Field wide open in search for Kentucky coach

Associated Press • Apr 5, 2007 at 10:45 AM

LEXINGTON, Ky. - It's time for Plan B at Kentucky.

Billy Donovan's decision to remain at Florida rather than take the vacant head coaching job at Kentucky left the field wide open Thursday in the search for Tubby Smith's replacement.

Two weeks after Smith's abrupt departure for Minnesota, the coaching chair at college basketball's all-time winningest program remains open, leaving one of the nation's most ardent fan bases squirming even as Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart asked for patience.

"We have had productive conversations with various individuals over the last two weeks, and it's obvious that there are a number of outstanding coaches who could succeed at Kentucky," Barnhart said. "I'm confident we'll find the right man."

Who that man will be is anybody's guess.

Within hours, names from all over the college basketball landscape were being bandied about: Texas coach Rick Barnes, Texas A&M's Billy Gillispie, Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Memphis coach John Calipari.

Barnes said Thursday he won't talk about the Kentucky opening.

"I've never talked about jobs, and I'm not going to do it now," Barnes said. "When you're linked with jobs, I think it's a credit to your program, to the work you've done. I consider that a compliment, but I'm never going to get into discussing jobs."

Texas has not received any "formal" inquiries about Barnes, according to spokesman Scott McConnell.

Izzo was at The Masters on Thursday and could not be reached for comment, according to his secretary. Memphis and Texas A&M, meanwhile, have worked to keep Calipari and Gillispie on campus.

There appeared to be no front-runner, however, meaning the process could take awhile.

"Obviously, finding the right coach is more important than finding the next coach quickly," Barnhart said. "Patience remains a priority as we continue to identify the best individual to lead the Big Blue Nation."

Whoever it will be, it won't be Donovan, whose ties to the school's renaissance as an assistant coach under Rick Pitino made him an appealing pick.

Barnhart received permission to talk to Donovan late Wednesday night, but by Thursday morning, Donovan had decided to stay at the school where he's won back-to-back national championships.

Their first pick gone, the Wildcats will need to move swiftly if they want to have a new coach in place before the spring signing period begins on April 11.

Huntington (W.Va.) High forward Patrick Patterson and Bellaire (Texas) guard Jai Lucas were being heavily recruited by Smith before his departure.

Both players said they were still considering Kentucky at last week's McDonald's All-American game but would wait until the Wildcats hired a new coach before making any decisions.

Whoever Barnhart hires will have to stabilize a program that's struggled - by its lofty standards anyway - during the last few years.

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