LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Josh Heird has only been on the job for a month and a half, a job he isn't even guaranteed to keep, but he now faces the biggest decision of his professional career.
On Wednesday, the university announced that they had mutually parted ways with men's basketball head coach Chris Mack, effective immediately. The Cardinals are 11-9 on the season, have lost five of their last six games, and are trending toward missing the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.
The interim athletic director for Louisville - elevated to the position following Vince Tyra's resignation in early December - now has the arduous task of hiring the next the coach. He'll "consult university leadership", such as interim president Lori Gonzalez, but, to use a basketball phrase, he'll be the man running point on the search.
Unlike the previous search that took place after Rick Pitino was fired in 2017, there isn't a candidate in which everyone in the college basketball realm points to as "the guy" for a blue blood to go after, like was Mack was. Sure, there are presumptive favorites, but in the roughly 48 hours since the job officially opened up, dozens of candidates have been linked to the position.
It's a position in which Heird - and all of the university leadership that assists him - has to nail. Given how the much the program has been subject to over the last half decade, ranging from various scandals to underwhelming on-court performance, you can make the argument that this is the most important hire in the history of the program.
But even with all that Louisville basketball has gone through, it's still very much a destination job. Rich history, top tier facilities, near unlimited resources, and a passionate fanbase make it undoubtedly a top ten job in all of college basketball - maybe even top five. And that's exactly what Heird will use as a selling point despite the current unrest.
"I think that we'll get some of the best, most highly qualified candidates in the country," he said.
So what exactly is he looking for in a candidate? Speaking Wednesday after Mack's departure was made official, Heird provided some insight as to how he will conduct his search.
First and foremost, he wants to make sure he doesn't rule anyone off before he has had a chance to do his research or talk to them first hand. Heird did say that he already has his own list put together in case of times like this, but he does not want to rule anyone else out. Mid-major head coach? NBA assistant? You're in the running until you're not.
"I think I have one qualification right now: they're good basketball coach," he said. "I know that's very broad, but that's the qualification right now. I don't want to scratch anybody off the list. I want to make sure that we do a thorough vetting of all of the candidates out there so that we can hire the best coach.
As far as what the actual coaching ability goes, Heird is looking what anyone else would when trying to find a coach at a blue blood. X's and O's ability, a coach who "has a vision to compete at the highest level, at the elite level," and one that understands that the expectation at Louisville "is to win national championships."
Beyond that, he's also looking for someone who knows what being the Louisville coach entails away from the court. Someone who understands that, as the head coach of the University of Louisville men's basketball program, you are the guy in town. Looking back on his tenure, it's something that Mack seemed to never truly embrace.
"It's somebody that has to be able to communicate to fans, to stakeholders, donors, to folks on campus here, folks inside the community," Heird said. "That's going to be very critical. I think it's going to be somebody who just comes in and embraces this town. I'm a huge believer that you have to embrace the community that you're part of. If you can do that, you can really start to fit in, and really, quite frankly, be successful.
On top of that, Heird is looking for someone who is willing to adapt to the ever-changing collegiate athletics landscape. A coach who embraces things like name, image, likeness and the transfer portal, instead of displaying an unwillingness to evolve.
"You can sit here and say you don't like the transfer portal, but it is what it is," he said. "You can say you're not going to take advantage of it, or you can try to take advantage of it."
Heird is also taking the NCAA into account. Given the Cardinals' history of run-ins with the NCAA, and the fact that they are still waiting on their latest case to be resolved, he wants to make sure their next coach isn't a risk to add fuel to the proverbial fire.
"I would tell you that I am going to want a coach that has the highest level of integrity possible," he said.
Heird might be asking a lot out of potential candidates, but fortunately, he has the time to do so. While separating with Mack might not fare well for this season, it gives Heird the necessary time to properly review and vet candidates. It also gives prospective candidate across the country plenty of time to deliberate if they want to throw their name into the ring.
"We're first to market, right? I think that gives us a real advantage," he said. "I can assure you, while it's not every coach in the country, I would presume it's a large, large majority of folks in the country saying, 'the Louisville job's open'."
(Photo of Josh Heird: Jeff Faughender - Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK)
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