Kentucky's Coaching Vacancy: Does Anyone Want the Job?

Sean EdmistonContributor IMarch 27, 2009

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 12:  Head coach Billy Donovan of the Florida Gators calls to his team against the Arkansas Razorbacks  during the first round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum March 12, 2009 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

For Kentucky basketball fans, Friday hopefully will be the end of the most frustrating chapter in one of college basketball's richest stories.

Or will it?

The Wildcats are likely send second-year coach Billy Gillispie on his way, but given the state of affairs in Lexington, a happy conclusion for Wildcat fans is anything but guaranteed.

Why is that?

Maybe we should look a few years back, at a guy named Tubby Smith.

Good guy. Pretty good coach. Won a national championship his first season at the helm in Lexington.

But over time, UK basketball started to decline. In the eyes of Kentucky fans, the Wildcats' nine-year absence from the Final Four seemed to overshadow any amount of regular-season success they had under Smith. Feeling the heat from the fans and the brass in Lexington, Tubby tucked his tail between his legs and took off for the University of Minnesota.

This year, Tubby's Golden Gophers got an invite to the NCAA Tournament while Kentucky took a trip to the NIT.


So what's next for the Wildcats?

Well, unless something drastic changes, Gillispie will likely step down or get the ax no later than Friday afternoon.

Should he get a third year? Probably. It's commonly accepted that a coach needs more than two years to put a system in place. But for the rabid Kentucky fan base, another season ending anywhere but the Final Four would be unacceptable.

Which leads to the question:

Who the heck would want to coach in Lexington?


There are a lot of names being tossed around right now. Big names. Billy Donovan, Tom Izzo, John Calipari, Rick Barnes, and even Pat Riley have popped up. There are also a couple of up-and-comers being mentioned, like Jeff Capel and Travis Ford.

One of the big-name coaches would be great for Kentucky. They need a guy who has been to the Final Four a time or two who also has the kind of recognition that'll pull in blue-chip recruits right away.

But will any of those guys actually make the jump to Kentucky?

Sure, the job has its appeal. Kentucky has won more games than any other program in NCAA history and only UCLA stands ahead of the Wildcats in national titles. There's ginormous Rupp Arena and a large enough budget (judging from Gillispie's contract).


But let's look at the bad.

Two years ago, UK forced out a guy that had won them a freakin' National Championship. He had back-to-back seasons in which his team received an eight seed in the NCAA Tournament, yet was still forced out.

No, Tubby Smith isn't Rick Pitino. But he isn't Gillispie either.

What does this say to a Billy Donovan or a Tom Izzo or a John Calipari?

Look at Donovan's situation. Sure, basketball will always be second to football in Gainesville, but at UF, he's got job security because of those back-to-back titles he won. It doesn't matter that he followed those up with back-to-back NIT appearances.

Would back-to-back NIT appearances fly in Lexington? I doubt it.


Maybe Kentucky will land a great and proven coach. For the sake of a great program, I sure hope so.

But before this happens, the UK administration and fans need to realize something: You can't cut down the nets every year, or every other year, or even every three years. Understand?

Basketball programs go through dry spells, and that's what makes winning a title so sweet.

Could Kentucky land someone like Donovan this time around? Absolutely. But they're going to need to promise some security.

To do that, UK fans are gonna have to hold on a little longer. But it's okay, your time will come.