Six Candidates For Louisville's Vacant Head Coaching Gig
Louisville is in the market for a new head basketball coach after parting ways with interim head coach David Padgett on Wednesday. Now it’s time for the school to embark on its first true coaching search since it hired Rick Pitino in 2001.
So what does the Louisville job offer? Well, there’s a rabid fan base with high expectations, a basketball-first mentality and a 22,090-seat arena that’s relatively new (built in 2010). There’s also the tradition of
three two national championships and 10 eight trips to the Final Four.
There’s also the tiny fact that the NCAA will likely be parked just outside the KFC Yum! Center for the foreseeable future, as the specter of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball hovers over the program.
With all of that out of the way, here’s a look at six candidates who could wind up being in the mix for the job.
Chris Mack, Xavier
This where this search will almost certainly begin, and also might end. Despite a striking resemblance to Dobby the house-elf, Chris Mack can actually coach. He has made Xavier a legitimate national power during his nine years on campus.
While his team’s unceremonious exit before the Sweet 16 of the 2018 NCAA Tournament is a black mark on his resume, he led the Musketeers to a 29-6 record, a Big East tile and a No. 1 seed this year.
Mack has taken Xavier to the NCAA Tournament in five straight seasons and eight of the nine years he’s been there. He has won three conference titles at Xavier (two in the Atlantic 10), while amassing a 212-96 record, good enough for a .688 winning percentage.
The question for Mack will be whether or not he actually wants to move on from his alma mater. He grew up in Cincinnati, played at Xavier from 1991-93 and had two stints as an assistant coach at the school (1999-2001 and 2004-2009). The pull of home can often be too much to overcome.
Mack is 48, so it’s not like he’s a super young up-and-comer who would jump at any opportunity for a big job. With the NCAA hanging around Louisville, maybe this isn’t the time to make that leap. That said, it’s a plum job (without the NCAA issues), at a basketball-first school, in a basketball-mad state. And his brand of tough, rugged basketball would go over well there. He’ll almost certainly get an offer, the question is whether or not he’ll take it.
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Like Mack, Mick Cronin just had a disappointing exit from the tournament, is a native of Cincinnati and is coach at his alma mater. So, yeah he’s in pretty much the exact situation as Xavier’s coach.
Cronin just finished his 12th season at Cincinnati, and has posted a remarkable record. He’s 268-140 (.657) during his time there with two American Athletic Conference titles, and eight straight NCAA Tournament trips.
Cronin also has connections to Louisville. He was an assistant there under Rick Pitino from 2001-2003, then left to be the head coach at Murray State. He won two Ohio Valley Conference titles at Murray State before taking the Cincinnati job.
Cronin has been mentioned for big jobs before, but Louisville might be too good for the 46-year-old to pass up. He can recruit, has posted consistent success, had his team ranked fifth overall on KenPom this season, and has consistently had it ranked in the top 20 in defensive efficiency. The Bearcats also posted a 31-5 record this season and over the past two years they have gone a combined mark of 61-11. That’s a ton of success.
Ed Cooley, Providence
Ed Cooley has quietly done fantastic things at Providence. He has led the Friars to five-straight 20-plus win seasons, and they have reached the NCAA Tournament in each of those years. Before that, he turned around a terrible Fairfield program and somehow managed to go 25-8 in 2010-11 before Providence swooped him up.
Cooley is 48 and has a reputation for being an energetic and relentless coach. He’s smart, runs a defense-first system that gets results and the Friars have finished in the top four in the Big East in each of the past five seasons. That’s a tremendous achievement at such a small school.
The issue for Louisville is that Cooley grew up in Providence and is now thriving in his home town. He’s got a good thing going. Would he jump?
Ryan Odom, UMBC
Recency bias? Maybe, but don’t count out Ryan Odom. He just led UMBC to the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history. Sure it was one game, but the Retrievers’ 74-54 win over No. 1 seeded Virginia wasn’t a fluke. Odom can flat-out coach.
In two years at UMBC, Odom has amassed a record of 46-24 (.657). The 43-year-old has also been an assistant at six different Division I programs. That means wide-ranging experience. Oh, and his dad is former East Carolina, Wake Forest and South Carolina head coach Dave Odom. So the guy has learned how to coach over the years.
Yes, hiring Odom would be a risk, but it might be one worth taking. His teams are absolutely fearless, something Louisville might need over the next few years with the NCAA hanging around.
Eric Musselman, Nevada
After this tournament run, who wouldn’t want Eric Musselman to coach their team? The excitable former two-time NBA head coach has found a home at Nevada and is thriving. In his third year, he’s made the Wolf Pack a legitimate top 25 basketball team, taking them to the Sweet 16 this season, while posing a 29-7 record.
In his three seasons at Nevada, Musselman has racked up a record of 81-28 (.743), two conference championships, two NCAA Tournament trips and a CBI title (in his first season). The 53-year-old also has three years of NBA head coaching experience (two at Golden State, one at Sacramento). He knows what NBA teams look for, which could be invaluable when luring top recruits.
Musselman’s Wolf Pack squad ranks sixth in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom this season and ranked 36th last season. He gets his teams to play efficient offensive basketball. That’s invaluable in the modern game, and something Louisville should find attractive.
Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder
This is a nothing more than a pipe dream, but is still worth mentioning. Billy Donovan was Pitino’s star pupil as a player at Providence and an assistant at Kentucky. Theories have long circulated that Donovan would make his return to college basketball and take his mentor’s place when he finally retired. But it’s probably a bit much asking Billy D. to show up and take over at the place where his mentor just got fired.
Sure, if the Oklahoma City Thunder get bounced from the postseason early and decide to make a change at the top, Donovan could be the target. But I doubt Louisville’s coaching search lasts that long. The school will want someone new in place in short order.
Donovan has two national titles to his name and most believe he’ll eventually wind up back in college. But this just doesn’t feel like the right time or the right fit.