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Louisville basketball coaching candidates: The big names to replace Kenny Payne as head coach

The Louisville basketball job is now (unofficially) open, as reports surfaced late Tuesday night that Kenny Payne has been fired from the job.

Although nothing is technically official yet, it will be.

And so with it, we decided to take a look at who some of the candidates might be.

Also, if you want Aaron Torres' YouTube deep dive - click the link below.

Now, to the list:

Chris Beard (Ole Miss Head Coach) - OFF THE LIST

While it was debatable if Chris Beard was ever a realistic candidate - his previous legal problems would've been tough to sell at a program with all sorts of off the court issues in recent years - he is officially off the list.

On Wednesday morning, just hours after the job reportedly opened, Beard was given an extension at Ole Miss, per Jon Rothstein. He's staying in Oxford.

Jerome Tang (Kansas State Head Coach): Tang has quickly risen through the ranks to being one of the best rising stars in college basketball in the coaching industry. He was with Scott Drew at Baylor from the very beginning in 2003 all the way through 2022. He was named the head coach of Kansas State in March of 2022 and has been great for the Wildcats, leading them to an Elite Eight in his first season a year ago.

The question for Tang: Is there a ceiling at Kansas State, and is there an appeal to taking a job at a school that's won three national championships (two in the NCAA's eyes).

It's also worth noting that there were reports of friction between he and his administration of the handling of former Wildcat Nae'Quan Tomlin, who has since transferred to Memphis. If he is unhappy with his administration, it's worth wondering if he really would look elsewhere.

The question for Louisville is the small sample size on Tang. Was last year's Elite Eight run who Tang is as a head coach?! Or is it more in line with this year where the Wildcats are, at best, on the bubble heading into the Big 12 Tournament?

Scott Drew (Baylor Head Coach): Scott Drew is the biggest name Louisville could and should go after. He built Baylor after a scandal rocked the program in 2003.

Drew has done the near impossible at Baylor and building them into a year-in and year-out national contender in the NCAA Tournament. His career highlight was the Final Four and National Championship run in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. He is making around $3.7 million a year and has a job for life at Baylor after the job he has done there.

The question is would he really want to leave that stability to go to another school, even if it is a better program overall. He has everything at Baylor, so it remains to be seen if he would really want to go through another rebuild. Still, Drew would be the biggest home run Louisville could hire.

Mick Cronin (UCLA Head Coach): Mick Cronin has a history with Louisville after he was a part of Rick Pitino’s first staff in 2001. He got a job at Murray State as his first head coaching job and then went to Cincinnati in 2006 till 2019 and then jumped to UCLA after Steve Alford was fired.

He never got past the Round of 32 at Cincinnati and then he’s gone to two Sweet 16’s and one Final Four at UCLA. However, the Bruins are struggling this season.

The biggest issue keeping this from happening is Cronin’s buyout. Through March of 2024, his buyout will be $20 million. That money might scare Louisville off even with Louisville having money to spend.

Cronin would be a big get if Louisville’s financials allow them to get him. Right now there's no realistic way to think that's actually happening though.

Eric Musselman (Arkansas head coach): Musselman's track record in college basketball speaks for itself, leading Nevada to a Sweet 16, before taking Arkansas to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in three of his first four years.

That included back-to-back Elite Eight runs in 2021 and 2022.

Unlike some of the guys on this list (notably Cronin), Musselman's buyout is very manageable, but the question is, after struggling this season - would Louisville want him? There are certainly a contingent of fans that would gladly take him, but plenty of others, who worry after the team finished 12th in the SEC this year, with a losing record overall.

Had this job opened a year ago, it feels like Musselman might've been the favorite. Now, you have to wonder how well it would land with the fan-base bringing in a coach off the most disappointing season of his college career.

Pat Kelsey (Charleston head coach): While it's not the dream candidate some Louisville fans are hoping for, if they strike out on the truly big names, Kelsey could be a nice, rising coach to look at.

Incredibly, at just 48 years old, this is already Kelsey's 12th year as a head coach, leading Charleston to a second straight NCAA Tournament this March. He also led Winthrop to three tournament runs during his stop there previously.

He knows how to build and sustain a program, and has the energy Louisville fans crave. Should they strike out on the big names, they could do a lot worse than Kelsey.

Finally, let's get to the dream candidate that will say no - but you've got to call anyway:

Billy Donovan (Chicago Bulls Head Coach): The long shot of long shots, Billy Donovan has been the head coach for the Chicago Bulls since 2020 and then the Oklahoma City Thunder for five years before that from 2015-2020. But, it is worth noting that this season the Bulls have really struggled at times, so he might be fired.

More importantly, he might get fired before the NBA season ends - which from a calendar perspective is actually very important for him potentially taking a college job.

As for his background, well, Donovan’s coaching roots are in college basketball. He got his start under Rick Pitino at Kentucky after playing for him at Providence. He was then offered the head coaching job at Marshall and then after two seasons went to Florida and was nothing short of great for the Gators, highlighted by winning back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007.

Donovan might want to come back to college after mixed results at the professional level up to this point. The money that Louisville can offer could also be enticing for him too based on what the market for college coaches has risen to.


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