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ANALYSIS: Kyra Elzy relieved of her duties at Kentucky, now what?

Sydney Yonker
Kentucky head coach Kyra Elzy coaches her team during the Kentucky vs Georgia women’s basketball game on Wednesday, Mar. 6, 2024, at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina. Kentucky won 64-50. Photos by Sydney Yonker | Staff

On Monday morning, the University of Kentucky Athletics Department announced that Kentucky women’s basketball head coach Kyra Elzy was relieved of her duties, officially marking the end of the pairing. 

In her four-year tenure with the Cats, Elzy produced a 61-60 overall record and a 23-40 record in SEC play, but after back-to-back losing seasons it was time for a change. 

In 2022, Elzy led the Cats to their first SEC Tournament title since 1982, knocking off the No. 1 seeded South Carolina Gamecocks in what was an all time upset, but since then the program has done nothing but spiral downwards.

From struggling to put fans in the seats to struggling to win basketball games, it was a matter of time before the change was going to be made.

Now, with Elzy gone, the new question becomes who will take her spot in leading the program to success.

With that in mind, three head coaching candidates seem suitable to lead the Wildcats moving forward, while many more have been rumored.

Molly Miller – Head Coach, Grand Canyon

The first candidate is Molly Miller, the current head coach of the Grand Canyon Antelopes, who have an 85-34 record under her leadership.

Miller has been the head coach of the Antelopes for four seasons, but previously coached Division-II basketball at Drury from 2014-2020, where she won the WBCA Division-II Coach of the Year award twice (2019 and 2020) while also leading the program to five conference championships and one Final Four (2019).

This season, Grand Canyon finished the regular season with a 24-7 record – which is the program’s best record under Miller – and clinched the No. 2 seed in the WAC conference tournament.

The only concerning spot with the hire is the lack of Division-I postseason experience, but a late run with the Lopes this year could dissipate those talks.

Karl Smesko – Head Coach, Florida Gulf Coast

Another candidate is Karl Smesko, the current head coach of the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles.

Smesko is currently in the thick of his 22nd season with the Eagles and has compiled a 581-104 record during his time in south Florida. 

If those numbers weren’t good enough, the Ohio native is the third active winningest head coach in Division-I, only sitting behind the great Geno Auriemma (Connecticut) and Kim Mulkey (LSU).

This season, FGCU finished with a 27-4 overall record while sweeping the ASUN conference with a 16-0 record. This included a win over Kentucky.

Smesko has tons of experience and his numbers with the Eagles are certainly the highlight of his resume.

Carly Thibault-DuDonis – Head Coach, Fairfield

Finally, Carly Thibault-DuDonis, the current head coach of the Fairfield Stags, is another potential candidate.

Thibault-DuDonis has been with the Stags for two seasons and has a 43-16 record at the helm. 

This season, Fairifled finished the regular season 28-1, winning its conference, and became ranked for the first time in program history while also becoming the first MAAC team ranked in the AP poll in over a decade. 

Last season, the Stags finished 15-15 overall and 11-9 in conference play, clinching a bye into the MAAC tournament quarterfinals.

Thibault-DuDonis is known to be a phenomenal recruiter as she previously served as the Associate Head Coach and Recruiting Coordinator at the University of Minnesota before landing the job at Fairfield.

Elsewhere names that fans seem to have latched onto include Jeff Walz at Louisville – though it may be unlikely he would take it – and Juli Fulks at Transylvania in Lexington. Another name floated is former head coach Matthew Mitchell, who preceded Elzy before suffering a brain injury.

While there are tons of head coaches nationally available, Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart will have a tough job to pick out the right one in hopes of reincarnating some life into the Kentucky women’s basketball program.

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