By now (unless you are living under a rock) you’ve heard the news that Billy Gillispie was fired as the head coach at the University of Kentucky yesterday afternoon.
Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said that it really had little to do with wins and losses (although Kentucky did tie for the second most losses this season in school history) and had more to do with the fact that he was not the ‘ambassador to the university that they would like the head coach at the University of Kentucky to be.’
Having said that, Kentucky is now in the market for a new head coach and as a member of “The Nasty Boys” that has been absent for more than a year at this point… I figured this was as good of a time as any to bring myself back to the blogging world with a Top 5 list of candidates that I think the “Big Blue Nation” should consider.
One other thing I’d like to add before jumping into my list is that regardless of who Kentucky hires as their next basketball coach.. so long as Patrick Patterson & Jodie Meeks come back next season and the new coach can keep Daniel Orton committed to Kentucky, they “should” be at least a Sweet 16 team in my opinion next year if not better.
Having said that, lets be honest here, I don’t think Billy Donovan nor John Calipari, or even Tom Izzo, are going leaving their posts to come to Kentucky, so they will not be on my Top 5 list. But let’s start with number one on my list…
1. Jay Wright (Villanova Head Coach, Bucknell ’83)
Most people don’t believe he would leave Villanova for Kentucky after many believe he privately rebuffed UK two seasons ago, but now may be as good of a time as ever for him to leave. He’s on the verge of a Final 4 at Villanova this season and is still relatively young in the coaching ranks (48 years old this year). But he’s probably going to lose a lot of his core to this seasons’ team (Scottie Reynolds, Dante Cunningham) and if he is not going to leave for an NBA job, UK is about as close to NBA type pressure as it will get.
Wright’s been to 4 Sweet 16’s in the last 5 seasons at Nova and has recruited to Philadelphia awfully well, which many UK fans want to hear. He is also probably one of the most personable coaches in America and is very charasmatic, which I believe Kentucky needs more than anything with their next hire.
The only thing tying him to Nova’ right now is the fact that he was an assistant there under Villanova great Rollie Massimino, but the opportunity to leave the rugged Big East for the SEC may be another thing that lures him in.
All and all, I think Wright would be a fantastic hire for the Cats. But if he turns them down, lets move on to #2 on my list…
2. Rick Barnes (Texas Head Coach, Lenoir-Ryhne ’77)
Another name that most don’t believe would leave his place at Texas for UK after he was also believed to have privately rebuffed UK, but obviously the situations are a bit different now. Barnes was coming off of a second round NCAA loss to USC and had a strong core in place at the time to make a Final 4 (not including Kevin Durant). The next year with D.J. Augustin the Horns’ made the Elite 8 before bowing out to Memphis and this season lost in Round 2 to Duke.
Again, like Wright, he’s likely going to lose some key players to graduation or the NBA in Damian James, AJ Abrams, and company and if he’s going to leave, now is as good a time as any from that standpoint. Again, like Wright, he has a wonderful personality and would be a great ‘ambassador’ that Barnhart says he is looking for, so I’m sure he will get another call.
The sticking point with Barnes is that his teams tend to lack the ‘killer instinct’ for one thing and I personally don’t believe his recruiting has been as strong lately as it has been in the past. A second thing that stands out is that he’s been around the block a bit having been at George Mason, Providence, and Clemson before settling at Texas in 1998. So he may see Texas the place he plans to spend the rest of his career. So we will move on to #3 on the list…
3. Thad Matta (Ohio State Head Coach, Butler ’90)
From Hoopeston, IL, this man has basketball in his blood and is very young at age 41. He’s a relentless recruiter as evident by the talent he’s been bringing into Ohio State over the past few seasons with Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Evan Turner, and others. And he’s also seems to be a pretty likeable and personable guy who would represent the university well.
He’s shown that he has been known to be a bit of a ‘job jumper’ as his first job was at his alma-mater, Butler, where he spent only 1 season before moving on to Xavier for 3 seasons, and then to Ohio State for where he has been the past 5 seasons.
One thing that worries me with Matta is whether he is a great coach and great recruiter? Or is he just a great recruiter and an ‘ok’ coach? I tend to lean towards the second answer myself, but his last 2 seasons he has had very young teams in Columbus, so maybe it’s just the growing pains of starting freshmen & sophomores.
Either way, given the talent that UK ‘should’ be able to get on a yearly basis if he were to be coach, he would be a good fit. The question is does he want to leave a place where football is king for a place where basketball rules the landscape? On to #4 on the list…
4. Mike Anderson (Missouri Head Coach, Tulsa ’82)
Anderson is a bit of a wild card name getting toseed around thanks to the run he is experiencing with Mizzou in his third season on the job. The team is on to the Elite 8 and will face UConn in a chance to take Mizzou to their first Final 4. A lot of UK fans will remember Mike from his time at UAB where he took down #1 overall seed Kentucky in the second round of the NCAAs in 2004.
Anderson was a long time assistant to Nolan Richardson at Arkansas and I believe would love to get back to the SEC if he could seeing as how he grew up in SEC Country (Birmingham, AL). His style of play is very similar to Pitino ball with what many has dubbed “Controlled Chaos” where they press for 40 minutes and try to lure you into a track meet.
The question with Anderson is really a matter of if he can recruit well enough for UK? At Missouri and UAB, he’s never landed any ‘major’ recruits and he reminds me an awful lot of Tubby Smith. I’m not so sure Barnhart is going to want to hire a guy similar to that which many people wanted out when he left for Minnesota.
This leads me to #5 on my list and the man I ultimately believe will end up with the job…
5. Travis Ford (Oklahoma Sate Head Coach, Kentucky ’94)
He’s young (39), he’s entergetic, he understands Kentucky basketball probably better than anyone else Kentucky is looking at for the job seeing as how he played under Pitino in the early 90s, and this is his dream job. I am not so sure that any of the above names on my list can say that Kentucky is truly their ‘dream job’. I believe Travis can say that.
He brings a style of play that is very similar to Pitino’s and would be welcomed by the UK fan base, not to mention that he is very charismatic and would certainly represent the university well.
The downside is that he doesn’t have much NCAA Tournament experience as he’s only been to the tournament twice (once with Eastern Kentucky, and then again this season with Oklahoma State), and he’s certainly not Kentucky’s #1 choice.
Then again, when UK hired Pitino after the whole ordeal with Eddie Sutton, I don’t think he was the #1 choice either, so maybe this would work.
Regardless of the fact that he’s not been a head coach at a major program but for just one season at Oklahoma State, he did a helluva job with the situation he was put in and almost led them to the Sweet 16 without a real legitimate post player.
I believe that if he was offered this job, he would jump at the opporunity without hesitation.
Other Names Who Missed The Cut But You May Hear About:
Sean Miller (Xavier)
Bruce Pearl (Tennessee)
Bob Knight (Ex-Texas Tech & Indiana Coach)
Avery Johnson (Ex-Dallas Mavericks Coach)
Please keep in mind that this is just my personal opinion of who I feel UK should take a look at and in no way do I have any inside sources that are telling me these are the guys who will be looked at.
Please feel free to leave any comments or questions you have in regards to the list, or heck, send us your own list. Would love to hear others thoughts on the situation at hand for the Wildcats.