June 17, 2024

Mark Pope was certainly not the top choice for a Kentucky program that needed a home run coaching hire after John Calipari’s unexpected move to Arkansas.

Yet, weeks into his tenure, the former Wildcats national champion has managed to woo the fan base, attract big NIL checks from wealthy boosters and build a roster that should make Kentucky competitive in the SEC again in the program’s first post-Calipari season in 15 years.

Pope was the final major domino of the 2024-25 men’s college basketball coaching hiring cycle that began before the season even finished. We had thought Louisville and Michigan were the biggest jobs on the carousel when those opened during the NCAA tournament.

Then SMU fired Rob Lanier and brought in USC’s Andy Enfield — whose spot in turn was taken by the Razorbacks’ Eric Musselman, opening that opportunity for Calipari.

As it stands currently, 65 programs across Division I men’s basketball will have new coaches on the sidelines in November. Some of those hires felt like good fits; others seemed less so.

How do the top programs’ changes stack up? We’ve decided to give each program two grades: one for when the hire was announced and a second for how the decision looks now.

Before the transfer portal entry window closed on May 1, when most of the nearly 2,000 players in it were still uncommitted, it felt unfair to grade a hiring decision when rosters were in flux. Now, many of the top players are committed, so we have a better picture of what these new coaches have been able to accomplish in their new jobs.

Here are our grades for all the major program coaching hires for 2024-25.

Arkansas Razorbacks: John Calipari

Pros: Calipari, who replaced Eric Musselman, is a Hall of Fame coach with a national title under his belt and a reputation as a stellar recruiter. That already has helped him at Arkansas, where he has lured former Kentucky commit Boogie Fland and Florida Atlantic transfer Johnell Davis as part of a strong class in Calipari’s first season in Fayetteville.

Cons: Despite having access to multiple future NBA prospects over the past decade, Calipari failed to lead Kentucky to the Final Four after 2015 and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament in two of the past three seasons. That’s a lengthy stretch of underachievement. Sure, the name is strong. But it’s also fair to question whether Arkansas is getting a once-superb coach who is now past his prime.


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