New coach will race UNC for 2,000 wins

Eight wins are all that separates NCAA all-time wins leader UK (1,988) from the school with the second most wins, the University of North Carolina (1,980), as of press time.  With North Carolina slated to play as many as four more games in the NCAA tournament, that margin could be cut in half by the time UK hires its next head coach.

The stage is set for the new hire to race North Carolina to 2,000 wins.  The Cats are 12 wins shy of becoming the first program to reach that mark.  North Carolina will be anywhere from 16 to 20 wins shy going into next season.

Whoever UK hires as its next coach will already inherit one of the most historical programs in college basketball, but will also face the race toward 2,000 wins added to the normal level of historical pressure.
With the milestone looming, the next head coach of UK will have a chance to write his legacy early in his tenure.

Will he be the coach who puts UK over 2,000 or will he be the coach who watched North Carolina pass the Cats by?

“Coach (Adolph) Rupp started something that is now bigger than any one person,” UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said.  “Coaches, players and administrators get the privilege of serving the program simply as caretakers for a brief moment in history.”

Barnhart’s words are telling.  The common theme of Friday’s news conference wasn’t about wins and losses; it was about tradition and legacy.  The next “caretaker” of the UK program will face an added pressure to live up to the Big Blue Nation’s lofty standards.

Only one UK coach since the Rupp era has left UK with a winning percentage less than 60 percent.  That coach was Billy Gillispie (59.7), and we all know his tenure didn’t end happily.

Two-year stints aren’t the norm for a UK coach.  Rupp was at UK for 41 years and Joe B. Hall was there for 13.  Eddie Sutton left amidst rules violations after four seasons.  Rick Pitino was at UK for eight years, and Tubby Smith was here for 10 years.

The new coach will look to rebound from UK’s first non-NCAA tournament season since 1991, an 11-season Final Four drought and a four-year Southeastern Conference championship drought.

The new coach will face a rabid fan base fresh off two coaching dramas in three years.  A deep-run into the NCAA tournament from archrival Louisville won’t help matters either.

“It is my responsibility to ensure that the University of Kentucky continues to be a special place in the hearts and minds of our fans across the nation, and that the right pieces are in place to return the basketball program to a championship level and continue those proud traditions of success,” Barnhart said.

Barnhart and UK President Lee Todd spoke of differing opinions between the UK administration and Gillispie in what the UK coaching job entailed.  Gillispie thought the job was about recruiting and wins and losses; UK thought the coach had to be an ambassador as well.

The next coach will not face similar confusion regarding the job description.  UK’s head coaching job is about wins and losses, it’s about recruiting, but it also is about being an ambassador for the athletic department, the university and the state.

As UK marches toward 2,000 wins, the ambassador feature of the coaching job will become that much more important.  Gillispie wasn’t up to that job in the UK administration’s opinion.

The next coach will have to win the race toward 2,000.  The next coach will have to recruit to fill UK’s roster with players worthy to continue the Cats’ historic legacy.  And with no confusion remaining regarding the public persona of the UK coach, the next coach will have to present himself in a manner fitting the historical importance of the UK program.

Whoever UK chooses will know UK’s place in history is just that important.
Jon Hale is a journalism senior. E-mail jhale@kykernel.com.

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MARTYMAN says:

Watch out UK Fans, and I am one of y’all! Those Pesky Tarheels are getting to close for comfort. You have to hand it to them though, they just re-load talent year after year. Kind of like we used to do here at UK and what we need to get back to doing again. Just as long as it isn’t Duke sneaking up, too. Now that would really get UK fans in an uproar and rightly so!