Over the course of the last couple weeks, the guys over at CBSSports.com have been doing a series on “Who will be the next coach” at all the major schools that currently have Hall of Fame coaches. For anyone who is a college hoops junkie, it’s a series of fun reads and fascinating “what if’s” on how the future of the sport could unfold.
And after hitting a few other big-time schools recently (Duke, Michigan State, Syracuse) writer Gary Parrish took a look at Kentucky today, discussing what life after John Calipari could look like.
It’s an interesting read and I encourage everyone to check it out, as it has a whole assortment of names. Some are obvious (Billy Donovan), some not so much so (Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann) and some have next to no chance of happening (even if its years before John Calipari retires, I can’t see any scenario where a school the stature of Kentucky would hire Sean Miller after all the FBI stuff of the last year).
Regardless, it also got the wheels turning in my head.
As the national college basketball insider here at KSR, I thought it might be fun to share some names that I’ve heard as potential candidates at Kentucky as well. Understand, this is in no way knocking the CBS article – it’s a really well-done piece – but more of an extension of it, and again, a place to share some thoughts on what I’ve heard as well.
Before we get started, I’d like to add one thing: As the CBS article mentions, John Calipari is only 59-years-old and it appears like it will be a long time before he goes anywhere. At this point, it feels like the NBA ship has sailed and he isn’t go back to the pros (with the money he makes, and recruiting mojo he has, why would he?). Therefore, while it seems unlikely he’ll be at UK another 15 or 20 years I do think it’s probably at least 5-7 years before he seriously contemplates hanging it up. And even that might be a bit on the light side.
So again, that’s the important thing to remember here. A lot of these guys wouldn’t be candidates if the job opened today. But they might be if it opened up down the road.
Here are a few I’ve heard, in addition to a few additional thoughts on some of the names CBS threw out there.
Mike White, Florida head coach
Because it’ll still likely be several years before Calipari steps away, it probably means some of the more obvious names right now might not be so obvious when the job opens up (I’m looking at you, Billy Donovan). It also pushes someone like White to the front of the pack.
No, White probably doesn’t have the resume today to get the job (or at least be the favorite to get it) but he is still only 41-years-old, and to his credit has done a fantastic job keeping Florida basketball relevant in the national conversation after taking over for Donovan. He has also found his niche in recruiting. Not only has White consistently brought talent to Gainesville and developed it once its there, this cycle he has gotten in with some of the best players in high school basketball. You don’t need me to tell you that five-star prospect Scottie Lewis is down to Kentucky and Florida. Plus, at 41-years-old he’s still relatively young, and would have plenty of good years left when the Wildcats job (in theory) opens up.
Just about the only thing White is lacking at this point is major NCAA Tournament chops. In seven years as a head coach he has only made the tournament twice – but those two tourney bids have been in the last two seasons when he’s gotten comfortable at Florida.
Therefore it seems safe to assume that the best is yet to come for White in Gainesville. Which will make him an even more likely candidate down the road.
Will Wade, LSU head coach
Again, Wade wouldn’t be a candidate if the job opened today. But I’ve heard rumblings behind the scenes that he believes that by the time the job does open up, he’ll be in prime position to get it.
And with good reason.
Incredibly, Wade is just 35-years-old (he’ll be 36 in November) but is entering his sixth year as a Division I head coach. Even if we’re looking at a longer window than 5-7 years until Calipari steps down that’s fine for Wade. Even in a decade he’ll only be in his mid-40’s, with 20 good years left in his career at that point. It’s also worth mentioning that in his short time as a head coach Wade has had plenty of success. He made two trips to the NCAA Tournament during his time at VCU, and completely flipped LSU on its head in Year 1 a season ago. The Bayou Bengals went from 10-21 the year before he arrived to 18-15 last year, and improved their SEC win total from two to eight. Can you imagine what Wade might be capable of when he starts bringing some talent to Baton Rouge?
Interesting read here. The name I've been told to keep an eye on as the next Kentucky coach is LSU's Will Wade. He's obviously not a candidate today. But he believes he can win/recruit well enough that when the job opens in a decade he'll be in prime position https://t.co/leNPpDRjRj
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) September 19, 2018
And really, that last part – talent – is why Wade appears as such a big name on paper. Put simply, his early recruiting returns at LSU are off the charts. This past season he inked the No. 3 recruiting class nationally, signing a couple of McDonald’s All-American caliber players (Emmitt Williams, Naz Reid) that could have gone to just about any program in the country. This came one year after he convinced Tremont Waters to come to LSU just weeks after he accepted the job.
The only question on Wade at this point, is whether he can coach all the talent he brings to campus. The good thing is that we should get an answer to that here in the next year or so, with LSU entering the season in just about everyone’s preseason Top 20.
Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder head coach
I mean, a long-term Kentucky coaching list wouldn’t be complete without Billy Donovan’s name on it, right? As I mentioned up top however, while Donovan’s name should be on this list, I’m not sure how realistic it will be once the job does open.
For starters, Donovan is currently 53-years-old. Even if he was interested in the job, would Kentucky really want to take a plunge on a guy at or around his 60th birthday when the job opens, and might only have a few years left? With Donovan’s resume, he’d probably be worth the call. But depending on who the other candidates are, he might not be a front-runner at that point. Five years from now he won’t be the home run hire he would have been a decade ago.
But again, that’s if Donovan wants the job, and I’m not sold he does. I’ve been told by several people that by the time Donovan left college basketball he had grown tired of the hassle of recruiting, of dealing with sneaker companies and AAU guys to get players on his roster. I think that’s a cesspool that he’d rather avoid stepping back into, if it’s at all possible to avoid. Also, it’s not like Donovan hasn’t had the chance to come to Kentucky before. As everyone knows, he’s already turned down the Wildcats down twice. Looking back, maybe the timing was just bad. Or maybe he just didn’t want the job.
There’s a chance we might find out for good in the future, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Fred Hoiberg, Chicago Bulls head coach
While Donovan is the obvious NBA name for Kentucky, and Brad Stevens (more on him coming) is the sexy one, Hoiberg is the one that’s most realistic. After three disastrous seasons with the Bulls it feels inevitable that he won’t be in Chicago much longer. And even if he gets one more shot after that in the NBA (with his pedigree, he probably will) that could leave him out of a job right around the time the Kentucky job were, again in theory, to open up.
And if he did make his way back to the college game, Kentucky could do a lot worse.
Remember, Hoiberg took over one of the worst Power 5 programs in all of college basketball when he arrived at Iowa State in 2011 (even though it wasn’t called “The Power 5” back then) and immediately got them competitive. By the second year they were in the NCAA Tournament (where, ironically, they lost to Anthony Davis and Kentucky) and in his final two seasons he won 28 and 25 games respectively, with a trip to the Sweet 16 and a Big 12 Tournament championship mixed in. Admittedly, he used an unconventional recruiting approach to build the program (he took a ton of transfers at a time when it wasn’t as common as it is now) but at Kentucky, as we all know, he’ll be able to pretty much recruit anyone he wants.
Truthfully, Hoiberg’s temperament always seemed better suited for the college game than the NBA, and it seems inevitable that he’ll be back down at the lower level. It may take a few years, but when he does return, it could be perfect timing for UK.
Chris Holtmann, Ohio State head coach
The CBS article does a fantastic job laying out Holtmann’s candidacy, so I won’t spend too much time getting into it here. Remember, it only took him one year to get things rolling at Ohio State, he’s from the Lexington area and at just 46-years-old, he won’t be too old when the job opens.
My only questions on Holtmann is this: There is no doubt that Kentucky is a better job than Ohio State. But Ohio State ain’t exactly a bad gig. And it’s a school that also prints money, meaning that if Holtmann is good enough to get the Kentucky job when it opens, there isn’t any amount of money UK could put on the table that the Buckeyes wouldn’t be able to match. Plus, if Holtmann is coaching as well as he’d need to, to get the Kentucky job, it probably means that he’ll have had enough success where he doesn’t feel like he needs to leave for a “better” job.
So let’s say the Kentucky job did open up in a decade. If at that point Holtmann is already making more money than he can spend, his family is happy in Columbus and they’ve had big-time NCAA Tournament success, would it really be worth him leaving for UK?
Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics head coach
Ah, the golden goose. The great white whale. Brad Stevens. Every college basketball writer in America will tell you that there’s a zero percent chance that Brad Stevens will return to college basketball. But I’m not every writer, dammit! And as the old saying goes, “Never say never.” And that applies to Stevens.
Now look, do I think Stevens wants or plans to coach in college basketball again? I’m absolutely certain that at this point in his life, he does not.
At the same time, who is to say he’s going to have a say in things 10 years down the road? The NBA is a fickle, cruel place and fortunes change quickly. While he is the hottest coach in the NBA right now, who knows what could happen a few years from? Kyrie Irving may leave in free agency this summer, Jayson Tatum might not pan out (highly unlikely, but work with me here), you just never know. Seriously, outside of a handful of guys (Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich in a few years) not many NBA coaches get to leave on their own terms. Even as good as he is now, there’s no certainty that Stevens will.
Therefore, while it’s unlikely the Celtics collapse any time soon (they look like they’re built for the long haul), it could happen. And even if he gets another NBA job after that, who’s to say that one will work out either? Remember, Chip Kelly said he’d never return to college football, and for a time it looked like he wouldn’t have to after a pair of 10-win seasons to start his career. Three years and two jobs later he’s at UCLA.
Point being, while I wouldn’t say it’s likely (at all) that Stevens comes back to college. But it isn’t inconceivable either.
To quote “Dumb and Dumber,” yes, I’m saying there’s a chance.
Richie Riley, South Alabama head coach
Want a super-duper, out of nowhere, long shot of an option? Too bad, I’m going to give you one anyway: South Alabama’s Richie Riley.
For those who don’t know much about him, he’s entering his first year at South Alabama, after winning a regular season title at Nicholls State last season. With most of his team coming back he should be competitive in Year 1, and in Year 2 they could be one of the better mid-major programs in college basketball. He’s got three big-time transfers sitting out right now, and South Alabama could be loaded in 2019-2020. This guy is going to win in Mobile sooner rather than later.
Ultimately, Riley would to need to one more step up the ladder to a middle-tier Power 5 school before he’d even be considered at a place like Kentucky, and even then he’d have to win there. But again, we’re talking 10 years down the road. Mike White and Will Wade were no name assistants 10 years ago, now they’re the hottest names in coaching. Heck, Kentucky wouldn’t even call John Calipari in 2007 – two years later they hired him. Point being, a lot of stuff can change really fast in the crazy world of college basketball.
Oh, and one more thing: Riley knows the lay of the land in Kentucky. He is from the state, went to Eastern Kentucky and had coaching stints at Georgetown (KY) and Pikeville. Think he’d love to coach at UK one day?
Again, it’s a long shot – but who is to really say what could happen by then.
All I do know is this: John Calipari isn’t going anytime soon. And when he does leave, UK will have no shortage of options.