Let’s Speculate! Potential Louisville head basketball coach candidates

Welcome to Let’s Speculate! on Coaches Database, where we go through programs that are or may soon be looking for a new head coach and speculate who they may hire next.

Today’s program is Louisville, coached by Chris Mack for the last 3.5 seasons (parted ways January 26).

  • Kenny Payne – New York Knicks assistant coach
    • Payne is an obvious choice: a former Louisville star who played for Denny Crum and was on the Cards’ 1986 NCAA Championship team. He’s with the Knicks right now but spent fifteen years as a collegiate head coach, the last ten over in Lexington with John Calipari. Payne’s name has been mentioned for a myriad of coaching jobs the last several years, including the Louisville gig in 2018, but he’s never made the leap. Will it be different this time around?
  • Bruce Pearl – Auburn head coach
    • Pearl is unlikely to finish his career at Auburn, a program he has taken to new heights (Final Four in 2019, #1 ranking in 2022). He’s had plenty of run-ins with the NCAA but nothing that is going to stop any number of major programs from pursuing him this spring. Will he actually leave a great situation in Auburn for a job like Louisville or Maryland? At the very least he would entertain the idea and then sign a lucrative extension (UPDATE 1/28: Pearl signed an 8-year extension), as so many others have done in the past.
  • Kevin Willard – Seton Hall head coach
    • Willard has been at Seton Hall since 2010 and has been about as successful as any Pirates fan could hope for. Four NCAA Tournaments (would have been five) are great but the highlight was perhaps the Big East title in 2020, the first the program since 1993. Before he became a head coach (at Iona in 2007), he spent six seasons at UL on Rick Pitino‘s staff – he also worked under Pitino with the Celtics for four seasons. Willard’s an East Coast guy but the job would still be a homecoming of sorts, as he spent some time growing up in Kentucky and played for his dad, Ralph, at WKU as a freshman.
  • Chris Holtmann – Ohio State head coach
    • Louisville is undoubtedly a great job, but Holtmann’s current gig at Ohio State is pretty great, too. The difference is that Holtmann is a Kentucky-native, albeit as a UK fan in Lexington. He’s won at every stop in his career, on pace for a seventh-straight NCAA Tournament across tenures at OSU and Butler. He hasn’t quite gotten over the hump yet with the Buckeyes, so there may be some unfinished business to attend to before bolting for a new job, even if it is in his home state.
  • Nate Oats – Alabama head coach
    • A rising star in college basketball, Oats made his mark immediately at both Alabama and Buffalo and is someone who could lead the Louisville for years to come. Things have cooled a bit this season but the fact remains that he has been to four NCAA Tournaments in six years as a head coach and last year reached the Sweet Sixteen after leading Alabama to its first SEC title in ten years, so there is still a lot to like about Oats as a long-term solution for any big job. The Wisconsin-native has plenty of experience coaching and recruiting in both the Midwest and South and has demonstrated an ability to win right away.
  • Andy Enfield – USC head coach
    • Enfield’s tenure at USC has proven that the Dunk City Era at FGCU was no fluke. He has taken the Trojans to three NCAA Tournaments, including a trip to the Sweet Sixteen last year, and has them in the Pac-12 title hunt this year. There’s no geographical connection here but neither was there when he left South Florida for Los Angeles and that hasn’t stopped him from building a winning program. One would think he could push things even further at a place like Louisville.
  • Scott Davenport – Bellarmine head coach
    • Probably the most Louisville-connected person on this list, Davenport is a UL grad who spent time as a graduate assistant under Crum and later as an assistant coach under Pitino. The Louisville-native has been head coach across town at Bellarmine since 2005, with the program making the move up to Division I in 2020. Davenport has done his job transitioning the Knights from perennial D-II power (and 2011 National Champions) to earning a CBI bid in their first year of D-I play after going 10-3 in the A-Sun. He’s not the flashiest pick but he certainly makes sense and could be successful at his alma mater.
  • Matt McMahon – Murray State head coach
    • Another local mid-major candidate is McMahon, who has been at the helm at Murray State since 2015. He’s won three Ohio Valley titles, has been to two (technically three) NCAA Tournaments and recruited/coached Ja Morant. It’s only a matter of time before McMahon joins the list of former Murray State head coaches to land bigger jobs. He’s a Tennessee-native who played at App State and has spent most of his coaching career in a 400-mile radius of the Louisville campus.
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