Dan Hurley and Eight Other Candidates to Replace John Calipari at Kentucky

The Wildcats did not have to pay a buyout to fire Calipari, giving them additional flexibility to spend big.
Hurley would be a top candidate for the Kentucky job.
Hurley would be a top candidate for the Kentucky job. / Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

John Calipari’s stunning decision to depart the Kentucky Wildcats for the Arkansas Razorbacks vacates arguably the best job in men’s college basketball. 

So what’s next in Lexington? 

Kentucky enters the coaching market armed with quite the war chest, capable of paying a top-end salary with clear national title upside and expectations. Plus, Kentucky hits the market without having paid a buyout to fire Calipari, perhaps giving them more flexibility to spend big on another coach’s buyout. 

Who will the Wildcats target? Here’s a look at the potential candidate list. 

Dan Hurley, UConn Huskies

Hurley is perhaps the best active coach in college basketball, fresh off one national title in 2023 and playing for a second Monday night. He has built an elite program at UConn, and his style and personality would be a perfect fit in Lexington. Of course, that sales pitch is also why he’s unlikely to leave UConn. He’s already at a place where you can consistently win national championships, and he’s already beloved in Storrs. Kentucky has to make the call, but don’t count on him taking it. 

Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls

Donovan is a two-time champion at the college level, so it will be no surprise to see his name mentioned for the Kentucky job. But given one of the main reasons for Donovan leaving the Florida Gators for the pros in the first place was a lack of interest in the yearlong recruiting grind, why would he sign up to go back? That’s especially the case in this day and age of college basketball, with the transfer portal and NIL making recruiting a hassle. 

Nate Oats, Alabama Crimson Tide

Fresh off leading Alabama to its first-ever Final Four, Oats will be a hot name for this vacancy despite signing an extension in March that sets his buyout at $18 million. Oats fits the mold of what the next Kentucky coach should look like: On the younger side, brash, playing a fun style and winning at a high level. Even before the Final Four run, Oats had delivered a pair of SEC regular-season and tournament championships since arriving in Tuscaloosa, well outpacing Calipari and Kentucky in the same period. And with Kentucky off the hook for Calipari’s monster contract, perhaps a huge payout to get Oats out of his deal is more palatable than it would have been otherwise.  

Oats is fresh off leading Alabama to the Final Four.
Oats is fresh off leading Alabama to the Final Four. / Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY

Scott Drew, Baylor Bears

Drew has a national championship under his belt at Baylor, which makes him a strong candidate here. He pulled off a seemingly impossible rebuild at Baylor, building the Bears into one of the nation’s most consistent programs. The Louisville Cardinals made a run at him earlier this coaching cycle, but the Kentucky job is a different story. With a manageable buyout and a title in his past, Drew feels like the most reasonable bet to take the job of the top-tier candidates. 

Mark Pope, BYU Cougars

If Kentucky wants a hire who understands the program, Pope is a strong option. He played at Kentucky from 1994 to ’96 and was a captain for the ’96 national title team. Since, he has launched a successful coaching career, winning at both BYU and the Utah Valley Wolverines. This past season was perhaps his most impressive coaching job yet, lifting BYU to the NCAA tournament in the program’s first season in the Big 12. There’s no doubt Pope would take this job, so consider this the floor for Kentucky’s search. 

Rick Pitino, St. John’s Red Storm

I’m as skeptical as you likely are reading this about Pitino’s candidacy. But at the end of the day, Pitino is the best pure basketball coach on this list, and he understands the Kentucky job from his time leading the program in the 1990s. It seems unlikely we’ll see a reunion, but if the Wildcats strike out on top targets, his name could definitely emerge at least as a favorite among the Kentucky fan base. 

Pitino led the Wildcats in the 1990s.
Pitino led the Wildcats in the 1990s. / Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Bruce Pearl, Auburn Tigers

Pearl’s March record outside of his run to the Final Four in 2019 leaves something to be desired, but from a body of work standpoint, he’s a strong name for this vacancy. He’s attainable based on his buyout ($7 million), and there’s no question his bombastic personality fits the Kentucky job. This is another name to watch if Kentucky has to work its way down its list. 

Sean Miller, Xavier Musketeers 

Landing on Miller despite his March struggles with the Arizona Wildcats would likely be underwhelming for many Kentucky fans, but Kentucky could do worse. Miller is an elite recruiter, built consistently good teams at Arizona and has already been to the second weekend once in his two seasons at Xavier. Matching his tenure at Arizona likely wouldn’t be enough to placate Kentucky fans, but it wouldn’t be a bad place to start. 

T.J. Otzelberger, Iowa State Cyclones

His buyout is thought to be prohibitive for almost any school, but Kentucky isn’t like other schools. Otzelberger has crushed it at Iowa State, with three NCAA tournament appearances and two trips to the second weekend in three years on the job. He’s one of the emerging stars in the profession and is worth a call here. 


Published
Kevin Sweeney

KEVIN SWEENEY