Kentucky goes hunting
The Commonwealth of Kentucky has turned its lonely eyes to Billy Donovan, again, and it appears they’ll be rebuffed, again. You never know with Billy D, but his Friday afternoon statement denying interest in leaving Florida means nothing is imminent.
“In response to the rumors circulating about my interest in other jobs, I wanted to address this as quickly as possible,” Donovan said. “I am committed to the University of Florida and look forward to continuing to build our program here.”
This came in response to an Orlando television station saying he was leaving for Lexington, countless accounts that he was considering it and a general feeling among monied-interests around the UK program that he was interested.
Instead, Kentucky may be looking for Plan B after firing their last Plan B – Billy Gillispie.
Gillispie was the hot coach in the spring of 2005, having led Texas A&M to the Sweet Sixteen and showing all the trappings of a guy with a brilliant future. He lasted just two years in the Kentucky meat grinder; UK canning him citing “chemistry issues.”
And now the Wildcats have to figure out what they want and who can get them there if Donovan is really out of the mix.
If it’s to win, then the immediate call should be placed to Memphis’ John Calipari, who won’t just arrive with a track record for success but could bring the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 recruits – John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins – along with him for an immediate rebuilding job. Hire Calipari and UK goes off in the preseason top five next fall. It’s as simple as that.
Calipari also would be the ultimate antagonist to Louisville’s Rick Pitino, who isn’t a fan of Cal’s and wants no part of him across state with the Big Blue.
With Calipari, though, nothing is simple. His reputation, whether earned or not, fair or not, precedes him. The question is whether Kentucky wants to make everyone else happy with the politically correct pick or make itself happy with victories. A lot of fan bases dislike Calipari, but not the ones at Massachusetts and Memphis who have enjoyed his success.
When Tubby Smith and Billy Gillispie weren’t good enough for you, then the answer seems obvious.
After Calipari, it’s wide open.
Kentucky has major appeal; there is still nothing quite like the place in college basketball. However, the gap between it and many other places has closed. Over the last decade a number of schools have made substantial commitments to their programs, making the trappings of UK less unique.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Kentucky was special for providing its coach the use of a private plane for recruiting. Now lots of schools have it; even once mid-major Xavier offers one for coach Sean Miller.
Just Friday Villanova’s Jay Wright said he had no interest in the Kentucky job, citing his comfort level where he is. The fact that so many coaches watched Smith and Gillispie get run out of town doesn’t help.
Kentucky can try the family route and go with Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford, but is he proven enough? Mike Anderson is hot right now at Missouri, but isn’t that what Gillispie was two years ago?
They can make a run at a championship coach, say Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, but pulling him out of East Lansing is a long shot. Ditto for Final Four coach Rick Barnes of Texas. They can seek out a successful coach who’s career may need a jump start, say Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt, but would that be enough for their ego?
It can look around the SEC for a good coach that the program will make great – the way they did when they hired Smith out of Georgia.
Mississippi State’s Rick Stansbury gets virtually no media attention. He’s a Kentucky native, though, who has consistently won SEC titles (division, overall and tournament) despite having one McDonald’s All-American and few advantages.
Somewhere the right fit is there. None of the above are bad choices. It shouldn’t be about catching lightning in a bottle, though. Kentucky is a program with such immense strength and resources that four different coaches have won national titles (Adolph Rupp, Joe. B. Hall, Pitino and Smith).
Pitino once referred to it as “the Roman Empire of College Basketball” and while it may have faded a bit, it still offers that potential. If you get a good coach and give him time, the program will return.
At least as long as it understands its strength, makes a long-term hire who can handle the pressure and worries about doing what’s best for Kentucky and no one else.
Or it can hope Donovan is just posturing.