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Forget Hatfields-McCoys, Jimbo-Nick; Kentucky's Mark Stoops-John Calipari feud remains centerstage sports war of words

Calipari-Stoops feud is so bad, UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart publicly weighed in

Forget the Hatfields and McCoys.

What’s a more infamous intra-family battle? Anyone?

Prince Harry and Meghan vs. Prince William and Kate?

PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf?

Derek Jeter vs. Alex Rodriguez?

There’s a hell of a horse race continuing to brew in the Bluegrass State.

John Calipari’s national championship-drought at the University of Kentucky has now stretched beyond a decade, and, at the same time, Wildcats’ football coach Mark Stoops has transformed that program in a consistently competitive, postseason-bound Southeastern Conference squad that UK had not seen at this level since the halcyon days of the late, great Paul “Bear” Bryant.

No, Kentucky football hasn’t won a Southeastern Conference title; nor has it even captured an SEC Eastern Division crown.

Still, Stoops’ blue-collar, well-developed program has toppled rivals Florida and Tennessee in recent years; it’s had a pair of 10-win campaigns.

More than ever in this modern era, Kentucky football can stand on its own. 

Despite Calipari’s seemingly gratuitous need to twice in an interview emphasize Kentucky’s place as a “basketball school.”

Stoops didn’t tolerate it midweek, and he wasn’t done not tolerating it Saturday as his Wildcats worked toward their season-opening game next month.

“I’m the head coach of the football team, and I work within the context of the athletic department,” Stoops said following his team’s Saturday work. “Anything that I said or do is in defense of our players and our staff or our fans.

“Mark Stoops doesn’t need defending. But, you know, I also appreciate the work that we’ve done to get to this point. We want to continue to push and to strive to get better and we’ll do that.”

Flatly, Stoops told reporters that he had not spoken with Calipari, answering with a succinct, “No.”

So Calipari again took his comments public.

“I reached out to Mark Thursday, and will try again,” Calipari Tweeted. “Comparing our athletic dept. to others was my bad.

“I have supported Mark & the football team through good and bad. I will continue to support and cheer them on.”

It all triggered unexpected matinee theatre from the boss of both Calipari and Stoops, veteran UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart.

He conducted his own press conference on the heels of Stoops’s comments, and Barnhart similarly did not mince words.

“As is my norm, I will keep details of the family business and private convos within family,” Barnhart said. “Comments (by Calipari) in an interview created in my judgment an unproductive and unfortunate situation. I can assure I’ve talked to both coaches, they’re extremely competitive and that’s what I want them to be.

“As adults we are responsible for leading a group of young people. … Adults are supposed to teach the children. However, what occurred this week is not who we are and not who we want to be. I’ve communicated that directly.”

Barnhart then took direct aim at Calipari’s “we’re a basketball school” comments.

“We aren’t a football school; we aren’t a basketball school,” he said. “We are both of these and much more.”

Though Barnhart did not enumerate any of the Wildcats’ basketball accomplishments under Calipari, he did point out Stoops’s football program had a chance to extend its school-record streak of bowl appearances to seven this fall, and he also touted the program’s ticket sales.

“We’ve sold 37,000-plus season tickets,” Barnhart said, “plus 6 to 7,000 student tickets putting us around 43,000.”

Though Calipari publicly revealed he reached out to Stoops, Barnhart said that Calipari was wrong to try to conduct that conversation via telephone from the Bahamas – where UK has been as a basketball team – rather than in person with Stoops.

“I think that they’ll talk at the appropriate time when Cal gets back from the Bahamas,” Barnhart said. “… They’re both grown men that are iconic people in our program. I would expect and anticipate that they’ll manage that like pros.

“It doesn’t mean that they’ll have dinner every night together or whatever, but they’ve got programs they’ve got to work at and build.”

Then, Barnhart added this:

“What we came here to do is not to get into drama every day,” he said.