John Calipari Kentucky Pittsburgh Screen grab: WPIX

John Calipari might be best known for his stints as the head coach of UMass, Memphis and Kentucky (and who could forget the New Jersey Nets?). But for the national championship-winning head coach, Pittsburgh will always be home.

At least that was the message that Calipari was trying to convey on Wednesday, as his third-seeded Wildcats prepared to face No. 14-seed Oakland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. With the matchup occurring at Pittsburgh’s PNC Arena, it will double as a homecoming for Calipari, who used his pregame press conference in Western Pennsylvania as an opportunity to proudly display his Steel City credentials.

“How many of you are from Pittsburgh? Yinz? Downtown?” the Moon Area High School alum asked the audience of reporters while answering a question regarding his three-year stint as an assistant coach at Pitt in the 1980s. “I mean, come on, the crick. We had a crick in our backyard. My mom used to say, ‘redd up.’ Like redd up. What is redd up? Like, clean up. Redd up. Do you know what a gum band is? Like a rubber band? It was gum band. A pop? I never knew — they said, ‘Are you going to have a soda?’ What are you talking about? A pop.”

That’s an impressive list of Pittsburgh clichés, but Calipari didn’t stop there as he proceeded to wax poetic about the blue collar nature of his hometown and upbringing.

“When I grew up, it was a blue collar town, but it’s never changed the roots of what Pittsburgh is and what it’s about,” the 65-year-old head coach said. “The Steelers are still —  A. I call the the Stillers, as in Pittsburgh Stillers — they’re still a blue collar team with fans who love them. And, like, where I grew up, my high school teammates are still my best friends. They still come to games and they say, you know — anyway. But we were all brought up the same way. Our fathers were laborers. Mom raised us, and put hope and dreams and you can be whatever. That was mom. But we were all the same. It was a melting pot.

“You were taught, there’s nothing in this world that’s going to be given to you. You’re going to have to go take what you want, and if you don’t work, you will not eat. That was the famous line, you don’t work, you’re not eating. You work. If you want to be better than somebody, you better work. That’s Pittsburgh. And it was the greatest thing. And I think sometimes — anybody that’s been here and left knows that’s what it is, and also, yinz and all the other — how about this word? ‘Jagoff.’ Come on, where else do you say ‘jagoff’ other than Pittsburgh? And when I say it, they go, ‘Oh my did you hear what he just said?’ In Pittsburgh, that’s like in passing.”


I haven’t seen every college basketball press conference ever, but I’d have to imagine that this is one of the first times that “jagoff” has been used in one of them. In any event, Calipari’s comments caught the attention of another famous yinzer in Pat McAfee, who reposted them with pride.

“I’m lucky as hell to be from Pittsburgh,” McAfee wrote.

In a sport where Calipari has often been cast as a villain, this was a rare opportunity for him to play the role of the good guy. Whether you love him or hate him, there’s something admirable about someone who takes such pride in where they grow up, especially a place as unique as Pittsburgh, which isn’t quite the Midwest and isn’t quite the Northeast.

And while this Cleveland-based writer might not agree with his choice in favorite football teams, this much I can concede: it is, in fact, pop and not soda.

[Jeff Drummond on YouTube]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.