College Basketball

5 candidates to replace John Calipari as Kentucky basketball coach

Who will be the next coach for Kentucky? Here are some potential candidates after Scott Drew and Dan Hurley turned the school down

Split image of Rick Pitino, Billy Donovan and Dawn Staley
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Rick Pitino, Billy Donovan and Dawn Staley are three coaches who could be considered for the Kentucky men’s basketball opening.

One of the biggest jobs in men's college basketball is up for grabs. But who wants it?

John Calipari officially left his role as Kentucky head coach on Tuesday and took the same position at SEC rival Arkansas on Wednesday. In the days since news began to trickle out, plenty of big-name coaches have been linked to the Kentucky job -- and many have already turned it down.

Alabama's Nate Oats and Baylor's Scott Drew opted to stay with their current teams. Two-time defending national champion Dan Hurley is likely to do the same at UConn. Then there's the longshots like the retired Jay Wright and Boston Celtics executive Brad Stevens, who are pipe dreams for Big Blue Nation.

Here are five candidates who could be Kentucky's next coach:

Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls coach

Would he leave his current job? Maybe. Donovan's four-year tenure with the Bulls has been largely mediocre -- one playoff appearance (first-round loss), a play-in loss and another looming play-in game next week. While his contract runs for three more seasons after this one, Chicago isn't near championship contention and that could entice Donovan to move back to the college game.

Would Kentucky want him? For sure. Donovan was a Kentucky assistant coach from 1989 to 1994 before winning back-to-back national titles with rival Florida in 2006 and 2007. Even though he's been out of college coaching for nearly a decade (since 2015), the 58-year-old Donovan would command immediate respect from recruits, transfers and boosters.

Tommy Lloyd, Arizona men's basketball coach

Would he leave his current job? Probably. Lloyd has spent the last three seasons with Arizona after 20 years as an assistant with Gonzaga. While he hasn't had a ton of tournament success (two Sweet 16 losses, one first-round loss), his Wildcats have gone 88-20 overall. Lloyd has quickly proven to be an elite recruiter -- and there's no doubt that would only get easier in Lexington with a richer basketball pedigree.

Would Kentucky want him? Probably. As candidates begin to thin out, Lloyd could be the best and most realistic option. At just 49 years old, Lloyd could theoretically match Calipari's run of 15 years on the job if things go according to plan.

Mark Pope, BYU men's basketball coach

Would he leave his current job? Absolutely. If Kentucky comes calling, Pope couldn't say "yes" fast enough. He was a two-year starter and captain on the Wildcats' 1996 title-winning team. While Pope is starting to build a consistent contender at BYU, a return to Lexington would be a massive step up.

Would Kentucky want him? Eventually, maybe. Pope likely isn't atop the wish list for athletic director Mitch Barnhart. But if coaches like Donovan and Lloyd join the others in turning the job down, Pope could vault into contention. In five seasons at BYU, the team has gone 110-52 with two NCAA Tournament appearances but no wins. That track record is good but not great, which means he's probably not the leading candidate just yet -- despite his Kentucky ties.

Rick Pitino, St. John's men's basketball coach

Would he leave his current job? In a heartbeat. The 71-year-old Pitino has been the head coach for six colleges and two NBA teams in his career. After one season at St. John's, Pitino should jump at the chance to take over at Kentucky -- where he coached for eight seasons and won a national title in 1996.

Would Kentucky want him? Potentially. Like Pope, Pitino probably isn't the ideal option for Kentucky. His age alone means that he would only be a short-term fix. But there's no denying that Pitino gets results wherever he goes in the college game. If Barnhart wants to make a splash and reignite the program, Pitino is the guy -- even though it might only work for a limited amount of time.

Dawn Staley, South Carolina women's basketball coach

Would she leave her current job? Unsure. Staley has built South Carolina into the model program of women's college basketball. The Gamecocks are 440-106 in 16 seasons under Staley, including three national titles and an undefeated 2023-24 season. That's a lot to walk away from, but the salary at Kentucky would be hard to pass up.

Would Kentucky want her? It should. The 53-year-old Staley checks all the boxes to be the first woman to coach men's college basketball. She's a proven winner, an elite recruiter and an all-time great leader. There haven't been any reports linking Staley to the job at this time, but Kentucky should at least make a call to gauge her interest.

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