Louisville officially fired Kenny Payne on Wednesday afternoon following its exit from the ACC Tournament, ending a 2-year stint at the helm.

His departure was widely considered a foregone conclusion for weeks — Louisville won just 4 games last season and started off conference play with a 1-9 record in 2023-24. The Cardinals are now tasked with hiring a replacement for Payne as they look to rebuild their program.

It’s currently unclear what qualities Louisville will be looking for in its next head coach (or what its budget is), but it stands to reason that it will target someone with head coaching experience for the role. Payne did not have any head coaching experience prior to taking over the job from Chris Mack.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the top candidates Louisville could consider for the opening:

They’ll probably say no, but you have to ask

Scott Drew, Baylor

Scott Drew built Baylor into a national championship-winning program, and there’s no indication he is looking to leave Waco. But Louisville is Louisville, and it’s possible that Drew would be willing to consider a change of scenery after more than 20 seasons with the Bears. This would be an incredible hire for the Cardinals, especially considering what their program has become over the past couple of seasons.

Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls

Billy Donovan left college basketball over a decade ago to join the Oklahoma City Thunder. Now in his 4th season with the Chicago Bulls, it’s possible Donovan is on the hot seat. Chicago is 31-34 this season and is currently the No. 9 seed in the Eastern Conference. The timing of a potential Donovan hire would be complicated for Louisville. The Bulls’ season runs through mid-April, and even longer if Chicago did manage to make it out of the NBA’s play-in tournament. It’s a long-shot, but Louisville is the type of job that could be intriguing for Donovan if he wants to return to college hoops.

Nate Oats, Alabama

Nate Oats has built a consistent winner at Alabama — something no coach has really accomplished since Wimp Sanderson did it in the 1980s and early 1990s. Would Oats leave Tuscaloosa to start from scratch at Louisville? It doesn’t seem likely, but it’s worth it for Louisville to check in on his status. Oats has led Alabama to a top-5 offense in the country this season despite not having any 2024 NBA Draft prospects on the roster. One complicating factor is Oats’ reported 8-figure buyout.

Mick Cronin, UCLA

On paper, Mick Cronin makes all the sense in the world. He’s a former Louisville assistant who could be looking for an exit strategy after a disaster 2023-24 campaign in Westwood. But Cronin reportedly has a buyout of $16 million — and that’s if he waits until April 1 to leave. That’s likely a prohibitive amount for Louisville to pay in this current market.

Possibly realistic

Jamie Dixon, TCU

Jamie Dixon has been coaching at TCU — his alma mater — for the last 8 seasons. He’s set to make the NCAA Tournament for the 4th time overall during his tenure this year. It might be difficult for Dixon to leave his alma mater, but we’ve seen coaches do it in the past — including when Chris Mack left Xavier for the Louisville job.

Dusty May, Florida Atlantic

Dusty May has been amongst the top candidates for power-conference vacancies for nearly a year. May burst onto the national radar last year when he led FAU to the Final Four. The Owls are expected to make the NCAA Tournament again this season with largely the same group of players that made a Cinderella run last season. May is an Indiana alum who has also been linked to the Ohio State opening.

Eric Musselman, Arkansas

Eric Musselman led Arkansas to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in 3 straight years before the disaster that was the 2023-24 season. Musselman is an Ohio native who has coached all over the map in both college and in the NBA. Musselman never stays anywhere for very long — his 5-year stint with Arkansas is his longest in any one spot since he was the head coach of a CBA franchise in the 1990s. He’s also had success at his previous college stop, as he led Nevada to 3 straight NCAA Tournaments from 2017-19.

Jerome Tang, Kansas State

If Scott Drew says no, perhaps his protegé is worth consideration? Jerome Tang was Drew’s longtime assistant at Baylor before taking the Kansas State job a couple years ago. Last year, Tang led the Wildcats to a surprise appearance in the Elite Eight. This season hasn’t gone nearly as well for K-State as, the ‘Cats are set to miss the postseason entirely barring a Big 12 Tournament title. But Tang would still be a very intriguing option for the Cardinals if they can lure him away from Manhattan.

Fallback options with upside

Josh Schertz, Indiana State

Josh Schertz has Indiana State playing about as well as it has since Larry Bird was on campus. The Sycamores lost the MVC title game to Drake earlier this week, but could still make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team. Schertz’s Indiana State teams are centered around a fun, efficient and modern offense. Indiana State took 49.3% of its field goal attempts from beyond the arc this season and made 38.4% of their tries. Both of those numbers are elite nationally and led to the No. 1 effective field goal percentage in the country. If Louisville doesn’t hire Schertz this offseason, someone else likely will.

Chris Collins, Northwestern

Chris Collins has things humming at Northwestern. Barring a Selection Sunday shocker, the Wildcats will make the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. Collins is responsible for both of Northwestern’s previous appearances in the Big Dance. Collins was a longtime assistant at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski, so he’s familiar with the ACC landscape. He wouldn’t be the most exciting hire on this list, but Collins checks a lot of boxes for Louisville as it looks to rebuild its program into a title contender.

Mark Pope, BYU

Perhaps the most intriguing name on this list for a variety of reasons. Mark Pope has BYU excelling in a loaded Big 12 and plays an exciting style. The Cougars take over half of their field goal attempts from 3-point range and play a very fun brand of basketball. Of course, Pope also has ties to the state — he played at Kentucky in the 1990s before having a brief NBA career. A word of caution on Pope — his teams at BYU prior to this season have been good, but not great. BYU’s roster this season is loaded with juniors and seniors and is 28th nationally in minutes continuity, per KenPom.