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Eight candidates to potentially replace John Calipari in Lexington

Abbey Cutrer
Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart watches the Kentucky vs. Eastern Kentucky football game on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 28-17. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff

As news broke on Sunday night that John Calipari will be packing his bag for Arkansas to fill the head coaching position of the Razorbacks, Big Blue Nation was left wondering who is going to take over the prestigious position at the helm of the Wildcats.

With the departure of Calipari, a search for the next head coach in Lexington is on for the first time since 2009. With plenty of options available to take over, eight candidates stick out beyond the rest.

Dan Hurley – Connecticut (UConn)

Dan Hurley. Photo sourced from Instagram: uconnmbb

If you’re Mitch Barnhart, your first call has to be Dan Hurley, right?

Although the 2024 Naismith Coach of the Year has a potential dynasty brewing in Storrs, the potential of coaching at Kentucky has to be a serious eye opener.

In 2023, Hurley coached UConn to its first national title since 2014 while going on to also book the Huskies a spot in the 2024 national championship — set to take place tonight — where he is looking to lead the first program to win back-to-back national titles since the Florida Gators did in 2006-07.

On top of receiving the 2024 Naismith Coach of the Year award, Hurley continues to decorate his accomplishment shelf as he also won the 2024 Big East Coach of the Year award.

Billy Donovan – Chicago Bulls (NBA)

Billy Donovan (right) with Roy Williams. Photo sourced from Instagram: chicagobulls

Next up is Billy Donovan, the current head coach of the Chicago Bulls. 

Donovan was the assistant coach at Kentucky from 1989-1994, under head coach Rick Pitino, before accepting his first head coaching job with Marshall in 1994. After leaving Marshall in 1996, he coached at Florida before leaving college ball for the NBA in 2015.

His list of accolades could fill an essay but some of his most notable ones at the collegiate level consist of coaching the Florida Gators to back-to-back national championships in 2006-07 — being the last head coach to do so unless Hurley is successful tonight — making four Final Fours and winning three SEC Coach of the Year awards (2011, 2013, 2014).

While Donovan is currently leading the Bulls to what he likely hopes will be another playoff appearance,  the ties to Lexington created a great swirl of buzz as most wonder if fans could see a reunion in the Bluegrass.

Nate Oats – Alabama

Nate Oats is another candidate to glance at as the current Alabama head coach has brought some victorious seasons to Tuscaloosa during his time there.

Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nate Oats coaches his team during the Kentucky vs. No. 7 Alabama men’s basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023, at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Alabama won 78-52. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

Oats took over Alabama in 2019 after previously coaching at the University of Buffalo, which Kentucky met in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, and since then has a 117-54 record with the Tide.

He also coached Alabama to an SEC Tournament title and SEC regular season title in both 2021 and 2023.

The Wisconsin native most recently took Alabama to its first Final Four in program history this season before recently falling short to Hurley and UConn.

Oats has made it clear he is capable of competing in a conference like the SEC and even in bringing in top level talent, coaching 2023 NBA Draft No. 2 overall pick Brandon Miller.

Scott Drew – Baylor

Scott Drew (right) with Jeremy Sochan. Photo sourced from Instagram: baylormbb

Next up is Scott Drew, the current head coach of the Baylor Bears.

Drew has been with Baylor since 2003 and has sculpted a 446-244 record in that span while also nabbing the Big 12 Coach of the Year Award three times (2020, 2021, 2020).

Most importantly, in 2021, he led the Bears to the program’s first ever national title, doing so by knocking off the undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs in convincing fashion.

While Drew was heavily linked with the Louisville job before signing an extension in Waco, he knows how to win and Kentucky will have a solid resume to look over if he expresses interest in the position.

Todd Golden – Florida

Todd Golden, the current head coach of the Florida Gators, may be a surprising name for those who haven’t been paying as close attention as of late.

Todd Golden. Photo sourced from Instagram: coachgoldenuf

While mostly unproven, Golden coached at San Francisco from 2019-2022 before heading to the “Sunshine State” and taking over the head coaching position with the Florida Gators.

After turning the Dons back into an NCAA Tournament team, Golden has a 40-29 record in his two seasons in Gainesville with one NCAA tournament appearance — which came this season — and one NIT appearance, which came last year. His Gators also finished runner up to the SEC Tournament championship this season.

The bright lights of Kentucky could be too much for Golden as the 38 year-old still has a bit of a resume to build, however, he has shown plenty of potential as a young head coach and, if he can rise to the occasion, could lead the Cats for decades to come.

Bruce Pearl – Auburn

Bruce Pearl is an underrated candidate as the current Auburn Tigers head coach has built a 214-119 record since taking over at Auburn in 2014.

Auburn Tigers head coach Bruce Pearl reacts to a play during the Kentucky vs. Auburn mens basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 86-54. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

With Auburn, Pearl has seen one Final Four and three Round of 32s in his ten-year tenure while winning the SEC Coach of the Year award three times (2006, 2008, 2022).

Prior to taking the reins at Auburn, Pearl coached the Tennessee Volunteers from 2005-2011 and was able to build up a 145-61 record along with a trip to the 2010 Elite Eight.

Kentucky could be Pearl’s third SEC team coached if Mitch Barnhart makes the call where he will have a chance to build onto his three SEC regular season titles and two SEC Tournament titles.

Will Wade – McNeese State

There’s also Will Wade, the 41 year-old head coach of the McNeese State Cowboys.

LSU head coach Will Wade celebrates as his team takes the lead at the end of the game against Kentucky on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky lost with a final score of 71-73. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

This season, Wade coached Cowboys to the NCAA Tournament while also stacking a 30-4 overall record and 17-1 record in Southland Conference play.

Before coaching at McNeese State, Wade coached the LSU Tigers, a job he took after following in Shaka Smart’s footsteps at VCU, from 2017-2022 before running into recruitment violations with the NCAA and being terminated.

During his time with the Tigers he cemented a 105-51 overall record along with a spot in the 2019 Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, the furthest they would go under his leadership. 

Wade was also a name floated to take the Arkansas job before it ultimately went to Calipari.

Shaheen Holloway – Seton Hall

Last but not least, Shaheen Holloway.

Shaheen Holloway. Photo sourced from Instagram: shupiratesmbb

A familiar name, albeit a painful one for Kentucky fans, Holloway was the head coach of that 2022 Saint Peter’s team that knocked off No. 2 seeded Kentucky and ran to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.

The run earned him a job with his alma mater, the Seton Hall Pirates, where he is currently. 

His squad just recently won the 2024 NIT Tournament in a thrilling ending over Indiana State, but in regards to personal achievement, Holloway won the MAAC Coach of the Year award in 2020 and is known for his gritty, hard-nosed style of coaching on the hardwood.

Holloway doesn’t creep up as the most qualified candidate, but recently — before Louisville hired Charleston’s Pat Kelsey — his name did float in and out of the head coaching position at Louisville and other major openings in the sport.

While the feeling of looking for a new head coach brings a weird feeling to Lexington, it can also lead to exciting times in regards to the change and growth of the Kentucky men’s basketball program.

Whether or not one of these eight will be the next man in charge in Lexington is to be seen, but one thing is for certain: change isn’t on the horizon, it’s here.

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Abbey Cutrer, Editor-in-Chief

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  • J

    James BooneApr 9, 2024 at 10:41 pm

    Please don’t replace John caliparri with no nobody else cause he’s an awesome coach

  • J

    Joseph StorerApr 9, 2024 at 8:38 pm

    I think Mark Pope who is a winning Coach at BYU but played at Kentucky as a team Captain in a National Championship. Pope has success at BYU would make a good coach if he left BYU and go back to Kentucky?

  • S

    SteveApr 9, 2024 at 12:25 pm

    Awful selections. Baylor and Gonzaga’s coaches are the only ones that can handle in the insane, unrealistic fans of the BBN

  • R

    Randy McKnightApr 8, 2024 at 10:40 pm

    Coach Caliparri , I love what you did for Kentucky and the State itself! I love what you did for its players! I am sorry for the way you departed. All because of the fair weather fans and “bots!” You poured your heart and soul into everything that you at the University of Kentucky! Thank goodness YOU, Coach! I wish you nothing but success at Arkansas! You will excel at the job, just like you have done at every job you have ever had! May GOD bless you and protect YOU, always? May Jesus put his Angels around you and every young man that you bring in!
    Thanks again for everything Coach!
    All my love and respect,
    Randy McKnight

    • R

      Ray DepaApr 10, 2024 at 10:11 am

      Well said!!!