If you are a Louisville basketball fan feeling a sense of apathy and lack of enthusiasm for the 2016-17 season, do not feel too bad. You are not alone.
While it is of the utmost importance to support the young men donning the Louisville uniforms, especially after all they have been through, the reality is that without having a solid idea of what the future holds, it’s tough to generate the same energy if, say, the revelations of this summer never took place.
The 2017-18 season is a band-aid year for Louisville basketball. There will be some ups, and there will be some downs, but barring a Final Four run, the most discussed topic of this season will be, “Who coaches the team next season?”
Luckily, the brand that is Louisville basketball, combined with the brand that is the ACC, along with the superior facilities the program has to offer and loyal fan base, it’s still a job that sells itself despite all that has taken place.
Here are the candidates all Cards fans have been discussing and perhaps a few more to keep an eye on.
The “Not Gonna Happen” Candidates
These are names that are continuously thrown out like Tennessee fans throw around Jon Gruden: fun to discuss but almost certain not to happen.
Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
This should not even come up in discussion, but it somehow is. Every day. The former Butler coach is now the head coach of one of the most recognizable brands in the NBA in a huge market and is currently looking like the best team in the league. Verbally suggesting that he would consider the Louisville job is just a waste of valuable breath.
Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder
Maybe not as unlikely as Stevens, but the most popular candidate as the heir to the Pitino throne among Louisville fans for years, Donovan’s name is constantly brought up. Had the Bowen/Koprivica/Adidas info never took place, maybe, MAYBE, he listens. Yet, it happened, and even if the firing of his mentor was justified (and it was), it’s hard to believe that didn’t rub him the wrong way. Even if he does leave the NBA, his close relationship with Pitino makes a match with Louisville more than impossible.
Jay Wright, Villanova
Maybe this is because I value the Villanova program more than most in this state. It is a borderline blue blood program, coming off a recent national championship, and is located in a prime basketball crazy location.
And not to compare Louisville to the program up the road, but when Jay Wright was mentioned as a candidate for the Kentucky job following Billy Gillespie’s firing, he laughed off the idea on a Philadelphia radio show. Maybe that was because he wasn’t seriously considered, or maybe not, but given all he has up in the northeast, it just doesn’t seem realistic that he would throw all of it away to clean up Louisville, which may be a more recognizable brand than Villanova…but not by much.
Kevin Keatts, NC State/Richard Pitino, Minnesota
These two names are being combined due to the fact that there is one blunt reason they will be not considered: They are too close to Pitino. Louisville would not consider them, and the feeling would almost certainly be mutual. Each appear to be stars on the rise who should see bigger jobs in their future, but that job will not be Louisville.
The Front Runners
This is the group that appears likely to be either directly or indirectly interested and would come across to many as home run hires.
Chris Mack, Xavier
Perhaps the most discussed candidate to this point, Mack has had a successful run as Xavier’s head coach for the past 8 seasons. He is a regarded as an excellent x’s and o’s coach with high character who can also get it done on the recruiting trail despite not being in charge of a “marquee” program.
He has had ample opportunities to leave for higher-regarded jobs (most recently Ohio State) but has stayed put. There is speculation that he has been waiting for the Louisville job to open up, and his wife is a Louisville native born and raised.
As far as quality hires go, this one is tough to top. He has had three Sweet 16 appearances and led last year’s injury-ridden team to an Elite Eight. Out of all the potential candidates, this is the one that has produced the most smoke. If he is in fact interested, it will be interesting to see if Louisville’s powers that be even look elsewhere. After all, given the current climate at Louisville, they are probably not in the best position to roll the dice and potentially rub him the wrong way.
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Yes, he comes off pretty arrogant at times, and his wife tends to go a tad insane during games, but the man’s record speaks for itself.
Wichita is not exactly the type of program that jumps out to elite recruits, but he is able to coach up the players he does get and coaches them up to a nationally competitive level. Given the possibility Louisville may be handcuffed a bit in regards to recruiting the next couple of seasons, having a coach who is known to take less-than-elite talent and get them to play like top-10 teams, the Cards could do worse.
Marshall has led the Shockers to four 30+ wins in the past five seasons, but after the team’s Final Four battle with Louisville in 2013, he has struggled to go deep in the tourney.
Mike White, Florida
This is the hot new name on the block among Louisville fan discussions and for good reasons.
The 40-year old third-year head coach of the Florida Gators is coming off of an Elite Eight run this past March and again has his team looking like one of the most dangerous teams in the country. He already has a road win over a top-20 team in Gonzaga and took #1 Duke to the wire, too.
Could playing second fiddle to the football program have him give serious consideration to a blue blood like Louisville? Maybe.
He has the Gators ranked 6th in the nation right now and this is despite having lost three key upper classmen in Canyon Barry, Devin Robinson, and Kasey Hill. While the above two names are experienced, proven head coaches, no one in the country is as hot as White, and he would certainly make waves at Louisville.
The difficulty in getting White, though, is not only does he have zero ties to the program, he came one game away from being in the final weekend last season. This season, he may just get there. For all young coaches who haven’t “been there”, they probably don’t want to mess with a good thing. He has established a nice path there in Gainesville. Would he want to start from scratch at Louisville?
David Padgett, Louisville
This probably would not be the ideal choice for most fans wanting to completely hit the reset button with a proven winner, but seeing as he is the only potential candidate who can audition for the job while on the job.
He is incredibly young for a head coach at 32 years old, but he is well-remembered as one of the most intelligent players and team leaders Louisville has ever had. He also has coaching in his blood, as his father is a coach.
Removing the “interim” label is always risky, though. Sometimes it can pan out, but other times, it can come back to bite you. Amid an NCAA scandal not near what Louisville is experiencing, UCONN took the interim label off coach Kevin Ollie, who would subsequently win a national championship with Jim Calhoun’s recruits. Since then, though, he has struggled mightily and is coming off a 16-17 season (that was the team record, not the year) two years after going to the NIT.
Padgett, though, should he get the team on the right track and produce in March, could very well get a serious look at staying put. His inexperience, though, will have Louisville in full rebuild mode for years to come. As inexperienced as he is on the court, imagine his sales pitch on the recruiting trail vs. the likes of Roy Williams, Coach K, John Calipari, and really just about the entire ACC.
If this ends up the case, expect Louisville to take a significant step back. He is a bright mind with a bright future, but this is the equivalent of taking a rookie fresh out of high school playing low A ball and inserting him as a team’s starting catcher. Padgett may eventually see himself become elite, but he has a steep learning curve, and Louisville could very well be a picture of mediocrity for half a decade or more.
Shaka Smart, Texas
Everyone’s favorite mid-major coach at VCU has always stood out for his passionate personality and upbeat style of play he refers to as “havoc”. He took the Rams to a Final Four in 2012 and had at least 26 wins in each of his six seasons there.
However, since taking over at Texas, his star has dimmed quite a bit, as he went 11-22 last season after opening his Texas career with a 20-13 start. He has his current team looking much better, though, sitting at 5-2 with the only losses being to #1 Duke (in which they were up 12 at halftime before losing in OT) and at Gonzaga. If he makes a splash in conference play, his name could very well come up again.
He is also a dynamic recruiter, although the recruitment surrounding top prospect Mohamed Bamba raised several red flags. Given the mess Louisville found itself in over Brian Bowen, recruiting is absolutely something that will be discussed.
The Dark Horses
Here are some names that could pop up but are not currently being widely discussed.
Bobby Hurley, Arizona State
The former Duke star comes from coaching royalty, with his father being the long time coach of the renowned St. Anthony’s basketball program in New York. His younger brother, Dan, is also in his 6th season as head coach of Rhode Island.
Hurley is currently in his third year at Arizona State, where he struggled his first two seasons with the Sun Devils (two losing seasons), but currently has his current group ranked #20 and playing some of the basketball in the country up to this point. He has his group averaging over 90 points per game, winning by an average margin of 20 points per contest, and he beat Chris Mack’s Xavier team (then ranked #16) by 16 points.
If Louisville has any tie here, it is with Adidas, who also sponsors ASU. If Hurley continues the season the way it is currently going, Adidas certainly owes Louisville, it’s marquee brand, a major favor and could perhaps aid in bringing Hurley back to the ACC. Despite coming unhinged with officials apparently (Hurley encouraged fans to taunt officials last season after he was ejected vs. Arizona), he appears to a name on the rise.
If he can maintain his current success, his name carries huge weight in the northeast, and he could corner the market in recruiting up there.
Bryce Drew, Vanderbilt
After being immortalized in March Madness history with his buzzer beating shot for 13-seed Valparaiso to beat 4-seed Ole Miss in 1998, Drew has established himself as a quality young coach.
He went 124-49 in five seasons coaching his alma mater before leaving to coach Vanderbilt (proving he won’t let emotion get in the way of his career). Unfortunately, his time at Vandy so far has been rather abysmal, going 19-16 in his first year last season and currently sitting at 3-4.
So why would he be a candidate if he is struggling at Vandy? One word: recruiting. He successfully recruited Notre Dame transfer Matt Ryan to the Commodores, who will give the team an outside scoring threat next season, and he is currently challenging for the #1 class in 2018. Seriously. He has Vanderbilt competing with Kentucky and Duke for the best class after getting commitments from top-10 prospects Darius Garland and Simi Shittu and is looking very likely to land…wait for it…New Albany star Romeo Langford.
He probably won’t be Louisville’s top choice, but if he could channel his coaching success from Valpo along with his newfound recruiting success at Vandy, he could be a steal.
Eric Konkol, Louisiana Tech
If not Mike White, why not his successor at Louisiana Tech? The Bulldogs have continued to win under Konkol, going 46-20 the past two seasons and opening up this one 5-1 (the loss being a three-point one to top-25 Alabama).
This may not be a sexy hire, and if Louisville turns to him, it probably means they missed on some candidates, but there wasn’t much buzz regarding White going to Florida at first either.
Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Speaking of buzz, the coach of the Virginia Tech Hokies has shown in the past he is willing to leave a very good job to take on a challenge.
After a successful six-year run at Marquette, he has turned around a Hokie program that hadn’t seen a winning record since three years prior to his arrival. He changed that in his second season, and this past season he led them to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade.
Again, this may not be a sexy hire, but if Louisville pulls a Tennessee football and misses on some top choices, they would be lucky to have a guy like Williams willing to listen. He has done an outstanding job bringing VT back to relevance, and he would be given even more resources to do the same at Louisville.
The Bottom Line
Despite the scandal, despite the PR mess that has been subsequently created, and despite all the tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorists (aka Jurich/Pitino backers) who want you to believe there is a sinister plot by everyone from the Board of Trustees to Vince Tyra to Matt Bevin to Donald Trump to bring down Louisville, the job will still attract high-caliber coaches.
It may not be quite as easy as it would have been a few years ago, but the tradition, the fans, and the facilities/resources are still among the best in college basketball. The team is still in the best conference in college basketball, is constantly in the spotlight, and with the right players, can and should be a championship program again.
People thought Penn State football was dead and buried, too, remember, after a far worse scandal than what took place at Louisville. They ended up getting Bill O’Brien from the New England Patriots, who went 15-9 in two seasons, and followed that up by hiring James Franklin, who was the hottest coach in the country at the time, who just led the Nittany Lions to a top-5 finish.
Like Penn State, Louisville, despite what has taken place, is still among the best jobs. One of the names above, most likely in the front runner category and not named Padgett, will be interested and will take the job. Count on that.
Until then, though, just casually enjoy this season while cheering on the guys in the uniform who have been through this mess without an ounce of complaining.