Who will Louisville hire to replace Rick Pitino? It’s tougher than you think to answer

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Answering the question of who the next head coach will be at Louisville is a difficult one.

Not because the program is going to be short of suitors – this is a top ten, if not a top five, job in college basketball – but because there is an unbelievable amount of uncertainty involved with the program at this time.

For starters, not only was Rick Pitino ‘effectively fired’ on Wednesday, his athletic director, Tom Jurich, was also placed on administrative leave. The man that made those decisions was Greg Postel, the interim president who said at a press conference today that the university hopes to have an answer to their AD and coach problems within 48 hours.

That is a short turnaround for an interim president to make a decision on who will be arguably the two most important employees at a university with the most profitable athletic department in the country.

And that is before you factor in that we still do not know what’s coming from the NCAA. Postseason bans are certainly not out of the question. Hell, we could be looking at a situation where the NCAA decides that the death penalty is warranted here.

Does the school want to hire the best candidate that they can get as soon as possible,, even if the man making those decisions isn’t the one that will be in charge for the long-term? Or do they want to hire an interim until the higher-ups get more settled? Would delaying the hire of a permanent coach until next spring create an issue as the NCAA situation gains clarity?

None of these questions are easy to answer.

But here are some thoughts on the potential candidates:

IF LOUISVILLE HIRES AN INTERIM COACH

Tom Crean: If Louisville opts to go the interim route, Crean seems like the obvious answer. He was fired in the spring by Indiana despite winning two of the last five Big Ten regular season titles. He’s well-regarded as one of the most prepared coaches in the country and considered by many to be an excellent x’s-and-o’s coach. It would be the easiest fix for a team that, even without Brian Bowen, looks to be a top 10-15 team in the country.

This would also, in theory, make sense for Crean. He would have a chance to re-prove himself as a coach after what happened with the Hoosiers. That’s a good way to showcase himself for whatever jobs happen to open up next spring, including this one. But is this something he’d be willing to take? He’s not desperate. He’s living that buyout life. If he wants a contract and not just an interim tag, and if this scandal goes as deep as some expect that it will, is this really the best option?

Thad Matta and John Thompson III are two more coaches living that buy out life, although they make much less sense. Part of the reason Matta is no longer employed by Ohio State is because he’s struggled with his health in recent years. And the thought of JT3’s Princeton Offense at Louisville is … yeah, that’s not going to work all that well. Very unlikely to happen.

Seth Greenberg and Fran Fraschilla: Greenberg and Fraschilla are both ex-coaches working cushy ESPN jobs, but the coaching bug never leaving once you catch it. Both of these commentators have plenty of experience on the sidelines.

David Padgett, Louisville assistant coach: Padgett would be the likely candidate should Louisville opt to promote from within for the season. Jordan Fair is a recent addition to the staff while Kenny Johnson’s name has been linked with some of the violations committed in the bombshell FBI investigation. Staying loyal to this staff may be a tough sell, but if it is going to be anyone, Padgett makes the most sense. According to reports, he already has been placed in charge of the day-to-day operations of the program.

Kenny Payne, Kentucky associate head coach and former Louisville player: Payne has long been angling for a shot at a head coaching gig, and the last former Kentucky coach to take over at Louisville had a pretty good run of success.

Scott Davenport, Bellarmine coach: Davenport was an assistant with Denny Crum and Pitino in the early part of his tenure. He is a very well-regarded coach at the Division II level, but it is unclear if the school would be willing to hire another coach with ties to Pitino.

IF LOUISVILLE HIRES AN OFFICIAL REPLACEMENT

Chris Mack, Xavier: This is as good of a fit as you are going to find. Mack is young (47 years old) and already successful, making seven NCAA tournaments, four Sweet 16s and an Elite 8 in eight years as a head coach. He’s from Ohio, coaches two hours up the road from Louisville in Cincinnati and has recruited the Midwest extensively in his career. He has never been entangled with the NCAA and he’s proven the ability to recruit high-level talent and develop lesser-known prospects. And, perhaps most importantly, Louisville is a job that might actually convince Mack to leave Xavier.

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State: On paper, Marshall has a top ten team capable of winning the AAC and getting to the Final Four. But his two best players are currently injured, Louisville is one of the view jobs where Marshall would be the big man on campus – read: not at a football school – and he would be able to receive a salary commensurate with what he’s currently getting from the Koch brothers and Wichita State.

Shaka Smart, Texas: Two years ago, this would have been the homerun hire. Smart has been at Texas for two seasons now and is coming off a year where he missed the NCAA tournament. The luster is off, which means Louisville might be able to get him at a discount. His style of play would fit in perfectly with the roster Louisville currently has.

Christian Vital going back to UConn for junior season

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Dan Hurley is keeping his roster intact at the top.

Christian Vital, UConn’s second-leading scorer a season ago, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, he announced Monday via social media.

“Great Talk Today Coach! Appreciate The Wisdom You Have Let Me In On!” Vital wrote “I Think It’s Time To Get Back To Winning Ways In Storrs! I’m Going To Need That #1 Back ASAP! WE GOT (UNFINISHED) BUSINESS!”

The 6-foot-2 junior-to-be Vital joins Jalen Adams, who was the Huskies’ top-returning scorer, back in Storrs in Hurley’s first year. Vital averaged 14.9 points on 38.3 percent shooting. Adams previously announced he would return to school without declaring for the draft.

The return of UConn’s top two scorers underscores an even bigger trend under Hurley as the Huskies appear to have avoided any major defections from last year’s roster despite the coaching change.

UConn is coming off a 14-18 season that proved to be the last of coach Kevin Ollie’s six years with the Huskies that included a national championship but also back-to-back losing seasons.

Chris Silva returning to South Carolina for senior season

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South Carolina is getting an first-team all-SEC performer back.

Chris Silva, who led the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding last season, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, the school announced Monday.

“I’m thankful for the experience of going through the draft process,” Silva said in a statement. “I want to thank all of the teams that gave me the opportunity to workout for their organization. I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to South Carolina for my senior season. I can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers and continue to work on my game.”

The 6-foot-9 Silva, who did not get an NBA draft combine invite, averaged 14.3 points and 8 rebounds per game as a junior.  He shot 46.7 percent from the floor.

“Going through the evaluation process was an unbelievable experience for Chris and us,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said in a statement. “He comes back to a place he loves with some knowledge on some of the things that we have to help him improve on in his efforts to one day fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.”

In addition to being South Carolina’s leading scorer, he was the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season after averaging 1.4 blocks per game. His return to Columbia gives the Gamecocks a potential contender for SEC player of the year in 2018-19.

Kansas fires athletic director Sheahon Zenger

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Kansas has fired athletic director Sheahon Zenger, effective immediately, citing a lack of progress in key areas within the athletic department.

“Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and our athletics department has improved in many areas under his leadership,” Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod wrote in an email to KU faculty and staff. “But athletics continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive. To achieve the level of success we need and expect, I have determined a change in leadership is necessary.”

Zenger had been in the role of AD since 2011.

The issue, of course, is not the play of the Kansas basketball program. The Jayhawks have won every Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and head coach Bill Self has taken the program to two Final Fours since Zenger was hired.

The football team is still a disaster, but one can’t help but wonder whether or not the real issue at hand here is Kansas’ getting tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball.

The Jayhawks were not mentioned in the initial indictments that were handed down, but Kansas was a central figure in the superseding indictments that were dropped after the national title game. The mother of Billy Preston, who did not play for the Jayhawks this season, was alleged to have been funneled $90,000 by Adidas, while Silvio De Sousa’s status is currently in question after the FBI alleged his guardian was paid at least $20,000 to help offset money that the family had already accepted from a rival shoe company.

All of that came in the aftermath of dealing with Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander, both of whom had their one season in Lawrence reduced due to off the court issues.

“Since becoming chancellor, I have spent countless hours with higher education peers and Jayhawks to hear their perspective on KU,” Girod wrote. “A common thread in these conversations is that, as a major public university with national aspirations, we must continue to strive for excellence in all areas — including athletics. As I have said many times, a successful athletics department is inextricably linked to our broader mission as a flagship research university.”

Louisville, ex-AD Tom Jurich reach $4.5M settlement

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville has reached a $4.5 million settlement with former athletic director Tom Jurich, who was fired in the wake of a national federal corruption investigation of college basketball.

Jurich disputed his Oct. 18 firing for cause after nearly 20 years as AD and had considered suing the school. The University of Louisville Athletic Association and Board of Trustees on Friday approved the settlement. Jurich’s employment ended “without cause” as a result of his resignation, also described in the settlement as “retirement.”

He’ll also receive another $2.6 million in accrued employment benefits, along with home game tickets and parking for Louisville football and basketball for 20 years.

An audit of the University of Louisville Foundation released last June showed that Jurich averaged annual compensation of more than $2.76 million from 2010-16, including more than $5.35 million in 2016.

Then-interim president Greg Postel had placed Jurich on paid administrative leave in September after the school’s acknowledgement of its involvement in the investigation. Trustees voted 10-3 to fire Jurich, two days after the ULAA unanimously fired Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The former AD said in a joint statement that he “spent the better part of my career” working with dedicated athletes, coaches and staff to elevate Louisville. He added, “I am proud of what we accomplished, which is well documented.”

Jurich’s legal team had stressed that the ex-AD did nothing illegal and hadn’t violated NCAA rules.

Trustee chairman J. David Grissom said in the statement that “Everyone is pleased that this matter has been successfully resolved. All parties can move forward to begin the next chapter.”

Jurich played a major role in Louisville’s success on the field and how the school handled issues off it. He led the school’s 2014 entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference and oversaw numerous program and facility upgrades, including a $63 million expansion of the football stadium due for completion by fall.

He also hired several successful coaches including Pitino, who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship. Louisville ultimately vacated that title in February as part of NCAA penalties for a sex scandal after an escort’s book allegations that former basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

Pitino has filed a $38.7 million federal lawsuit against Louisville, alleging breach of contract.

Georgia Tech’s Okogie to sign with agent

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Georgia Tech guard Josh Okogie, one of the big winners from this past weekend’s NBA combine, announced on Monday that he will be signing with an agent and remaining in the NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-4 Okogie finished his sophomore season averaged 18.5 points and shooting 38.4 percent from three. The numbers he posted during the athletic testing at the combine, as well as his 7-foot wingspan, makes Okogie an ideal 3-and-D wing at the NBA level.

“Josh is a tremendous young man and an excellent student-athlete,” said head coach Josh Pastner. “He has set a tremendous example, making the Dean’s List this past semester, and deserves a lot of credit for making himself a much better player over the course of his two years here. We will miss him in our program in many respects, from his performance on the court to the energy he plays with and brought to our team. We fully support his decision to take this next step, and wish him all the best.”