Yes, HE'S GONE, but the really big headline devalues HE'S BACK in the event of the Second Coming. And the saturation television and print media coverage from Memphis donut shop to Lexington airport might make some people wonder how lean things really are in this business.
It's a great story, though. It had an interesting main character, strong minor characters, a plot, deception, suspense, a climax, and a quick resolution. All the things most news stories -- say the endless Herenton epic, the depressing economy, the confusing stimulus, or the consolidation snoozer -- don't have. And unlike another water cooler favorite, "American Idol," it matters.
The future of downtown Memphis is tourism, residents, and entertainment. FedEx Forum can't afford two basketball flops.
Sports can't save a city -- watch the Final Four this weekend in Detroit which has won the Stanley Cup, NBA Championship, and played in a World Series in this decade -- but they can give it a monetary and mental boost, a respite from the daily grind. That's what Calipari did for Memphis better than anyone in the last ten years.
There will be a sequel within a week or two when a new University of Memphis basketball coach is hired and holds his first press conference. He'll have a Calipari-like contract for at least $2 million-a-year to scrutinize. Let's hope he has more to work with than a starting five of Pierre Henderson-Niles, Willie Kemp, and three white guys.
In the spirit of the times, the University of Memphis, in a joint press conference with the coach, President Shirley Raines, and Athletic Director R. C. Johnson, should disclose where every dollar of the new coachs compensation (and his assistants) is coming from. Not that we needed it, but the Calipari story is a vivid reminder that college sports is big and often shady business, and business is way ahead of university athletic departments when it comes to financial disclosure.
The old saw that the athletic department is separate from the rest of the university and generates enough revenue to pay million-dollar salaries demands the same microscopic examination as Cal's final-day timeline. The University of Memphis is a public institution playing football and basketball in public facilities. Open the books in front of the cameras, without waiting for state legislators to demand an audit, as they did in Connecticut recently.
That won't clear the air about one-and-dones or ease the hard feelings many people have about all of this, but at least we'll know what the university and its boosters are paying and why before we go head over heels again.
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."