Who will be Kentucky’s next basketball coach? Not Drew. Not Hurley. These are the options.

The first major turn in the search for John Calipari’s replacement took place Thursday morning, when Baylor’s Scott Drew removed himself from consideration for the Kentucky men’s basketball head coaching job.

A few hours later, UConn’s Dan Hurley made crystal clear that he was staying put, too.

Now what?

The focus of UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart’s search is now expected to center on one of the biggest names in the sport: Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan, who just happened to be the top candidate for the job the last two times it was open.

He would be a home-run hire for Kentucky, which hasn’t been to a Final Four since 2015 — the second-longest drought in program history — and hasn’t won an NCAA championship since 2012. How realistic is it that Donovan would take the job this time around?

And — if Barnhart decides he can’t wait around — who might be next on UK’s list?

Here’s a look at the possibilities, now that Drew and Hurley have made their intentions clear.

Billy Donovan is in his fourth season with the Chicago Bulls and has spent the past nine years in the NBA. Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY NETWORK
Billy Donovan is in his fourth season with the Chicago Bulls and has spent the past nine years in the NBA. Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY NETWORK

Kentucky’s biggest target


Current: Chicago Bulls head coach (fourth year).

Donovan was the preferred choice to get the Kentucky job in 2007, when Tubby Smith stepped down after 10 years in Lexington. He was at the top of the list again in 2009, when Billy Gillispie’s tenure flamed out after only two seasons. Both times, Donovan turned down UK, where he began his coaching career as an assistant under Rick Pitino in 1989.

In both cases, Donovan decided to stay put at Florida, a program he turned into a national powerhouse, first going to the Final Four in 2000, then winning back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and ’07, and returning to the Final Four in 2014 before leaving for the NBA the following year.

Why would a third pursuit end any differently? It might not.

Donovan — now in his fourth year with the Bulls and ninth overall season in the NBA — has said he’s happy coaching in the league and particularly with the relationships he’s formed in Chicago. The 58-year-old coach was asked several questions about the UK opening before Tuesday’s game, and — while he reiterated his commitment to the Bulls at every turn — he also praised Kentucky’s program and spoke fondly of his time in Lexington. He also never said unequivocally that he would not be interested in the job.

The catch here is that Donovan won’t even entertain direct conversations with UK officials as long as the Bulls are still playing. Their regular season ends this weekend, but Chicago has qualified for the league’s Play-In Tournament, and its first game in that event will be Wednesday night. If the Bulls lose, the season is finished. If they win, they play again Friday. And if they’re victorious there, it means a spot in the NBA playoffs, which could push Donovan’s unavailability to the end of the month (or even later). Meanwhile, players in the transfer portal will be making decisions and the final few available recruits will be making commitments.

Donovan to Kentucky is a real possibility this time. Will Barnhart be patient enough to wait on him, knowing he might not get a “yes” at the end and — even if he does — that the first season of the Donovan era could be an uphill grind?

We’re about to find out.

Staying in the SEC?


Current: Alabama head coach (fifth year).

Even before Calipari announced his resignation, Oats took to X — amid speculation that he would be high on Kentucky’s list — to say that he was staying in Tuscaloosa after leading the Crimson Tide to their first Final Four appearance in program history.

The 49-year-old has a new contract that will make him one of the highest-paid college coaches in the country, a deal that also includes a whopping $18 million buyout, which Kentucky would have to pay to get him away from Alabama. He was also criticized last year for his statements after one of his players was charged with murder in the shooting death of a 23-year-old woman.

Even with all of that, Barnhart might feel pressured to go after one more big name if he strikes out on all the rest. Oats is one of the rising stars in college basketball, but it still seems unlikely that the UK AD would wade into the cost and controversy that would accompany his pursuit, especially since he’s already said he’s staying put.


Current: Florida head coach (second year).

At 38 years old, Golden is the youngest coach on this list by a wide margin. He led San Francisco to an NCAA Tournament at-large bid in 2022 — the school’s first March Madness trip in 24 years — and then landed the job at Florida, where he’s proven to be adept at managing the transfer portal, leading to a 20-16 SEC record over the past two seasons.

Clearly an up-and-comer in the sport, Golden has a bright future, but he’s never won an NCAA Tournament game, and — while his analytics-based approach combined with resources available at UK would surely change that quickly — this job at this moment is probably a reach. Still, winning basketball would likely follow him to Lexington.


Current: There is no doubting Pearl’s success, especially after building Auburn into one of the powerhouses of the SEC. The 64-year-old’s personality is perfectly suited for the Kentucky basketball fishbowl, and his proven results on the court — across multiple stops in an impressive career — would likely have the Wildcats as perennial Final Four contenders.

He’s perhaps the most-loathed opposing coach for many UK fans, but the recent image of Calipari wearing red in Bud Walton Arena is just the latest example of how quickly those feelings can turn. The sticking point here is Pearl’s history of NCAA violations — including a three-year show-cause penalty — that will almost certainly be a nonstarter for Barnhart as he continues his search.

Former Kentucky center Mark Pope is in his fifth season as the head coach at BYU. Steven Branscombe/USA TODAY NETWORK
Former Kentucky center Mark Pope is in his fifth season as the head coach at BYU. Steven Branscombe/USA TODAY NETWORK

UK connections


Current: BYU head coach (fifth year).

A member of Kentucky’s beloved 1996 national championship team, Pope is the most successful former Wildcat currently coaching college basketball, and — while it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him ultimately finish his career as a BYU lifer — the 51-year-old would probably jump at the opportunity to return to Lexington as the leader of UK’s program. If Barnhart swings and misses on the biggest names on his list, Pope could be near the top of the next tier. He knows the program, and he plays an exciting style of basketball.

He’s still never won an NCAA Tournament game, however, and that might be a tough sell. But don’t be surprised if you hear more about him — and potential UK interest — in the coming days.


Current: St. John’s (first year).

Surely not, right? Pitino obviously has a history here. He resurrected Kentucky basketball from the ruins of probation, engineering a quick turnaround and endearing himself to the UK fan base — with five Elite Eights, three Final Fours and the 1996 national title in his last six seasons before bolting to the Boston Celtics (and then the rival Louisville Cardinals).

This scenario is a talker, and Pitino, at 71 years old, would surely come back to Lexington to write the final chapter of his storied career, if given the opportunity. Don’t expect Barnhart to do it. But if more coaches turn down Kentucky’s interest, the calls for this move, among some fans, will grow louder and louder.

The rest of the list


Current: Xavier head coach (second year).

Miller, 55, was one of the rising stars in coaching during his first stint at Xavier (2004-09) before landing the Arizona job and leading the Wildcats to three Elite Eight appearances (but no Final Fours) over 12 seasons. He had middling results over the final three years of that tenure, and he also had wins vacated as a result of the college basketball corruption scandal that broke in 2017 and led to some unflattering headlines for Miller and his program. He can certainly coach, and he’s high atop some national lists for this opening, but it would be a bit of a surprise if Barnhart makes Miller a serious candidate.


Current: Marquette head coach (third year).

Smart led VCU to the Final Four when he was just 33 years old, later parlaying that Cinderella run into the top job at Texas, where he never advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament in six seasons. He left Austin for Marquette, where he’s gone 75-30 over three seasons, earning national coach of the year honors last year and leading the Eagles to the Sweet 16 this past season. Smart, 47, won’t be at the top of Barnhart’s list, but he would be a name worth watching if the search continues beyond Kentucky’s top tier.


Current: Arizona head coach (third year).

An assistant under Mark Few at Gonzaga for 20 years, Lloyd landed a plum assignment for his first head coaching job, and the regular season results have been spectacular. Arizona is 88-20 during his tenure. The Wildcats have been ranked in the top five all three years and have finished no worse than 11th in the final AP Top 25 poll on his watch. Lloyd was the national coach of the year in his first season with Arizona, but he’s never advanced past the Sweet 16 despite being a 1 seed in 2022 and a 2 seed in each of the past two years.

Still, he’s clearly found a winning formula. A couple of hang-ups: Lloyd, 49, has spent his entire career in the western United States, and he has a $12 million buyout.


Current: Iowa State head coach (third year).

Otzelberger, 46, is another rising star after leading the Cyclones to a 2 seed — some thought they deserved the final 1 seed, something the program has never achieved — in this year’s NCAA Tournament. He’s no one-hit wonder, either. Otzelberger has put Iowa State in March Madness in all three seasons at the school, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen twice. He also led South Dakota State to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first two seasons as a head coach, winning a conference regular season title in his third and final year there. A major issue: Otzelberger has a $17 million buyout.

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