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.