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Kentucky could stay in the SEC for Cats’ next basketball coach

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Tennessee has always had to keep its eyes pointed north when it comes to basketball. Kentucky, and what they do, affects the entire conference. Need proof? Just ask Florida.

The Gators won two national championships when the Wildcats were wandering alone and lost in the basketball wilderness in the mid 2000’s. Florida may have won those titles with Kentucky at its best, but its nice to not have to topple a blue blood program at its best, which the Cats haven’t been for quite sometime.

Kentucky hasn’t won a championship since 2012, which is part of the reason John Calipari suddenly left for Arkansas earlier this week. Calipari felt jilted by Kentucky’s fans so he jilted the entire program. Now, things get interesting. Jobs like Kentucky don’t come open often. Could Kentucky stay in-house with its next hire?

There are three obvious choices among SEC coaches that would undoubtedly have success at Kentucky thanks to either recent success, a long track record or both. There’s also a more subjective quality a coach must have to coach at Kentucky. Does that coach have the moxy to handle an overly critical fan base? Again, three coaches come to mind.

If Kentucky decides to hire its next basketball coach from within the SEC, there’s no doubt that Alabama’s Nate Oats, Auburn’s Bruce Pearl and Tennessee’s Rick Barnes would have success. Oats is the “young, up-and-coming coach” with three Sweet 16’s and a Final Four run on his resume. Pearl has a recent Final Four run and has proven to be one of the better coaches in the country. Barnes’ career speaks for itself. However, if I’m any of those three coaches and Kentucky comes calling, I’ll have to politely pass.

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Other than a fan base that won’t appreciate you, what is the most significant thing about coaching at Kentucky?

I’m waiting.

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Everyone has great facilities nowadays. Everyone has NIL money. Everyone can provide whatever exposure necessary to reach any prospect’s goals as a basketball player. Would Dalton Knecht have been any bigger of a superstar if he were at Kentucky instead of Tennessee? He may have gotten more hype initially, but there was no denying that Knecht was going to be a well-known name in basketball circles. Besides, Kentucky doesn’t need help recruiting. Calipari could do that and he wasn’t appreciated.

It’s worth noting that Tennessee athletic director Danny White hired Oats at Buffalo so there’s a selfish reason for the Vols to want him to remain at Bama. If White ever has to replace Barnes, it would be much easier to pry away Oats from a school like Alabama rather than Kentucky, if he’s not burned out by the Cat’s fans at that point as well.

Pearl would also do well at Kentucky. He could focus on just being a basketball coach and not worry about the “promoting the program” albatross he’s been known for. Barnes would certainly field a top program at Kentucky. He’s done so at two schools, Texas and Tennessee, so why doubt him in Lexington? Barnes flirted with UCLA and admittedly almost took the job in 2019. Do the Cats have that sort of allure? I certainly should hope not.

I completely understand Barnes for listening to UCLA and considering its head coaching position despite how much the Vols may have loved him at the time. I would not be able to possibly fathom how Barnes could think Kentucky is a significantly better job than the one he has right now.

Barnes has the full support of his athletic department to the point that he’s spoken of like he just loaded the ark. He is also having an entertainment center built around Tennessee’s basketball facility. From Taylor Swift to J.P. Estrella in a simple floor change.

So if you’re a Tennessee fan and you’re not worried about losing Barnes to Kentucky, what should you be rooting for? Well, despite my best advice, root for Kentucky to hire Oats or Pearl. Why? Those schools haven’t proven they can consistently hire top coaches over time. Kentucky has done a much better job of that. If those schools have to make a hire, it’s much less likely that they’ll make a successful one than Kentucky.

And if Tennessee had to make a hire because Kentucky stole Barnes in the middle of the night? Then, let’s hash out the tooth fairy because both seem about as likely.

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