John Calipari replacements: Ranking Kentucky’s best coaching candidates, from Mark Pope to Rick Pitino

The temptation, too powerful for many to resist, is to start throwing out all the big names.

Why not Mike Krzyzewski or Roy Williams or Jim Calhoun?

OK, how about Billy Donovan or Brad Stevens?

No, seriously, then, I got it: Dan Hurley. Make him say no!

OK, then. He will.

What is so often overlooked when a coaching job at a high-major institution is open — the latest created at Kentucky by John Calipari’s expected move to Arkansas — is that coaches make lots of money at all the big-time schools now, more money than they’ll ever spend, not that they’ll turn down more of it.

Those coaches who are happy and successful in their current situations have fewer reasons than ever to move for a more prestigious job. They’ve doubtless shown they can win where they are, or those discussing this would not be interested. They also know that moving is a major hassle and to be undertaken only when necessary.

DeCOURCY: Making sense of John Calipari’s move to Arkansas

Nate Oats? He has an $18 million buyout after a recent extension, and he works with Greg Byrne, one of the best athletic directors in the business. What would Kentucky offer that he does not have now?

Billy Donovan? He wasn’t happy with college basketball recruiting as it once was, leading him to head for the NBA. How does anyone believe he’d give up the lifestyle he prefers to take on the greater hassle that is college basketball roster management in 2024?

Scott Drew? He has proven to be an outstanding coach, but this would take him from a mid-sized private university to being practically in charge of an entire state. That is only a slight exaggeration. He seems ideally suited to his present position.

Jay Wright? How emphatically must he say he’s out?

Those who follow the Wildcats may not be pleased with what the pool eventually turns out to be, but there are some excellent coaches who would welcome hearing from Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart and whomever else is involved in the search:

John Calipari replacement candidates at Kentucky

1. Mark Pope, BYU head coach

Kentucky has produced some magical players through the past few decades, but only a few who became coaches, fewer still who took charge of high-major programs. But here is Pope, a key member of the greatest team in college basketball’s modern era, working and winning at a high level.

In his fifth season as Cougars head coach, but the first in the Big 12 Conference, Pope led BYU to a 23-11 finish and No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. BYU has won at least 19 games each year Pope has been in charge, and he’s gotten to the 20-win mark six of the last seven years, including his time at Southern Utah.

2. Sean Miller, Xavier head coach

It can be too easy to overlook how outstanding Miller is as a coach because he never has reached a Final Four. But let’s hope the Matt Painter experience has taught everyone something. You may not be a Final Four coach until you win the four consecutive games that get you there, but that doesn’t mean you’re not terrific.

Miller has reached the Sweet 16 seven times 12 career NCAA appearances. Considering five of those appearances came at Xavier, and four of those were when the Musketeers were in the Atlantic 10, that’s an excellent record.

Miller loves his circumstance at Xavier, but this is a call he could not decline.

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3. Rick Pitino, St. John’s head coach

If Pitino were 61 and not 71, the deal might be done by Monday morning. In this case, there might be others to consider, but he’s one of the few people equipped to do the job on every level.

4. Lamont Paris, South Carolina head coach

Paris re-upped at South Carolina when it seemed like he might be able to leverage his success this season with the Gamecocks into something better. But who knew there’d be a position opened that would be this much better?

5. Amir Abdur-Rahim, USF head coach

Maybe the best young coach in the game, Abdur-Rahim’s work at South Florida on top of his achievements at Kennesaw State make it prudent to speak with him about the job, even if it’s ultimately determined he might be a year or two away from being ready for a job this massive.

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6. Fred Hoiberg, Nebraska head coach

It took a while for Hoiberg to get the Huskers moving forward, but it’s not like that’s an easy job. Go ahead, forget about how much he got done at Iowa State. While you’re doing that, UK could hire Hoiberg and commence winning basketball games.

7. T.J. Otzelberger, Iowa State head coach

He’s ideally placed to take on this job: young, terrific recruiter, high-level accomplishments including this year’s Big 12 Tournament. Kentucky would be getting someone they could grow with.

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