Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun has a long-standing beef with his upcoming opponent John Calipari (who doesn’t?). And nothing made Calhoun angrier than Cal’s fake Boston accent while at UMass.
There are plenty of reasons Calhoun still holds a grudge against Calipari dating back to Coach Cal’s days at UMass from 1988 to 1996: his sideline theatrics, snagging recruit Marcus Camby from Calhoun’s backyard of Hartford, CT, and preening for the cameras, just to name a few.
But there’s no bigger reason Calhoun can’t stand Calipari than the goading Calipari did when UConn refused to play UMass in a yearly series once the Minutemen landed Camby.
It didn’t matter who was around, Calipari always took an opportunity to call out Calhoun for ending the series. When Calipari came up with the season slogan “Refuse To Lose,” another batch of t-shirts in Connecticut colors read “Refuse To Play.” Students wore shirts that said “UScared.”
Calipari took to the airwaves whenever he got a chance to publicly beg Calhoun to play. But Coach Cal crossed the line in Calhoun’s book when he claimed a Connecticut-Massachusetts series “would be good for New England basketball.”
A big mistake for someone originally from Pittsburgh. To Calhoun, a Braintree, Mass. native, Calipari had no idea what was good for New England. The Massachusetts coach was an outsider who wore expensive suits and his neatly combed hair.
When the press brought up Calipari’s crusade to help New England basketball, Calhoun would quip: “Yeah, Johnny Clam Chowder. Telling us all about New England basketball.”
Johnny Clam Chowder? Yes, you heard Calhoun right.
To a guy from South Boston, there was nothing worse than a fake and that’s what Calhoun thought of Calipari and his forced Boston accent now that he was in nearby Amherst.
Said Calhoun in a sarcastic tone: “He sounded just like a New Englander to me. You could see that clam chowder just dripping off his lips. He never said cah [car] in his life. He used to have an R. I don’t have any R’s at all. That proves I belong here.”
The message was clear: Never mess with a Boston man’s clam chowder. As you can imagine, the media ran with the nickname and mentioned it for years with people now forgetting just how spiteful the nickname is and how it was formed.
Even to this day Calhoun doesn’t hide his dislike for Calipari. After he was asked what advice he’d give the three other Final Four coaches, Calhoun responded, “My advice for my three sons would be this, my two sons plus my problem child [John Calipari], I’m the oldest of the group that’s what I feel like…” (Yeah, he didn’t really get to the advice.)
Now 15 years removed from the UMass gig, Calipari has reestablished his R’s and is once again in the Final Four. Not surprisingly, he has once again ingrained himself into the culture of his current gig, becoming a regular at the Lexington racetrack Keeneland and the Kentucky Derby and even has his own commemorative bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon.
Who knows? If Calipari wins the national title, he might just celebrate with a mint julep and a toast to his old friend Jim Calhoun.