LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Time for Plan C. Florida's Billy Donovan, regarded as the top candidate for the prestigious Kentucky job, dispelled rumors of his departure Thursday, and Wildcat officials have now been told second-favorite Rick Barnes has no intentions of leaving Texas.
Only hours after Donovan announced he was staying put at Florida rather than take over Kentucky's tradition-rich program, sources told ESPN.com that Barnes will remain in Austin.
The Longhorns coach met with reporters Thursday and said he intends to be at Texas and declined to discuss specifics.
Donovan and Barnes' decisions to remain with their respective schools leaves the field wide open in the search for Tubby Smith's replacement. ESPN.com's Andy Katz reports that the likely candidates are now Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Marquette's Tom Crean, Texas A&M's Billy Gillispie and Gonzaga's Mark Few.
Kentucky athletic 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."
When that'll happen is anybody's guess.
Izzo was at the Masters on Thursday and could not be reached for comment, his secretary said.
Texas A&M, meanwhile, hase worked to keep Gillispie on campus.
Gillispie, who took the Aggies to the NCAA tournament's round of
16 this year for the first time since 1980, agreed in principle to
a contract last week that will pay him $1.75 million annually.
Texas A&M spokesman Colin Killian said he's not sure if Gillispie
has signed the new deal.
Donovan, a former Kentucky assistant under Rick Pitino, was
considered the school's first choice to take over college
basketball's all-time winningest program. Donovan's ties to the
school's Renaissance under Pitino and his up-tempo style of play
made him an appealing pick for one of the nation's most ardent fan
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.
The Wildcats will need to act quickly 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 Houston
Bellaire guard Jai Lucas were being heavily recruited by Smith
before his departure.
Both players said at last
week's McDonald's All-American Game that they're still considering Kentucky, 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
Kentucky hasn't made it to the Final Four since winning the
national championship in 1998, the longest drought between national
semifinal appearances in school history. The Wildcats went 22-12
this season, losing to Kansas in the second round of the NCAA
tournament, and have lost at least 10 games in five of their last
ESPN.com senior writers Andy Katz and Pat Forde and The Associated Press contributed to this report.