Kentucky has announced it will hold "a pep rally and a press conference" Friday afternoon at 12:45 p.m. ET to announce the hiring of the program's 21st head coach. And Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie is the man the Wildcats will introduce to Big Blue Nation as Tubby Smith's replacement.
Kentucky homed in on Gillispie at the end of a whirlwind Thursday that began with a rebuff from Florida's Billy Donovan and included Texas coach Rick Barnes withdrawing his name from consideration. Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart asked for and received permission to talk to Gillispie on Thursday night, according to Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne.
"Coach Gillispie is one of the top coaches in the country, and we certainly do not want to lose him," Byrne said in a statement released by the school Thursday night. "At the same time, I don't want to stand in the way of anyone in the department who wants to explore another option if he or she feels it's in his best interest."
Gillispie was supposed to be en route Friday to Los Angeles for the John Wooden Award celebration Saturday. The Aggies' Acie Law IV is one of five finalists.
A Kentucky source told ESPN.com that Gillispie agreed to a seven-year contract worth $2.3 million per year. The school's Athletics Association Board scheduled an afternoon
meeting to make the hire official.
Gillispie recently agreed to a lucrative contract extension with A&M after being wooed by Arkansas, but he did not sign the deal. It would have paid him $1.75 million a year.
His name had been on the "B" list of candidates from the beginning at Kentucky after Smith unexpectedly resigned March 22 to take the job at Minnesota.
Kentucky's clear first choice was Donovan, who would not consider the job until after his Florida Gators won the national title Monday night. Thursday morning, Donovan met with Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, and the school announced around noon that Donovan would remain in Gainesville.
Later Thursday afternoon, speculation moved to Barnes as Kentucky's top choice. But by early evening he had withdrawn his name, saying he would stay at Texas. Sources have given conflicting information about whether Barnes decided he was not interested on his own, or if he learned that he was not at the top of Kentucky's list.
Gillispie has worked a swift makeover at Texas A&M, going 70-26 in three seasons at a school that had little history of success. The 2006-07 Aggies went 27-7, earning a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and reaching the Sweet 16. It was the school's first Sweet 16 birth since 1980.
Prior to that, Gillispie was the head coach at UTEP for two years, and he previously worked as the lead assistant to Bill Self at Tulsa and Illinois.
Other names believed to be on the Kentucky list were Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Marquette's Tom Crean.
Barnhart and Byrne have a long history together. Barnhart worked under Byrne at Oregon in 1983 and considers him something of a mentor. Byrne's son, Greg, worked under Barnhart at Kentucky for a couple of years, and Bill Byrne helped facilitate the hiring of former Oregon coach Rich Brooks as the UK football coach in 2002, after Barnhart had struck out on several other candidates.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com. ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.