The top candidates for the Louisville basketball job (and some that aren't candidates too)
While it wasn't the first domino to fall in the college basketball coaching carousel this season (shout out, Maryland!) it was to date the biggest - as the Louisville basketball coaching job officially opened on Wednesday afternoon. The short, less than four-year tenure of Chris Mack at the school ended in a lightning bolt, and once again the Cardinals are picking up the pieces.
You can hear full reaction to the decision below on today's Aaron Torres Pod, but now that Mack is officially out, it's time to do what everyone loves to do in these situations: Put together a list of the candidates for the job.
Before we get to this list though, let me say this: It is hard to put together a realistic list of candidates for Louisville right now.
The bottom line is that the school currently has an interim athletic director and school president, and to be blunt, it's hard to see anyone that currently has a good job realistically leaving where they are for the uncertainty of Louisville.
The fact that Louisville remains in an NCAA quagmire dating all the way back to the Rick Pitino/Brian Bowen saga of 2017 doesn't help either.
Still, Louisville is a good job, and someone will take it. Here is a list of candidates:
Kenny Payne, assistant coach New York Knicks: This probably isn't the name that Louisville fans want to see first on a list like this, but ultimately, I think it's the most realistic.
The bottom line is that Payne is a Louisville alum, a link the glory years of the program in the mid to late 1980's and most importantly he's immediately attainable. He's currently an assistant with the Knicks, meaning that unlike some of the elite college coaches listed below, he doesn't have a massive buyout. The fact that the Knicks are, yet again, flaming out, only helps Louisville's chances of luring him away from the NBA lifestyle back to his alma mater.
And while Payne has no previous coaching experience, he does have two things going in his favor that Mack did not: As an assistant at Oregon and Kentucky he has recruited at the highest levels of college basketball. And as a former Louisville player and Kentucky assistant, he understands the 365-day-a-year intensity of the job, and more importantly the rivalry.
Oh, and there's one other thing that does matter here: He has no NCAA dings on his resume. After the scandal-scarred years of Rick Pitino and even Chris Mack himself admitting to minor NCAA violations (which led to a six-game suspension this season), that does, in fact matter.
Bruce Pearl, head coach Auburn: Admittedly, this seems like the sexiest name imaginable, and I'll be blunt - if you have the chance to hire Bruce Pearl, you do it. There just aren't all that many dudes anywhere who have led two different schools to the No. 1 ranking in the country. There is only one that has his current school in the No. 1 spot.
Maybe just as importantly, Pearl has the perfect temperament for the job. As mentioned in the Kenny Payne section, Louisville is a school where the program is covered with a 365-day-a-year fervor like an NFL or major college football team. And there's no doubt that not only would Pearl not run from that, he would thrive in it.
But as sexy as Pearl's name looks on a piece of paper, I just don't know how realistic it is.
First off, Pearl ain't going to be cheap - Auburn is clearly going to offer him whatever it takes to stay, and on top of that, he has a $4 million-plus dollar buyout. So, getting him to leave Auburn will likely be a transaction that easily dips into the eight figures, and that's after you pay Chris Mack buyout money, pay for his staff etc.
Secondly, is Pearl really going to leave a good job in Auburn to go to a place with no AD and school president? Like most of the great candidates out there he's going to want to know who he works for.
Who knows if Pearl even wants to leave Auburn. But if he does, Maryland probably seems like a more likely landing spot than Louisville does.
Mick Cronin, head coach UCLA: Finally, another long shot that probably won't happen, but warrants a call - and that's UCLA head coach Mick Cronin.
And while his buyout is massive, at least - unlike some of the other names on this list - there are logical reasons he'd actually consider the job.
Cronin knows the school and area well, as a former assistant to Rick Pitino and head coach at Murray State and Cincinnati. And it's also worth noting that Cronin, at least publicly, isn't totally happy with what has happened at UCLA over the last year or so - just based on some of his comments surrounding the school's Covid protocols.
Of course, like all good coaches, there is plenty to keep him at UCLA as well.
He is coming off a Final Four, has a team good enough to win it this year, and with a pair of McDonald's All-American's coming in next season, it doesn't appear as though it will slow down any time soon.
Plus, like all the big-name coaches on this list, he won't come cheap, as he has an $8 million buyout before March 31st of this season.
Nate Oats, Alabama head coach: Louisville would owe Alabama $9.8 million in buyout money to hire Nate Oats.
Unless they're willing to spend crazy money, and again, unless, Nate Oats is willing to leave Alabama - and one of the best AD's in the business Greg Byrne - for the unknown of Louisville, he ain't going anywhere.
Will Wade, head coach LSU: Remember what I said about NCAA sanctions above?
Yeah, Louisville isn't hiring Will Wade.
Don't believe everything you read on the internet. That ain't happening.
Matt McMahon, Murray State head coach: Again, it's not what Louisville fans want to see, but the reality is, it's hard to get good coaches, making good money to leave good jobs. Even for a job like Louisville, that has the potential to be a great job.
Therefore, while it isn't sexy, I do think there are a couple mid-major names to consider. One is right down the road at Murray State in Matt McMahon.
Murray State has been a hot bed of coaches already, with the likes of Mick Cronin and others coming through, but to his credit, McMahon has put his stamp on the program. Taking out the Covid year a season ago, Murray's last three seasons at Murray have gone like this - 26-6, 28-5, 23-9, with two NCAA Tournament appearances during that stretch. The Racers are currently 18-2 this season.
Included in that five-year stretch mentioned above, included a second round NCAA Tournament run with a guy named Ja Morant on their roster.
As mentioned, Murray is rolling this season, sitting at 18-2 overall, heading into a showdown with Morehead State on Saturday.
With a bunch of really good jobs opening this year and not enough coaches to fill them - McMahon is going to get scooped up by someone. Louisville would be absurd not to give him a look.
Scotty Davenport, head coach Bellarmine: An interesting name that emerged via local reporter Eric Crawford is Scotty Davenport, head coach of Bellarmine, a small Louisville school that is currently in the process of transitioning to the D1 ranks.
In terms of his background, Davenport has deep ties to the city and school. He worked for Denny Crum, and turned Bellarmine into a Division II power - that won one national championship and made multiple Division II Final Four's as well. They joined the Division I ranks last year and actually finished second in the A-Sun, and are currently at 11-9 overall and 5-1 in conference play this year.
In his early 60's, Davenport wouldn't be a long-term answer, but someone to potentially stabilize the program over the next few years as Crawford mentioned. That would allow, Louisville to get their NCAA situation in order and potentially find a more suitable long-term replacement.
Mark Pope, head coach BYU: So I'll be honest, this is one that I'm not sure if you'll see anywhere else, and I have no idea if there'd be interest - but Pope is a name I'd personally call.
The bottom line is that Pope is still relatively young (in his late 40's), full of energy and has proven to be adept at both recruiting, and hitting the portal hard during his time at BYU. Oh, and he wins. The Cougars were a Final Four dark horse in 2020 before the NCAA Tournament was cancelled, made the NCAA Tournament last year and are projected to make it this season as well.
Of course, while I would call Pope, the question becomes whether he'd take it, and I'm honestly not sure.
One, BYU is headed to the Big 12 soon, which should only allow him to recruit and compete at a higher level.
And two, Pope is a Kentucky alum who played for Rick Pitino.
Would he really be willing to not only stab his alma mater in the back, but his former head coach in the process?
I have no idea, but like I said, I'd call.
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