Tennessee basketball should want one of these coaches to replace Chris Mack at Louisville

U of L head coach Chris Mack, center, shouted instructions to his team against NC State during their game at the Yum Center in Louisville, Ky. on Jan. 12, 2022. NC State won 79-63.Uofl Nc State18 Sam
U of L head coach Chris Mack, center, shouted instructions to his team against NC State during their game at the Yum Center in Louisville, Ky. on Jan. 12, 2022. NC State won 79-63.Uofl Nc State18 Sam /

With the Louisville Cardinals firing head coach Chris Mack in the middle of his fourth season, attention has immediately turned to who his replacement will be. There’s a very real chance their next hire could end up benefitting Tennessee basketball in the long run.

Every coaching hot board out their to replace Mack involves three SEC coaches: Bruce Pearl of the Auburn Tigers, Eric Musselman of the Arkansas Razorbacks and Nate Oats of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Vol fans should root for Louisville to hire one of them.

All three coaches are serious SEC competition for the Vols, and none of their programs can be counted on to be great without the right head coach. As a result, getting rid of one of them could lower the competition in the conference a bit.

The best choice for Tennessee basketball would be Pearl. The former UT head coach himself has owned the Vols and Rick Barnes ever since he turned Auburn into a perennial NCAA Tournament team, which began his fourth year in 2017-2018.

However, let’s be honest. Louisville had to move on from Rick Pitino due to serious NCAA violations, and Pearl has NCAA baggage himself. After all, the Vols fired him for lying to the NCAA about a violation, which gave him a three-year show-cause, and then Auburn took a one-year postseason ban for violations under him.

Also, anybody who remembers Pearl on Rocky Top knows that he wouldn’t be willing to leave on his own. He turned town an offer from the Iowa Hawkeyes in 2007 and openly said he wouldn’t consider offers elsewhere. For all his faults, Pearl likes to be loyal to programs who hire him, provided he can maximize his success there. Auburn is No. 1 right now under him.

That leaves Musselman and Oats. Both are in their third years at their respective programs and are doing a great job. Musselman’s team has been doing better this year, but Oats has been much more difficult for Tennessee basketball to deal with so far.

Oats is 3-1 against the Vols and has won three straight, his only loss coming by one point his first year on the job. He also won the SEC and Tournament Championship last year and took his team to the Sweet 16. Add in the elite recruiting class he secured this past year and the one he has coming in next year, and he’s got a more consistent program going.

Although Musselman reached the Elite Eight last year and has an elite class for 2022, he hasn’t shown signs of being able to do it year in and year out. Also, he is 1-2 against the Vols. You can’t put stock into who had the further NCAA Tournament run in one year. Regular season success is a better barometer as to how a coach will do.

Taking all this into account, Vol fans would probably be happier if Oats were hired away. However, they should be thrilled if either goes. The good news is it might happen. Other names include UCLA Bruins head coach Mick Cronin, Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Chris Holtmann, Oklahoma State Cowboys head coach Mike Boynton and USC Trojans head coach Andy Enfield.

Would any of them leave, though? Cronin is definitely not leaving after taking a top five program in history to the Final Four this past year and having a top five season this year. Enfield just took his team to the Elite Eight and is having a top 10 season and is coaching with fewer expectations.

Beyond the West Coast, Holtmann has made the NCAA Tournament every year with Ohio State, and the Buckeyes could probably pay him more to keep him. That leaves Boynton, but you have to think Musselman or Oats would get the offer first given their credentials.

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Simply put, there is plenty of reason to believe one of those two coaches ends up getting the job. Either way, that makes life easier for Vol fans. Of course, they would love to see LSU Tigers coach Will Wade hired away, but a program with Louisville’s recent issues won’t touch him.