College Basketball
Kentucky basketball coaching candidates: Top names to replace John Calipari
College Basketball

Kentucky basketball coaching candidates: Top names to replace John Calipari

Updated Apr. 11, 2024 10:37 p.m. ET

The search continues in Lexington for a coaching job that is as powerful as any in the sport of college basketball.

After Scott Drew announced that he is staying at Baylor and will return to coach the Bears for a 22nd season, University of Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart is back to the drawing board to fill now Arkansas head coach John Calipari's shoes. 

Fresh off a second-consecutive national championship, UConn head coach Dan Hurley had also been a popular name in the search. While Kentucky was hopeful it could pursue Hurley, there is "zero chance" that will happen, sources told FOX Sports. Hurley and his staff will receive an incremental pay bump and UConn athletic director Dave Benedict is committed to providing more resources around the program.

With that in mind, and the search back on, it is a perfect time to break down the list of names that could end up taking this job. Here are the candidates! 


Sean Miller, Xavier

The 55-year-old has won 72% of the games that he's coached in and has made eight Sweet 16 appearances and four Elite Eight trips in 19 years between Xavier and Arizona. Simply put, Miller is a winner, and he showed it immediately in his return to the Musketeers program in 2022, leading them to their first NCAA Tournament since 2018 in his first season and making a Sweet 16 run. While this season resulted in a 16-18 record, losing his starting frontcourt to injuries never really allowed Xavier to recover. That being said, Miller's intensity, love for the game and ability to develop players makes him a nice and under-discussed fit for this job.

Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls

A former Kentucky assistant under Rick Pitino and two-time national champion coach at Florida, Donovan is in his fourth season with the Bulls and has Chicago locked into next week's Play-In Tournament. If DeMar DeRozan and the Bulls were to ever advance out of that and get into a first-round series, it's only going to delay this search. The way Donovan is wired, his only focus is on his Chicago team and doing what he can to finish out the season strong and advance out of the play-in tournament. There are Kentucky connections, and he could be looking for a move back to the college game, but the climate of the sport has changed drastically since he last coached in college, closing out his Florida tenure in 2015 before taking the Oklahoma City Thunder job. Everything about this feels like a long shot, but never say never.

Bruce Pearl, Auburn

He knows the league, having coached at two schools (Auburn and Tennessee) for the last 16 years. He's also won everywhere he's gone, and is known as one of the most energetic guys in the profession for the way he can galvanize a fan base. Pearl is 676-264 entering his 30th year of coaching and has made history along the way, taking Auburn to the program's first Final Four in 2019. In 2005, he led Milwaukee to the Sweet 16, the first of three trips in four years. Pearl took the Tennessee job after that magical run with the Panthers. He would be a home run for Kentucky.

Rick Pitino, St. John's

Nobody thought John Calipari would end up at Arkansas. So, never say never! Could Pitino look to cap off his career back at the place he won his first national championship? The 71-year-old said he took the St. John's job in part because he would not have to move from his home, which is near Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York. That being said, the opportunity to go back to Kentucky, where he was from 1989-97, would obviously be appealing for a number of reasons and would set college hoops on fire.

Big Blue Nation has been tracking Kentucky booster Joe Craft's plane, which was in New York earlier on Thursday.

That could easily be a meeting with Hurley's people, but we know Pitino is in New York. It's all speculation, but again, there is no longer a front-runner horse in this race. Everything is on the table.

Mark Pope, BYU

A member of the 1996 national championship team in Lexington, Pope played for Pitino and has become a successful head coach, having been at BYU since 2019. He has led the Cougars to two NCAA Tournaments in four seasons, and it would be three in five had March Madness been held in 2020. He's a longer shot in this, but the Kentucky roots help him land a spot on this list.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.


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