Kentucky basketball coaching search can now get serious

Published 10:16 am Monday, March 30, 2009

Now the search can really begin. All the candidates are out of either the NCAA or NIT tournaments.

They are, of course, the candidates that make up the list of potential head coaches to fill the vacancy at the University of Kentucky.

The opening came about last Friday when Billy Gillispie’s short two-year reign came to an abrupt halt less than 48 hours after an NIT loss to Notre Dame. It was just another telling setback during Gillispie’s tenure but not the final nail in the coffin. The decision had likely been made long before that game.

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Gillispie damaged himself from the start. Too many times he allegedly blew off speaking or meeting with booster groups. One long-standing tradition covering decades always had the head coach speak at a preseason luncheon. Gillispie was allegedly a no-show. He always believed his job was to coach and recruit.

Not at the college level. There are boosters who line the athletic and academic coffers. You don’t upset Dan Issel and Pat Riley like I believe Gillispie did.

The list of candidates to fill the job is much like David Letterman’s Top 10, only this is no joking matter. The number one man on the list isn’t even on the athletic director’s list. It is no secret that some of the heavy-hitters who support Kentucky would love to lure Rick Pitino back, and with Louisville out of its Final Four run, you can bet there will be a phone call from someone.

Pitino was only speaking about who might be a candidate, especially since his former player and assistant Billy Donovan, currently entrenched at Florida, has said he is not a candidate again. Donovan was the first choice two years ago before Gillispie got the job.

Memphis coach John Callipari is now the most popular choice with Donovan supposedly out of the running. (Never count Donovan out. Remember his plans to go to the NBA and last-minute switch to stay?)

But while Calipari brings a Pitino-like aura to the job, he also had his recruiting scandal at Massachusetts and Kentucky still remembers the Eddie Sutton-era that led to NCAA probation.

The short list includes former players John Pelphrey — head coach at Arkansas — and Travis Ford — ditto at Oklahoma State — along with Xavier’s Sean Miller and Ohio State’s Thad Matta who was approached during the last opening.

Is the job worth the headaches? Let’s just say that there are a lot of coaches not on the list who would love to be listed even at No. 10.

–– Sinatra ––

Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.