Introduced before a crowd of thousands of cheering fans at Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday night, new Arkansas basketball coach John Calipari quipped that he had "never gotten that kind of greeting in this building."

The 65-year-old Hall of Famer recalled when he was ejected during a game inside the venue during the 2019-20 season that his Kentucky Wildcats won. Back then, the idea of Calipari one day leading another college basketball program – let alone an SEC rival – seemed unfathomable.

But it's now reality, and Arkansas play-by-play announcer Chuck Barrett wasted little time hitting Calipari with the million dollar question.

"How did this happen?" Barrett asked as he shared a stage with Calipari for a question and answer session. "Walk us through this."

"John Tyson," Calipari responded, quick to credit the billionaire Arkansas booster he later referred to as "my good friend." Both Calipari and Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek were adamant Wednesday that the former CEO of Tyson Foods played a vital role in landing Calipari to replace Eric Musselman, who left after five seasons to take the USC job.

According to Calipari, Tyson asked if Calipari would meet with Yurachek last week. Both happened to be in the Phoenix area for the Final Four. Calipari agreed, insinuating that he assumed Yurachek might want his opinion on candidates to replace Musselman.

"Whatever John Tyson would ask me to do, I'm doing it," Calipari said.

The meeting lasted less than 90 minutes. Yurachek said Calipari "spent 15, 20 minutes bragging about how great of a job it was." Yurachek eventually asked "why not you?"

"Why not me?" Calipari responded

"Yeah, why not you?" Yurachek shot back.

After talking with Yurachek, Calipari said he "went west" while mulling the possibility of leaving Kentucky for Arkansas. On his trip, Calipari said he spoke with a Catholic priest about the decision.

"Father, I've got to decide what I'm going to do here," Calipari said. "One is Arkansas. The other one is Kentucky."

The priest told him to go for an hour walk and have it in his mind that he was the Arkansas coach. Then, on the way back, Calipari should imagine that he was the Kentucky coach.

"You'll see what moves your heart and what you want to do," the priest told Calipari.

Calipari obliged and set out on a walk that rocked college basketball.

"I'll be honest, when I thought about coming here and building this program and making it something special, it got me excited," Calipari said.

Calipari said he planned to keep his talks with Arkansas under wraps until after Monday night's national title game. But word broke Sunday that a deal was in the works. It was officially announced Wednesday as a five-year agreement worth $38 million before potential bonuses. The average salary in excess of $7 million falls short of what Calipari made at Kentucky but is roughly $3 million per year more than what the Razorbacks paid Musselman.

Yurachek made it clear the deal likely would have been impractical without Tyson and fellow booster Warren Stephens. The two "joined forces together to make certain we could offer the type of package that would lure coach Cal to Fayetteville," Yurachek said.

In addition to the boosters, an unlikely figure also played a key role in getting Calipari to Arkansas: Kelvin Sampson.

Calipari said he called the Houston coach to inquire about working for Yurachek, who was Houston's athletic director from 2015 to 2017.

"He almost jumped through the phone," Calipari said. Soon, Calipari got a rundown of how Yurachek helped set the stage for Houston's recent run of success.

"That got me to where I had to listen," Calipari said. "I'll say it again. Basketball coaches win games. Administrations win championships. You know why? Because they want to and it's important to them."

Players are also an important part of the championship equation. Arkansas' 2024-25 roster is a blurry picture at the moment. 

"I met with the team," Calipari said. "There is no team."

Coming off a first-round NCAA Tournament loss with a freshman-laden Kentucky team that fell against No. 14 seed Oakland, Calipari said "you can have freshmen, but they better be physically tough." He also stressed the need for patience as the Arkansas roster comes together.

"It may take a little longer because there are kids that put their name in the NBA Draft that are going to go through some of the process," Calipari said. "Which means, do you wait for that kid or do you go take somebody that's not quite as good? You're going to be juggling balls. That's what we do now."