compliance. It's a serious offense despite the flimsy punishment of being forced to miss three Big East games next year.

The reaction? There was some, but it was calm and passed quickly. Knight said nothing. Calhoun acted as if he had no clue what the NCAA was talking about. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

One man, Calipari, is viewed as a cheater. The other, Calhoun, was actually called one by the NCAA. Guess which man catches more heat?

Calhoun and Calipari play each other in the Final Four. It's safe to say the hatred between the two is ancient and real. So are the similarities. Both are tremendous talents, winners, and have had the NCAA on their heels. Both can be smart asses, at times abrasive and controversial.

Here is where the similarities end. Calipari is vilified by the media and basketball establishment (including by me once). Bob Knight has ripped him. Some coaches are privately snarky when his name is mentioned. Writers from Alaska to Arkansas have called Calipari dirty since two of the programs he coached ended up having their Final Fours vacated despite Calipari himself not being punished by the NCAA.

And Calhoun? There may be no coach in all of sports who has received a pass from so many despite being caustic, nasty and actually busted by the NCAA.

Calipari has been savaged. Calhoun has been cloaked.

John Calipari is constantly savaged, yet somehow Jim Calhoun skates free. (AP)  
John Calipari is constantly savaged, yet somehow Jim Calhoun skates free. (AP)  
Why this occurs is fascinating. Or, perhaps more accurately, maybe it's only fascinating to me. That's probably doubtful since across the country columnists, radio talk shows, and message boards have lit up with Calipari talk, much if it, outside the state of Kentucky, glaringly negative.

Calhoun? It's been a tad quiet on the cheating accusation front as the Final Four approaches.

Why is Calipari's past a storyline in the Final Four and Calhoun's not so much? Former critics like me once believed Calipari was a phony. I wasn't alone. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. He's judged much more harshly by critics because of this perception.

Calhoun is seen as cranky, and that's a much more endearing quality even if I'm starting to think a lot of what Calhoun does is an act.

Calhoun isn't just cranky, he can be extremely nasty and a bully. In 2004, as the Hartford Courant reported, when a Providence player from the state of Connecticut named Ryan Gomes came back to burn the Huskies for 26 points and 12 rebounds, Calhoun was asked about him.

"It's the dumbest [expletive] question I've ever heard," Calhoun responded. "I've explained it 1,000 times. I [expletive] up. I didn't take Ryan Gomes. Does that make you happy? Jesus Christ Almighty. ... It took 18 months to sell the kid to Providence. It's been written about. It's been talked about. Don't shake your [expletive] head. You asked a question. I'm telling you how I feel about it. I took Emeka Okafor and Caron Butler. They're not bad. I can't take every player. We have 13 scholarships. ... And if you want me to say I [expletive] up, I [expletive] up. Write it. ... You want me to say I [expletive] up? For the fifth time, I [expletive] up. So put it five times."

A freelance writer once tried to ask Calhoun about his salary. The exchange went like this.

"Coach, considering that you're the highest-paid state employee and there's a $2 billion budget deficit ... do you think ...?" the writer started to ask.

"Not a dime back!" Calhoun said.

We're going to hear all about Calipari and innuendo will rule the week. That's already happening, and I'm no hypocrite. In the past, I've done the same thing.

Calhoun? It'll mostly be quiet despite Calhoun being the one actually caught.

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