LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -Rick Pitino spent eight years masterfully stalking the sidelines at Kentucky, reviving a reeling program with a mix of charm, charisma and - most of all - success.
Surviving in that fishbowl isn't easy. And it's not for every coach.
``It's such a unique job that you need to win over the fans,'' Pitino said. ``You need to win the press conference right away.''
Beloved by some diehards even after his defection to hated Louisville, Pitino is still the yardstick by which any Kentucky coach in the near future will be measured.
It's a standard ousted coach Billy Gillispie failed to live up to, whether on the court, in the press or out in the Bluegrass.
Athletic director Mitch Barnhart says the search to replace Gillispie, who was fired Friday, will focus on finding someone who can match the passion of the school's rabid fan base.
Allow Pitino a couple of suggestions: John Pelphrey and Travis Ford, guys with talent and deep Kentucky roots, if not lofty credentials.
s a big adjustment,'' Pitino said. ``For those guys, it's not.''
Ford is from Madisonville, played point guard for Pitino in the early 1990s and just led Oklahoma State to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Pelphrey, from eastern Kentucky, was a small forward for Pitino's first Wildcat teams and is the head coach at Arkansas.
Pitino doesn't doubt they love their current gigs. He also doesn't doubt they'd jump at a chance to come back home.
``I don't care where they're at,'' Pitino said. ``They love Oklahoma State, love Arkansas, but those two guys, you cut them open, and it spells UK. That's what I would do.''
Their lack of extended NCAA success, though, could be a hindrance. On paper, neither appear to be a better candidate than Gillispie was two years ago when the Wildcats hired him after a whirlwind 24-hour courtship.
Then again, having a unique feel for the rhythms of Kentucky basketball is the kind of thing you can't put on a resume.
Barnhart knows he can't afford to make another misstep at a program that hasn't been to the Final Four for more than a decade.
``We understand the challenge and importance of finding our next caretaker for this very special basketball program,'' he said. ``We desire for Kentucky basketball to be a part of the championship picture every year; that is our goal.''
process, spending time with the top candidates to get a feel if they can handle the pressure of leading college basketball's all-time winningest program.
Gillispie's rough tenure showcased how difficult it can be for an outsider to ingratiate himself with the thousands who pack Rupp Arena each season.
Winning more certainly would have helped, too.
Michigan State's Tom Izzo certainly won some Kentucky fans Sunday when the Spartans dominated hated Louisville in the Midwest Regional finals of the NCAA tournament. Izzo, while allowing it'd be unwise to never say never, seems plenty happy where he's at.
The irony, of course, is that he's trying to get the Spartans into the conversation with Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina as one of college basketball's premier programs.
``When you look at Kansas, Kentucky, Carolina, Duke in general, we're not at that level yet, and that's the level I'd like to get to,'' Izzo said Saturday. ``So I still got a lot of work to do.''
Memphis coach John Calipari has the track record, though there are some who wonder if the provocative coach would project the right image for a program that still cringes at the recruiting scandal that left Wildcats in disarray 20 years ago.
groups on the popular social networking site dedicated to luring him to Rupp Arena.
Other candidates could be Xavier's Sean Miller or Ohio State's Thad Matta, though neither can match the star power of Calipari or Izzo.
AP Sports Writer Mike Marot in Indianapolis and Associated Press Writer Jeffrey McMurray in Lexington, Ky. contributed to this story.

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