Spring is in the air in Kentucky, for everyone out of high school that means Keeneland and for those still in high school it means Prom. Both events are usually preceded by drinking and high expectations that go unmet. Keeneland goers gather around a keg, cooler or the sports bar on the second floor to discuss the rights and wrongs of Gillispie’s dismissal (Yes I am aware that it officially hasn’t happened but its going to, mostly likely tomorrow. Plus I’m afraid someone else will steal my article if I don’t post it now. For that reason I’m bypassing any sort of post about the actual firing and moving right into the possible candidate post).
Prom goers will gather around the spiked punch bowl to discuss dance moves, ugly dresses and after parties. Feel free to take a trip down memory lane to your own prom, many, many years ago.
Let me make only one quick comment about the firing of Gillispie. The decision was made by President Lee Todd, not Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart. There were on the floor issues but it came down to Gillispie failing to represent the University in a manner suitable for President Todd. Barnhart understands the reputation that a University gets for firing a coach after only two seasons but this was not his call. Done.
With that being said, let’s not waste time about the wrongs and rights of the firing and move on to possible replacements. With everything that has happened image and character will play a larger role in this hiring process than the last.
In honor of prom, each candidate will fall into a possible prom category. For you Keeneland goers you can find a Win, Place and Show at the end. Let’s meet the possible dates.
The Prom Queens
High school royalty, the prom queens rule the school, only a select few even bother to ask the queen to the prom. Fortunately Kentucky is one of the select few that have a chance with the prom queen.
John Calipari – This slick ultra-recruiter has put Memphis on the national map. He is always a contender for the nation’s best high school players and has a National Runner-up trophy from 2008. Calipari would be great with the media and would instantly demand a respect Gillispie never had with Kentucky fans. The only thing Calipari does not have is a National Championship.
Billy Donovan – One of only 3 coaches with two or more National Championships, Donovan could go Roy Williams on everyone and accept the job he turned down the first time around. Since the back to back National Championships, Florida has been down but that doesn’t make Donovan any less of top tier coach. The chance to be big man on campus (something he has never been at Florida) and the years of ‘rebuilding’ at Florida may have taken its toll on Donovan. This could make the move north a little easier for Donovan.
Rick Pitino – After hearing some discussion on the subject I begrudgingly added Pitino to this list. He is obviously a Prom Queen if not the best coach in the country. With a National Championship and having taken 3 teams to the Final Four he is one the highest regarded coaches in basketball history. Even though Pitino made this list I find it hard to believe he would change sides once again and come back to the University of Kentucky. I would be thrilled if he did but the chances of that are very slim.
The Prom Court
The court is better than most everyone else but something keeps them a notch below the Queens. Members of the court do not wait long for dates and have their choice of anyone not taking a queen. The court keep working in hopes of one day being queen.
Rick Barnes – Rumored to be the man in line after Donovan, Barnes may have turned down the job in order to stay in Texas. Since his hiring in the Lonestar state, he has had Texas on the national map. A National Championship is the only thing lacking from his resume.
Jay Wright – An under the radar recruiter, Wright always puts a good finished product on the floor. His guard oriented style of basketball could possibly bring an on the floor level of excitement Kentucky basketball has not seen in some time. How Villanova finishes this NCAA Tournament could seal his fate at the top of the court.
Tom Izzo – While Izzo is the only one in the court with a National Championship, his came in one of the worst years for NCAA basketball. There is no doubt the man can coach and would be a great representative for the University but his style resembles that of Smith and Gillispie, which is something Kentucky fans want changed.
Jamie Dixon – Dixon has done a tremendous job at Pittsburgh. He inherited a program in great shape and it has only gotten better. He is possibly the best on the floor coach of anybody on this list. While he operates under the radar on the recruiting trail, his on the floor product is very good. Like other court members, his on the court style of play could be a problem. Pitt is a defend first, grind it out in the half court kind of basketball team, but it is tough to argue with results and Dixon has them.
The 9to 5 Girl
This group sleeps with a copy of “He’s Just Not That Into” beside the bed. She has days where she looks like a 9 and days where she looks like a 5. As prom dates go, they aren’t ugly and in fact hold a promising future but they miss the dance on this one unless the court and the queens all say no.
Matt Painter – After being the Head Coach in Waiting under Keady at Purdue, Painter has done a nice job putting the program back on the map. He lacks any major success at the highest level but that kind of success could be just around the corner. If all else fails Painter is there and could turn out to be a good hire, but taking a chance on him is not the route to take for a prom date.
Sean Miller – This young coach inherited a very good Xavier program from Thad Matta and has done a good job of keeping things as Matta left them. He has, however, failed to elevate the program beyond what he inherited. There is a glass ceiling on the program at Xavier and Miller has the program operating right up against that glass. With better resources perhaps he could do more. Like Wright at Villanova how his team does the rest of the way in the NCAA tournamnet could improve his chances.
Jeff Capel – What Oklahoma has done, especially this year is outstanding but much of that has to do with Blake Griffin. Capel recruited Griffin and Willie Warren which speaks to his recruiting ability. Much like Painter, he has yet to have success at the highest level. A Final Four this year could bump him up a prom category but ‘unproven’ is still the word following Capel around. Even with the landing of Griffin and Warren questions still surround Capel and his ability at the highest level.
Mike Anderson – ‘4o minutes of hell,’ the old Arkansas slogan has taken Missouri and Mike Anderson to the Sweet 16. His pressing up-tempo sytle would bring back flashes of the early ’90’s Kentucky teams (without the claw pants). Anderson was the coach at UAB when they stuck it to Kentucky is the NCAA Tourney a few years back. While his style is fun to watch he has yet to prove he can recruit on a national level. Anderson is a personal favorite (because of style) but is still a little to unproven for the Bluegrass State.
If she was single, then maybe…
This girl is a looker but she has been dating the same guy for so long that people sometimes forget she exists. If she were single she would probably be in the prom court but she is spoken for.
Mark Few – No one can argue against what Few has done at Gonzaga but his ties are all in the west. That is where he is comfortable recruiting and that is where AAU and high school coaches know him. While he has put Gonzaga on the map he has failed to take them to that next level (Final Four). That could have more to do with his recruiting base or the University than Few’s ability to recruit and coach. Either way he seems happy at Gonzaga.
The Freshmen You Know Would Say Yes
The freshmen group is a group with lots of potential. They are up and coming stars who could one day be prom queen. Age and inexperience are red flags for this group of young but energetic freshmen. The only thing that keeps them around is the guarantee that they would say yes if asked.
Travis Ford – Between Horn, Pelphrey and Ford, Ford has had more success at the D-I level than the other two. He is only coach to get his team to the NCAA tournament in 2009 but he did inherit the program that was in better shape than the other two. His track record is good, with successful stops at Eastern Kentucky and UMass. He seems to have Oklahoma State on the right track but we will have to wait a few more years to see if they can compete with the big boys in the Big 12.
Darren Horn – South Carolina just missed the NCAA tournament in Horn’s first year but they looked pretty good along the way. He inherited two senior SEC guards which helped him win games but he has demonstrated an ‘on the court’ ability to coach. Having worked under Tom Crean and getting Western Kentucky to the big dance improves his stock, but people will have to wait a few more years to see if South Carolina can rise to the top of the SEC.
John Pelphrey – Arkansas had a somewhat surprising year during Pelphrey’s first year but stumbled badly in SEC play during his second year at the helm. The program was in worse shape than South Carolina or Oklahoma State when Horn and Ford, respectively, took over. No matter what the situation Pelphrey is still unproven and will need a few years of redemption to move up the prom hierarchy.
For the Keeneland goers:
Win: Billy Donovan
If Donovan says yes, it is a one horse race. If Donovan says no, look to Jamie Dixon, Jay Wright or Rick Barnes to battle it out (just a guess people).
Prom is just around the corner, can’t wait to see who Kentucky brings as its date.