LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — When Kentucky coach John Calipari counted former Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive as one of his closest friends and said he was largely responsible for his hiring at Kentucky in 2009.
“Obviously, Dr. Lee Todd and Mitch Barnhart made the decision to hire me, but my friend, guardian, and mentor Mike Slive was instrumental in me becoming the coach at Kentucky Calipari said on his website. “Mike was the commissioner of the SEC when I took the job at Kentucky in 2009 and he had previously been the commissioner of Conference USA while I was the coach at Memphis.
“Without his stamp of approval, I would not be coaching at Kentucky. Mike has always been a supporter of everyone involved in college athletics and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to serve alongside him for a number of years. When he became SEC commissioner, he took the league to unprecedented success on all fronts.
Calipari was saddened to learn of Slive’s passing Thursday at the age of 77. Slive was the seventh commissioner of the SEC and helped the league transition into one of the top conferences in the nation. Slive served as commissioner of the SEC from 2002-2015 and watched as the SEC seven straight national titles in football during his tenure. He also served as commissioner of Conference USA for seven years, where he became acquainted with Calipari.
“I am devastated tonight over the passing of my friend and mentor, Mike Slive,” Calipari said. “I knew Mike was not feeling great and I spent some time last week thinking about his impact on my life."
Like Calipari, Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart was influenced by Slive.
“I was blessed to come into this league the same time Mike Slive became our commissioner. His influence on the SEC was profound, as was his influence on me personally,” Barnhart said. “His incredible vision, unwavering integrity and commitment to the principles of the student-athlete model continue to be an inspiration to the many he mentored in higher education. My heart breaks personally at his loss and my thoughts and prayers go out to Liz, Anna, Judd, and his beloved granddaughter, Abigail. I’m thankful for the many years I had the pleasure of working with him and will forever hold dear the smiles and memories we shared.”
Kentucky president Eli Capilouto said Slive “always led with wise assessment, uncompromising integrity, preternatural calm, and unparalleled vision.”
“He was forever vigilant in ensuring above all else the health and well-being of our student-athletes,” he said. “Those honored to know and work with him have lost a remarkable role model. I will miss his sage counsel and unwavering friendship.”
Current SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said Slive "literally changed the world through his life."
“He was a friend before we worked together," he said. "He was a friend when we were colleagues. He remained a friend in his retirement as I succeeded him as commissioner. Today we all lost a friend. We will miss him for his work and especially for his compassion. Our prayers are with Liz, Anna, Judd and Abigail.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.