If you aren’t following Ellen Calipari on Instagram, you are doing yourself a disservice. Her witty digs at Coach (she regularly posts to remind her “roommate” to take out the trash) and her adoration for her children are the consistent theme.
Don’t worry. Coach Cal doesn’t mind the digs. As Ellen put it, “All is fair in love and war.” I was able to experience Ellen’s sass and class first hand during our shopping excursion, interview and photo shoot. While getting to know Ellen, it became very apparent that her children are everything to her. At 32, 29 and 22, Erin, Megan and Brad still have a strong mama bear in their corner. Being the most famous family in Central Kentucky isn’t always easy, so giving them a sense of stability has always been Ellen’s main priority.
Perhaps that’s why we haven’t really gotten to know Ellen until recently. She had remained relatively private, but when she felt like all her kids were in a good place, she jumped on the Instagram train. Fans have loved getting a sneak peak at what goes on behind the gates of the Calipari’s beautiful Richmond Road home. We were all surprised to learn just how normal Mr. and Mrs. Calipari are. And that was her goal. Now BBN knows that Ellen isn’t just the First Lady of Kentucky Basketball. She is a warm-hearted, quick-witted force to be reckoned with.
TOPS: This is our Leading Ladies of Lexington issue. What advice would you give to young women today in leadership roles?
Ellen Calipari: Personally, I think it is important to lead by example. Start out by knowing what you want and don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. You need to have confidence in yourself and people will have confidence in you. And lastly, be sure to help, encourage and support others along the way. I see my daughters do this in their jobs today, and I’m proud of the way they handle situations and how outspoken they are.
TOPS: Who is your biggest female inspiration or most notable mentor?
Ellen: I would have to say my mother is my biggest mentor. She raised four kids, worked, cooked, cleaned and sewed. I’m sure I attempted to model myself after her. She set the tone for having a great work ethic. She seemed to work tirelessly, and now, in hindsight, I have no idea how she accomplished all that she did! It taught me to be a very solid person in who I am today and to have strong family values and morals. I have attempted to pass those things on to my children.
TOPS: Tell us what it means to you to see your daughters flourish as grown women.
Ellen: I am very proud of both of them and it’s hard to put that feeling into words. They are both extremely hard workers and both very good at what they do. They started out working at John’s camps in the summers, which I would like to think led them down the path to having a good work ethic. Needless to say, they have really come a long way! They have become independent outspoken, eloquent – when they need to be – tough girls. Tough in a good way!
TOPS: As a busy mom of three, how do you find balance?
Ellen: I’m not sure I do! I just try to take things as they come. Everything I do has always been about my kids and I would credit them for helping me keep my sanity. Living life in the public eye can be extremely difficult. Raising kids with a good head on their shoulders has been a challenge. Now I’m at a place where if I need to do #12’s laundry, I will. If I need to drive to Nashville to help the Dr., I can, or I can try a recipe on Earthly’s website or do some woodworking.
TOPS: What is your favorite part about being a part of the UK family?
Ellen: Being a part of college basketball is fun. You need the kind of fan base we have here, that supports the team the way it does. The UK family is so widespread that you see fans literally everywhere you go, which is nice.
TOPS: As a mom, what is it like seeing your husband and son work together?
I have to say I was a little leery at first. I give Brad a lot of credit for making the decision to play for his dad because it’s not an easy thing to do. I didn’t know how John would be with him, and of course I have to protect my son! It has ended up being a great thing and for the most part, John has been pretty good. The question is, do I have to call him Coach Cal? Umm…no! But I do have to try and get my 2 cents in when I can, like any parent would!
TOPS: You seem to take on a motherly role to all of the players. Tell us what that role entails.
Ellen: After doing this for a few years, I have an idea what these kids are going through and I just want to make things comfortable for them in any way that I can. They are away from home, some of them for the first time, which can be extremely difficult. Their families really don’t realize the demands on them. The commitment for class, practice and strength conditioning is very time consuming. When they come to the house, I try to observe their needs. I know Ashton likes hot sauce so I always try and have that on hand. Kyle Wiltjer couldn’t eat chocolate, so when it was his birthday I made cookies that he told me he liked. I try to be aware of what they might need and make sure I can have that for them. To me, birthdays should be important and special, especially when they are away from home, so I started making brownies, but I have to say that it’s not about the brownies; it’s about the recipient and recognition of their birthday.
TOPS: After years of living a relatively private life, you recently become known for your witty Instagram account. Have you had fun interacting with fans?
Ellen: Yes, I have had fun. I mainly started it just to see what my kids were putting on Twitter and Instagram. Then I decided to try to make things fun. My dad is one of the wittiest, most sarcastic people I know, and I think humor is imperative in anything you do. I don’t tell John this, but he is pretty funny too.
I just can’t let him know I think he is funny. I think my main goal, especially with the trash situation, is to try to paint a picture of reality, when there is not a sense of reality with him. Everyone has him on a pedestal and he is regular person, which is the point I am trying to make. I don’t tell him what I am putting out there.
I try to do it discreetly and, of course I’m protecting his identity because I don’t use his name. I am not really trying to shame him but if that happens, oh well! It has worked to my benefit, because he hears about it from other people.
TOPS: Does he ever give you a hard time for throwing him under the bus?
Ellen: No, he knows he has it coming. He would do the same to me. In fact, I have spent my life not being able to defend myself when he says something about me. It was time to turn the table. All is fair in love and war, right?
TOPS: Are there any challenges to living in the spotlight?
Ellen: Absolutely! I’m a private person, and the fact that you have no anonymity has been difficult when it comes to raising kids. It’s hard to raise normal kids in an abnormal environment. I grew up in a small town so the part where everyone knows
your business doesn’t bother me, because I have nothing to hide.
I don’t do anything that needs to be hidden. The worship factor is hard to explain. Everyone worships the ground my husband walks on, but at home, he is just the guy who watches TV and doesn’t listen to you and leaves a mess. He is just a normal person.
TOPS: What do you and “The Roommate” like to do during the off-season to unwind?
Ellen: We are very low key. We don’t do a lot. We built a house on the Jersey shore because we started going there, with friends, when we lived in New Jersey. We walk on the boardwalk, ride bikes, walk the dogs, drive to Boston to see Megan, etc. I describe us as being disappointingly normal. The Roommate is not very good at unwinding. He would say he is, but he really isn’t. When he needs to recruit, he comes in and out of Jersey. He is always back on campus for camps and recruiting. His work is really constant so there is not a true off-season like people think.
TOPS: Can you leave the house in Jersey without people staring?
Ellen: You can more so than in Lexington, but I am always amazed that people recognize him everywhere we go. He is a nationally recognized public figure, which just means that I can never get away from it. He is always accommodating.
TOPS: Tell us about your passion for woodworking.
Ellen: I am basically the man of the house. I can fix almost anything. I have a toolbox and power tools. I do all of the physical labor – which I try to make clear on my Instagram. My dad was very handy. He isn’t into wood working, but my brother and his wife are. My sister-in-law got me started years ago and I started out making small crafts that I would sell at a local craft fair, when we were in Massachusetts. My girls were really young so I would let them paint and build with me. Then, over time, my projects got progressively bigger. I have built some big items that I have seen on Pinterest, in Pottery Barn or other places. Now I just make things when I have time, but uninterrupted time is hard to find these days.
TOPS: Any other talents or hobbies people would be surprised to hear about?
Ellen: I like to do things that might surprise people. I think that’s why my girls do what they do. It’s not that I like being rebellious, but I like being a nonconformist when it comes to who people think I am. I do have a conceal and carry permit. Would that surprise people? In Tennessee, I had someone break into my car twice, and once someone tried to break into our home. We had a friend who was a sheriff, and he was the one who urged me to get my permit. So Erin and I took the class together and we both had our conceal and carry permits in Tennessee. Now I have one in Kentucky. I enjoy going to the gun range and shooting. Whether you have to use it or not, it is there.
TOPS: What do you love about living in Lexington?
Ellen: Lexington is a beautiful place and the people are very friendly. I like the fact that it is a college town. I’m not a city person so it’s a comfortable size for me. It’s unique, in the way that you have both the horse world and also the sports world going for it. You can either participate in both or choose one. It has been a great place to live, and a great place to raise kids. •
Photography: Keni Parks
Clothes and Jewelry: Cotton Patch
Makeup: Natalie Rathbun
Locations: Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse and City Center