If you think Calipari had a tough year, check out the coaches mentioned to replace him
For John Calipari, 2022-23 did not yield stellar outcomes. Kentucky men’s basketball finished 22-12. UK did not win either the SEC regular-season or tournament championship, and it has won only one of each over the past six years. The Wildcats did not make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season.
In a program where the standard is excellence, that level is not being met.
When UK signed Calipari to a 10-year contract (after the 2018-19 season) that carries massive buyouts (would be around $40 million right now) for removing the coach without cause, the university essentially granted its head man the ability to dictate the length of his tenure. So reasonable people should expect Calipari, 64, to be Kentucky’s head man for the foreseeable future — or until he decides to leave.
Meanwhile, for those Wildcats backers who can’t help glancing toward the coaching-change horizon, another sobering reality should be apparent. For many of the realistic coaching names most often discussed as potential future Kentucky coaches, 2022-23 was no great shakes for them, either.
In alphabetical order, let’s examine:
▪ Scott Drew. The Baylor head man essentially produced the same season Kentucky did in 2022-23, with the Bears going 23-11 and bowing out of the NCAA Tournament in the round of 32.
In the big picture, Drew’s rebuilding job of a Baylor program that had been decimated by scandal is one of the great men’s hoops coaching achievements of the 21st century.
However, Drew, 52, and the Bears have gone out of the NCAA tourney on the first weekend in three of their past four trips to March Madness — although the exception, Baylor’s dominant 2021 NCAA championship run, is a big one.
▪ Chris Holtmann. From the time the former Jessamine County High School basketball standout became the head man at Butler in 2014-15, his teams could be counted on to make the NCAA Tournament.
For Butler and, subsequently, Ohio State, Holtmann, 51, had led his teams into the last seven NCAA tourneys played — before this year.
In 2022-23, Ohio State collapsed to 16-19, 5-15 in Big Ten regular-season games. To Holtmann’s credit, his team didn’t quit, and the Buckeyes defeated Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament before falling to top-seeded Purdue in the semifinals.
To restore the luster to his coaching profile, Holtmann needs to lead a team on a deep NCAA Tournament run. Though Holtmann’s teams have won at least one game in six of the seven NCAA tourneys they have reached, the coach has only won as many as two games in a Big Dance one time — in 2016-17 with Butler.
▪ Eric Musselman. The “Muss bus” had a transcendent moment in March Madness when the Razorbacks rallied to upset No. 1 seed Kansas 72-71 in the NCAA Tournament West Region. The victory put the Hogs into the Sweet 16 for a third straight season.
Otherwise, Musselman, 57, and Arkansas (22-14) also had a roller-coaster season similar to Kentucky’s. The Razorbacks were hurt by injuries to key players and, with a freshman-heavy roster, never found the key to consistency.
▪ Nate Oats. The darling of the UK message boards, Oats, 48, did an abundance of winning at Alabama in 2022-23, yet might have suffered irreparable damage to his reputation, too.
The Crimson Tide (31-6) won the SEC regular-season and tournament titles each for the second time in three seasons. Alabama entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and the favorite to win it all. However, the Tide was stunned 71-64 by San Diego State in the South Region semifinals.
Off the court, Oats seemed completely out of his depth in dealing with the aftermath of one of his team’s players, Darius Miles, being charged with capital murder for allegedly supplying the gun allegedly used by a friend, Michael Lynn Davis, in the shooting death in January of Jamea Jonae Harris, 23.
When it was revealed that at least two other Alabama players, star Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley, had been present at the time of the shooting (though neither has been charged with any wrongdoing), Oats’ tone-deaf, “wrong spot, wrong time” handling of the matter became even more controversial.
There should also be a growing basketball-only concern about Oats. His analytics-driven, three-pointer-heavy approach to offense has gone belly-up in three straight NCAA tournaments.
In the games that have ended the Alabama seasons the past three years, the Crimson Tide has gone 3-for-27 (San Diego State this year), 8-for-24 (Notre Dame last year) and 7-for-28 (UCLA in 2021) from behind the three-point arc.
▪ Mark Pope. The former Kentucky center presided over a rebuilding season in BYU’s final campaign in the West Coast Conference. The Cougars went 19-15, 7-9 WCC, and suffered excruciating home losses against league titans Gonzaga (75-74) and Saint Mary’s (57-56).
Pope, 50, coached BYU to the 2021 NCAA Tournament and would have had the Cougars in the 2020 tourney had it not been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With BYU moving into the hoops-rich Big 12 Conference in 2023-24, the challenge of winning big with the Cougars rises. Still, if Pope has any aspirations of ever coaching at his college alma mater, he needs a deep NCAA tourney run or two, and soon, to burnish his credentials.
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