Nothing humbles a fan base like a coaching search. We have seen programs like UCLA basketball and Tennessee football struggle to deal with fan expectations when the head coaching job becomes vacant. Even at Kentucky, the Big Blue Nation had to deal with Billy Donovan saying “no thank you.” Twice. With a job that could be considered one of the top spots in the profession, it’s not always easy to fill that spot with your first choice.
So, who will succeed interim head coach David Padgett at Louisville?
David Padgett has been put into a tough position. Not only is he succeeding a Hall of Fame coach, he’s pretty much locked into just being the head man for the 2017-18 season. And it’s through no fault of his own. Without rehashing everything that has taken place at the University of Louisville both athletically and academically, it is completely fair to call the situation in Cardinal Country tumultuous. And because of impending sanctions, it will be hard for the next coach to know exactly what he might be walking into.
Louisville area sports columnists have floated around UK assistant coach Kenny Payne as a possible successor on the Cardinal’s bench. Despite Payne’s decorated playing career (he was a forward at UL from 1985-89), most Cardinal fans are lukewarm to him returning to coach. Since 2010, Payne has been an assistant under UK head coach John Calipari. He has won national championships as a player (1986) and an assistant coach (2012). His work ethic has been lauded by Calipari and his prowess on the recruiting trail has been widely admired. Why wouldn’t he be a good fit?
Full disclosure: I grew up a fan of the Louisville Cardinals. One of my early sports memories is my parents letting me stay up to watch the 86 Cardinals capture the NCAA title. I believe that the program is top 10 in college basketball. The fans are supportive, the facilities are top notch and the Cards do have a rich basketball history. Ordinarily, the job would be a premium job. Ordinarily, I imagine there would be sufficient interest among up-and-coming coaches and even coaches at other high major jobs. However, this is not ordinary times at UL.
First, the university has to hire a full time, permanent president. Interim president Greg Postel, who replaced James Ramsey, has had his plate full cleaning up the mess of his predecessor. And then he’s had to clean up the athletic side of the university by removing longtime athletic director Tom Jurich and Hall of Fame basketball coach Rick Pitino. It has not been an easy task for Postel and he’s made a few enemies within the Cardinal community along the way. Whether you agree with his actions or not, what cannot be debated is changes had to be made. For the university to move forward, a permanent president must be put into place.
Secondly, with the dismissal of Tom Jurich, UL Athletics needs a permanent athletic director. Vince Tyra has stepped in as an interim to help right the ship, but just like the school president, there needs to be a permanent AD to help the athletic department chart its way in the post-Jurich era. Whoever it is will have big shoes to fill. No matter how you feel about Jurich and his tactics and methods, the results speak for themselves. In his 20 years in charge, Jurich improved facilities for all sports, making the Cardinals competitive and leading to inclusion in the ACC. Someone with great vision will have to step in and pick up where Jurich left off.
President and AD in hand, I would then suggest the Cards settle in on a coach. To prevent a replay of the current situation, the president, athletic director, and men’s basketball coach all need to be on the same page. Again, with the possibility of more NCAA sanctions, the pool of coaches willing to ride out such penalties is smaller than it would otherwise be. Xavier’s Chris Mack has seen his name talked about in a few places, but would he leave the Muskateers or would he pull a Billy Donovan and say “thanks, but no thanks?”
My advice to my brothers and sisters in red and black is: be patient. Louisville Basketball is too good to be down for too long, but there’s going to be some rough parts before it gets better. When the coaching search heats up, do not, under any circumstances, become Tennessee football fans. There are a lot of moving pieces in getting the program back up to where it was under Peck Hickman, Denny Crum, and Rick Pitino. All is not lost, my friends.