Three days before Louisville is scheduled to start practice, the Cardinals’ scandal-tainted basketball program is in a state of disrepair.
They fired their coach and athletic director on Wednesday in the wake of multiple scandals. They lost their top two Class of 2018 recruits to decommitments later in the day. And they could face more NCAA sanctions in the wake of the FBI’s bombshell allegation that a Louisville assistant arranged a $100,000 payout from Adidas last June in return for a top recruit’s commitment.
Amidst all that chaos and uncertainty, Louisville must hire a new coach, preferably one with limited ties to predecessor Rick Pitino, an ability to recruit without relying on the shoe companies and a reputation for following the rules. The stakes are monumental for Louisville as it tries to remain one of college basketball’s elite programs and avoid letting this heavy turbulence become a tailspin.
Under typical circumstances, the Louisville job would be one of the 10 most attractive in the sport because of the program’s wealth and tradition. That’s certainly not the case now with the Cardinals in such precarious position beyond this season.
One option for Louisville would be to try to find a long-term solution right away, but plucking a head coach from another program could be difficult just days before the start of practice. Another option for the Cardinals might be hiring an interim candidate to stabilize the program for the next year, but that only hinders recruiting and delays the rebuilding process.
Interim Louisville president Greg Postel said Wednesday that the Cardinals could have a new coach in the next 48 hours. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of seven prospective candidates Postel might consider:
Chris Mack (Xavier): Having led Xavier to seven NCAA tournament bids in eight seasons and shown an ability to recruit and develop talent, Mack should be the first coach Louisville calls. His wife is a Louisville native, and while Mack previously has turned down overtures from other prominent programs to remain at Xavier, the Louisville job has long intrigued him. What makes Mack more of a long shot than a likelihood for Louisville right now is the battered state of the Cardinals program and the uncertainty over potential NCAA sanctions in the future. Would Mack leave his alma mater high and dry on the eve of practice to step into that mess? Doubtful. Might he be willing to consider the move more strongly next spring? That seems more realistic.
Gregg Marshall (Wichita State): In his past five years at Wichita State, Marshall has produced a Final Four, an undefeated regular season and 10 NCAA tournament victories. That’s enough to make him an intriguing candidate for any elite job that opens. Louisville is one of the few schools that could afford to exceed his $3.3 million dollar salary at Wichita State and give him the platform to compete for Final Fours and national titles. Under normal circumstances, this could be a logical fit, but it’s far less certain in Louisville’s present state. Would a 54-year-old coach want to tackle what could be a longterm rebuilding job depending on what sanctions the NCAA doles out? Perhaps next spring, but probably not now with Wichita State returning a loaded roster and set to join a new conference.
Tom Crean (unemployed): Even though Louisville fans may cringe at the idea of hiring the former Marquette and Indiana coach, Crean makes a lot of sense on an interim basis. He has a squeaky clean reputation, he wouldn’t be leaving another program in the lurch and he gives the Cardinals a good chance not to waste a talent-laden 2017-18 roster. Crean has experience taking over a scandal-ridden program in need of a reboot, having inherited a roster at Indiana with two walk-ons and zero scholarship players after Kelvin Sampson’s disastrous tenure. The Hoosiers reached three Sweet 16s in Crean’s final six seasons, but Crean was never able to achieve consistency despite recruiting well and earning praise for his relentless work ethic.
Thad Matta (unemployed): Matta boasts more than 400 career victories, a pair of Final Four appearances and a wealth of players in the NBA, yet this potential hire isn’t nearly as attractive as it might have been a few years ago. Ohio State fired Matta earlier this offseason after his program failed to reach the NCAA tournament for a second straight year and didn’t recruit well enough to suggest an uptick was imminent. Matta also has struggled with health problems that impacted his ability to do his job up to his former standard the past few years. I fully believe Thad Matta will coach again in college basketball — and coach well at that — but at this juncture he might not be the guy to tackle a potential major rebuild at a marquee program.
David Padgett (Louisville assistant): If Louisville hires an interim coach off Pitino’s staff, Padgett would be by far the most likely choice. He earned all-Big East honors as a Louisville player, transitioned into coaching in 2011 and has served as a full-time assistant for the Cardinals for the past two seasons. Padgett could probably provide continuity for a few weeks and even stay on staff for a season, but he lacks the experience to be a confidence-inspiring long-term choice as a head coach. It’s also difficult to fathom Louisville hiring someone closely tied to Pitino in the long run even if Padgett wasn’t directly involved in any of the Cardinals’ scandals.
Kenny Payne (Kentucky assistant): Plucking a coach from Louisville’s biggest rival would create a stir, wouldn’t it? Payne is a former Louisville player who played a few years in the NBA and coached at Oregon before joining John Calipari’s staff at Kentucky. He has earned a few interviews for head coaching opportunities in recent years, but the Louisville job would be a huge leap. What’s more, Payne has strong ties to Nike, which might not be a selling point. Not only is Louisville an Adidas school, it likely will want to steer clear of a shoe company guy given the scandal that led to Pitino’s firing.
Scott Davenport (Bellarmine): A former assistant under Denny Crum who stayed on to ease the transition when Pitino was hired, Davenport would be an ideal interim candidate if he’s willing to leave Bellarmine with no guarantee of staying at Louisville beyond one season. He is well liked in the community and could be a stabilizing force as the program tries to survive multiple scandals. One drawback could be Davenport’s Pitino ties. The Louisville administration might be to reticent to hire anyone with connections to the Pitino regime. The other drawback might be that Davenport has a strong returning team at Bellarmine. He has won a Division II national titles there and advanced to the Final Four three other times.
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