Now that Joe B. Hall has ended speculation by announcing his retirement as the University of Kentucky basketball coach, the rumors are starting about a replacement.
The list of possible successors was impressive even before Hall announced his retirement Friday night. They included NBA Los Angeles Lakers Coach Pat Riley, NBA player Dan Issel (Denver), college coaches Lee Rose (South Florida), Dave Bliss (Southern Methodist), Gene Keady (Purdue) and Eddie Sutton (Arkansas), and Hall's assistant, Lake Kelly.
"The opportunity here is to hire somebody who knows the program and has been successful," Hall said. "Somebody who can come in and take the program to a higher level." But he said he does not want to be involved in the selection process.
"Last summer, I decided this year would, in all probability, be my final year at Kentucky," Hall said in a prepared statement to his players, fans and friends after the Wildcats' 86-70 loss to St. John's here in the NCAA West Regional semifinal Friday night. "I have discussed my decision with the Kentucky administration and they are aware of this announcement."
Hall said he had an emotional meeting with his players afterward.
"It was very touching. I couldn't do much talking, and I don't think the players could either," he said. "They all came up to my room afterward, but it was still hard to get words out.
"I think they were prepared for it. They had heard the rumors. I wished them all well and told them they had a good future at Kentucky."
Hall, 56, who took over from legendary Adolph Rupp in 1972, probably turned in one of his better coaching efforts this season (18-13). After a 1-4 start, Hall's patience and diligence paid off as the Wildcats, who started four underclassmen, regrouped from four losses in their last six regular-season games to win two NCAA tournament games before losing to St. John's.
Hall began his coaching career in 1959 at Denver's Regis College, where he compiled a five-year record of 57-50. He was head coach at Central Missouri for a year (19-6) before becoming Rupp's assistant in 1965. He remained there until taking over for Rupp in 1972.
He continued the long, illustrious tradition, compiling a 297-100 won-lost record. His teams won eight Southeastern Conference titles, one SEC tournament title, one NCAA title and one NIT title. They reached the Final Four three times and averaged 23 victories a year.