Kentucky coaching candidates: Billy Donovan, Rick Pitino, Nate Oats, Dan Hurley could replace John Calipari

Written by on April 8, 2024

One of the top jobs in college basketball opened unexpectedly on Sunday with Kentucky coach John Calipari expected to take the vacant job at Arkansas after 15 seasons with the Wildcats. Kentucky will have a coaching vacancy just weeks after UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart met with Calipari to confirm he would be returning for his 16th season with the program.

CBS Sports Matt Norlander reported that Calipari leaving Kentucky has been on the table since February. Norlander also reported that Calipari privately expressed “significant and serious” interest in the Ohio State job, but the timing wasn’t right. The Buckeyes elected to elevate interim coach Jake Diebler after he helped turn around the program immediately after former coach Chris Holtmann was fired.

There should be a long list of high-major coaches that check most of the boxes Kentucky is looking for. One of them is recruiting at a high level. Kentucky finished with a top-five recruiting class every cycle since 247Sports started tracking team rankings in 2010. The Wildcats landed the No. 1 recruiting class in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2020, and 2023 under Calipari’s watch.

The last time the program embarked on a coaching search, UK poached Calipari from Memphis. Who will Kentucky decide on this time? It’s too early to tell, but we’ve come up with some potential candidates Kentucky should consider to replace Calipari.

Nate Oats, Alabama coach

Since Oats took the job at Alabama five years ago, he’s elevated the program to new heights. The Crimson Tide reached the Final Four for the first time in program history this season, less than a year after losing seven of their top nine scorers on a team that was the No. 1 overall seed in the 2023 NCAA Tournament. Due to his style of play, Oats will remain one of the most attractive coaching names in the carousel even though he just signed a contract extension that was designed to keep him at UA until 2030. His buyout is $18 million, and while that is a massive number, it shouldn’t prevent the Wildcats from taking a big swing.

Scott Drew, Baylor coach

Drew is a logical choice for the Kentucky job because of his friendship with Barnhart. Another reason why Drew makes sense is because he’s a program builder. He inherited a Baylor program that was on the verge of the death penalty and built it into a national champion nearly two decades later. Drew is an excellent recruiter and developer of talent. He’s 446-244 at Baylor and won two Big 12 regular season titles since 2021 – the year Baylor went 28-2 and won the NCAA Tournament.

Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls coach

The last coach to lead a team to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments has been coaching in the NBA since taking the Oklahoma City Thunder job in 2015. Could this be the year Donovan returns to the college game? The Bulls are on track to miss the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons under Donovan’s watch, and with the organization potentially at a crossroads between rebuilding and competing, this would be the perfect time to explore his options. Donovan started his coaching career as an assistant at Kentucky in 1989 and spent five years with the program before taking the job at Marshall. Donovan is 502-206 as a college head coach at Florida and Marshall.

Dan Hurley, UConn coach

While it seems unlikely that Hurley would leave his post at UConn, you at least make the call if you’re Kentucky. Hurley has built UConn into a juggernaut and will coach in his second consecutive national championship game on Monday night in Phoenix. He is one of the more chasmic coaches in the sport and has a track record of recruiting and developing talent. Hurley is 291-163 as a coach at Wagner, Rhode Island and UConn. The Huskies finished the 202-23 season with a 31-8 record and head into the title game with a 36-3 mark.

Sean Miller, Xavier coach

The former Arizona coach is on his second stint as the head of the Xavier program. After spending time as an assistant coach at Miami (Ohio), Pittsburgh, NC State, and Xavier, Miller was elevated to lead the Musketeers  in 2004. He spent five seasons in his first stint at Xavier before guiding Arizona to three Elite Eight appearances in his 12 years with the program. After the Wildcats fired Miller in 2021, and he took a year off from coaching, Xavier hired him once again to lead the program. Miller is 465-184 as a coach.

Rick Pitino, St. John’s coach

Pitino has had many stops over his long coaching career. One of those stops was as the coach of Kentucky from 1989-97. After coaching two seasons in the NBA for the New York Knicks, Pitino accepted the Kentucky job and went 219-50 at the school, which included a national championship in 1996 and three Final Four appearances. Pitino has a 731-303 record as a college coach and is coming off his inaugural season leading St. John’s. Pitino is one of the great personalities in the sport that would help unite the Kentucky fan base.

Mark Pope, BYU coach

Pope played at Kentucky from 1994-96 and was on Kentucky’s 1996 national championship team, playing a role at bringing home the program’s sixth national title. As a coach, Pope has seen a steady rise since starting his coaching career as an assistant coach at Georgia in 2010. After stints as an assistant coach at Georgia, Wake Forest, and BYU, he landed the Utah Valley job in 2015. After spending four seasons in the WAC, Pope was hired by BYU. Pope has guided BYU to two NCAA Tournament appearances and finished the 2023-24 season with a 23-11 record in its first season as a member of the Big 12.

The post Kentucky coaching candidates: Billy Donovan, Rick Pitino, Nate Oats, Dan Hurley could replace John Calipari first appeared on CBS Sports.

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