How interim AD Josh Heird will approach the search for Louisville's next basketball coach
Unless someone tells him otherwise, Josh Heird intends to hire the next Louisville men’s basketball coach.
Heird, U of L’s interim athletic director, said as much Wednesday, after the school announced the approval by the Board of Trustees and Athletic Association Board of Directors of a separation agreement with now-former coach Chris Mack.
“Somebody could change that on me,” Heird said, conceding that Louisville could hire someone other than him to serve as its permanent athletic director.
For now, though, he plans to pitch the job to — and ultimately select from — a list of prospective candidates.
And he likes what he has to sell, a men’s basketball job he called, “One of the best in the country. Unequivocally," despite interim leadership and a looming ruling from the NCAA's Independent Accountability Resolution Process on alleged rules violations in the program.
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Heird expects to “get some of the best, most highly qualified candidates” available.
What will Louisville’s search look like? What does Heird hope to find in the program’s next coach? And does he have autonomy in making a hire?
Heird addressed some of those questions in a news conference Wednesday after announcing a $4.8 million settlement with Mack that will pay out over the remainder of this fiscal year and the next three.
Mike Pegues, an assistant under Mack since 2012 — first at Xavier, then at Louisville — will guide the program for the rest of this season. Heird, whose plan Wednesday was to “get through today” and the difficult task of parting with Mack, will set out soon in search of the Cardinals’ permanent replacement.
Does Heird have final say in hiring?
For now, that seems to be the case.
Though Heird and university president Lori Gonzalez both are operating with interim tags, Heird’s initial indication was that he’s man making the hire. That doesn’t mean he’s a one-man search committee.
“I can promise you it’ll be a collaborative process,” Heird said.
That might not mean that other influences will sit in on meetings and interviews. But Heird said he intends to seek input — from former players, those in the Louisville and university communities, fans, donors — with the goal of answering a key question: “What are you trying to see in a head coach?”
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What does Heird want in a head coach?
"As an athletic director, if you don’t have a list you’re behind," Heird said.
And he does have an initial list of prospective candidates. He remained relatively vague about the characteristics he wants them to have.
“I think I have one qualification right now: They’re a good basketball coach,” Heard said. “And I know that’s very broad, but that’s the qualification right now. I don’t want to scratch anybody off the list. I want to make sure that we do a thorough vetting of all the candidates out there so that we can hire the best coach.”
Asked if a history of NCAA violations would disqualify a candidate, he didn’t commit but said, “I would tell you that I am going to want a coach that has the highest level of integrity possible.”
He’s said that he’s “a huge believer” in the need for a coach to embrace the city and the university community. And the characteristics of his ideal candidate extend beyond the clipboard.
“I think it’s everything that makes a good head coach, right?” Heird said. “And that’s not just X’s and O’s. I would tell you this job is difficult. There’s a lot of pressure in that position, and there’s a lot of things that you have to navigate internally, externally. It’s got to be somebody that has a vision to compete at the highest level, at the elite level. I think everybody understands that the expectation here is to win national championships. That’s not gonna change. I think it’s somebody that has to be able to communicate to fans, to stakeholders, donors, to folks on campus here, to folks inside the community. That’s gonna be very critical.”
When will Louisville plan to hire new coach?
Soon is relative. But Heird didn’t sound like he wants to dawdle.
“As far as timeline, I would tell you we’ll wrap it up when we find the right coach,” Heird said. “I would expect that we will try to do that quickly, efficiently. It’s extremely important that the guys in that locker room, this community know who the leader of this men’s basketball program is.”
Heird said he’d spoken to a friend in coaching this week, not to gauge his interest in the job, but to get his outsider’s take on the Louisville program.
That friend told him it’s a top 10 job, that it's "not even close."
And as such, Heird expects interest to be high.
It can take time to sift through an extensive list of candidates — many of whom will be coaching college programs into the postseason.
But Heird has time. More of it than most ADs, thanks to an early decision to part ways with Mack.
“I think as I’ve deemed it, we’re first to market. So I think that gives us a real advantage,” Heird said. “It gives us more time to review candidates, it gives us more time to vet candidates. I think it gives candidates more time to look at us and say, ‘What’s going on over there in Louisville?’ I can assure you while it’s not every coach in the country, I would presume it’s a large, large majority of folks in the country saying, ‘The Louisville job’s open.’”