Where does Louisville go now after missing on Dusty May? And was he even a big prize?

After Scott Drew said no, former FAU head coach Dusty May spurned Louisville for Michigan, leaving the program desperate to find Kenny Payne's replacement.
Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Dusty May
Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Dusty May / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Kenny Payne era was a disaster, there’s no other way to slice it. He went 12-52 across two seasons as Louisville’s head coach and was rightfully fired this March. Now, it’s been six years since the Cardinals went dancing in March and the program just missed out on one of the biggest prizes of this offseason’s coaching carousel.

After Scott Drew informed the school he was staying put at Baylor, FAU’s Dusty May was rumored to be Louisville’s top target to replace Payne. Then, Michigan, who recently moved on from Juwan Howard, another former player who struggled to lead this alma mater, reportedly won the May sweepstakes. Now, there aren’t many obvious options for Louisville, so where should the program go from here?

The Rick Pitino era ended unceremoniously and after one year with David Padgett, Xavier’s Chris Mack was hired to lead the legendary program in a new direction. After Mack went 63-36 in four seasons with one tournament appearance, Louisville decided that wasn't good enough, swung for the fences with Payne, and missed badly. 

First, the question must be asked, what did Louisville just miss out on? May took five years to build a team that was capable of winning Conference USA and in his first career NCAA Tournament appearance, the now 47-year-old head coach led the Owls to the Final Four. 

There aren’t many up-and-coming head coaches still south of 50 with a Final Four on their resume, but May didn’t follow it up too impressively. FAU made the jump to the AAC for the 2023-24 season and the Owls finished with a 25-9 overall record, went 14-4 to finish second in the conference, and were knocked out of the ACC Tournament in the semifinals by 11th seeded Temple. FAU got an at-large bid but was overseeded off last year’s resume and was beaten in overtime by a banged-up Northwestern team. 

When you dig deeper, even May’s Final Four is a bit flimsy. There’s something to be said about being opportunistic, but luck certainly played a factor for the Owls. They somehow stole their Round of 64 game from Memphis and then drew No. 16 seed Farleigh Dickinson in the second round instead of Purdue and Zach Edey. 

May is rightfully one of the top candidates for the available major-program jobs, but if things go wrong for him at Michigan, the college basketball world will ask if one good postseason should have been enough to justify the hire.

The big problem is that, while May isn’t a slam dunk hire, he was still the best option on the board and he chose Michigan over Louisville. So again I’ll ask, where does Louisville go from here? 

Louisville isn’t quite a blue blood, but for years it was the tier just below. But now with the ACC falling behind the newly loaded Big Ten and SEC, and nearly a decade between the program and its last national relevance that wasn’t tied to a scandal, the job may not be quite as desirable as expected. It’ll be a total overhaul for whoever ends up taking it, so the administration needs to choose somebody who isn’t afraid of a rebuild, and it needs to be patient with his construction.

Louisville basketball head coaching candidates

Now, the search is reportedly honing in on two other up-and-comers, Shaheen Holloway at Seton Hall and Pat Kelsey at the College of Charleston. Holloway, a Seton Hall alum, entered the national zeitgeist in the 2022 NCAA Tournament when he led 15th seed Saint Peter’s to the Elite Eight, a run that started with a win over Louisville’s biggest rival, Kentucky. 

In his two years at Seton Hall, the 47-year-old Holloway has failed to make the NCAA Tournament, but with a 22-12 record and wins over both UConn and Marquette, the Pirates had as good a resume as any team left on the outside looking in. 

Kelsey, a 48-year-old with 12 years of Division I head coaching experience and four NCAA Tournament appearances, is coming off his third year at Charleston with back-to-back tournament trips and 58 wins to 12 losses in his last two seasons. 

While both could breathe some much-needed life into the program, and Holloway comes with the added bonus of a painful reminder to Kentucky fans, neither has a trustworthy track record, and Louisville can not afford another swing-and-miss and more years wasting away in obscurity. 

Louisville’s ideal head coach target

The man who should be the program's is currently out at UCLA. Cronin never seemed like a perfect fit in California, but he still managed to make a Final Four run and 14 Tournament appearances between Murray State, Cincinnati, and UCLA. The Cincinnati native is coming off a down year leading the Bruins and could be itching to head back to the Midwest. 

Cronin is still just 52-year-old and is the type of proven coach that would give the program confidence to be patient with a rebuild, which it desparetaely needs to get back on track.

Cronin has recently told the LA Times that he wants UCLA to, “be my last job,” but I can think of a certain green, rectangular, piece of paper that is pretty good at changing minds. It’ll cost more to get a sure thing at head coach, but if Louisville misses on this hire, it could miss the next wave of conference realignment and be a mid-tier job whenever it takes its next spin on the coaching carousel.

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