NCAA: Top Ten D-I Coaches
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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The single most important position for every college basketball program is head coach. Star players can make a huge impact, but they can only play a maximum of four seasons and typically the really great ones leave before that time is up anyway.
It’s the head coach who often serves as the face of the program and sometimes even the institution as a whole. Their influence is felt for much longer than a four-year period in more ways than the majority of the public truly understands. College head coaches often find much more than just coaching basketball on their plates. They have to make sure their players stay eligible, that they stay within the very strict and extensive guidelines set by the NCAA and be involved in the community.
There are 335 Division I programs, with every head coach bringing a unique set of skills to the table. If they weren’t qualified and capable they wouldn’t be in the position because there is a lot of competition for them. That, along with team’s different levels of expectations, makes creating a broad, comprehensive ranking almost impossible.
Although the work description contains far more, ultimately what it comes down to for every coach is winning. Winning earns contract extensions, raises, shoe deals and respect. So, we’ve set a minimum requirement of at least 300 wins and one Final Four appearance to make our top ten college coach’s list. This list only scratches the surface of the amount of great coaches in the country, but these ten definitely do stand above the rest when it comes to victories and competing for national championships.
Mike Krzyzewski – Duke
It would take a full day, maybe even more, to go over all of the things that Coach K has accomplished in his time with the Blue Devils. He’s set to break the all-time wins record this season and has 12 Coach of the Year honors, 27 NCAA Tournament appearances, 11 Final Four births and four national championships to his credit. Oh yeah, he also anchored the revitalization of USA Basketball by leading them to gold medals in the 2008 Olympics and 2010 FIBA World Championship.
Already worthy of being mentioned in the same conversation as all-time coaching greats Dean Smith of UNC and UCLA’s John Wooden, Coach K is simply adding onto an already incredible legacy. He lost a lot to graduation and the NBA draft last year, but the Blue Devils will still be a team to be reckoned with next season.
John Calipari – Kentucky
College basketball purists like Hall of Fame head coach Bobby Knight can say what they want about Calipari and his tactics off the floor, the man does a heck of a job recruiting and has a win percentage of 77%. Calipari doesn’t just recruit blue chippers, he gets the most out of them once he signs them. The laundry list of players he has in the NBA is extremely impressive, and he’s handled all of their departures very well too. There may not be a more supportive coach in the country when it comes to players leaving early.
Going into 2011-2012 Calipari may have his best shot ever at winning the national championship that has avoided him up to this point. If he gets that elusive championship, though, there should be serious doubt casted on how long he’ll remain in Lexington. It’s no secret that he longs for another shot at the NBA.
Roy Williams – North Carolina
When Williams won his first title in 2005 there was some criticism that he did it mainly with someone else’s recruits. So, he turned around and created another championship team in 2009 with nothing but his guys. He didn’t need that championship to legitimize himself as one of the best, though, that was done before he even accepted the North Carolina job.
Williams took over for the legendary Larry Brown at Kansas in 1988 and kept that program at great heights up until 2003 when he left for UNC. Like Coach K, the NBA has come calling for him plenty of times and his answer has always been thanks, but no thanks. He loves college basketball and is one of the greats.
Jim Calhoun – Connecticut
The UConn Huskies’ surprise run to the championship last year could not have come at a better time for Coach Calhoun, who was under some heat after being found guilty of violations by the NCAA. Some thought we could be seeing the last of Calhoun, but it’s clear now that he’s still near the top of his game with a lot left to give.
With Calhoun on the sidelines you can never count the Huskies out. He’s turned the program into one of college basketball’s elites. With a spot already in the Hall of Fame, over 850 wins and four national championships Calhoun is still coaching due to his love for the game. Not even the array of health problems he’s encountered over the years have been able to take him away from it.
Tom Izzo – Michigan State
Recently courted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with a long-term multimillion dollar contract offer, Izzo displayed tremendous loyalty to the program by staying put. He first caught on with MSU in 1983. He did make some stops elsewhere before eventually becoming the top guy in 1995, but he’s spent the majority of his career with the Spartans in some type of manner.
Izzo’s accomplishments speak for themselves. He won the championship in 2000 and has been to the Final Four on six different occasions. What doesn’t get talked about enough is the success his players have in the classroom. Izzo’s graduation rate is 81% for players who complete their eligibility.
Ben Howland – UCLA
Due to the school’s rich history, championships are expected at UCLA. Howland hasn’t been able to deliver one just yet, but that doesn’t take away from what has been a very strong career up to this point. Also serving as the head coach at Northern Arizona and Pittsburgh in the past, Howland has established himself as one of the best defensive minds in the game.
He’s a good recruiter as well, but that attribute has been a bit of a double-edged sword for him as he’s been hit hard by the NBA Draft regularly since taking over at UCLA in 2003. Still, he’s only three years removed from back-to-back-to-back runs to the Final Four. During that time since they’ve remained competitive with 63 wins and three NCAA Tournament victories.
Jim Boeheim – Syracuse
When it comes to an assistant climbing his way up the ranks, Boeheim is the ultimate success story. He epitomizes Syracuse basketball, playing for the school from 1962-1966 before becoming a graduate assistant in 1969. In 1976 he was given the head coaching position and has since missed postseason play just one time. He’s approaching the 900-win plateau while already boasting eight conference championships, a national championship and an Olympic gold medal as an assistant for Coach K with Team USA in 2008.
Famous for his heavy use of the 2-3 zone defense, Boeheim has been a model for consistency with a career that is fit for the big screen.
Rick Pitino – Louisville
To find the last Pitino-coached team in the NCAA that has won less than 19 games you would have to go all the way back to the 1989-1990 Kentucky Wildcats. Pitino is a powerhouse as a college coach with teams that are vicious defensively and very disciplined. He’s had a couple of stints in the NBA with the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, but all they did was cement the fact that the college game is where he belongs.
It’s interesting to think about how much different Pitino’s career would be had he not spent six years in the NBA. He left Kentucky after making two consecutive appearances in the championship, one of which he won. As impressive as his résumé is, it could be even better.
Bill Self – Kansas
There may not be any coach who is more disliked in the Big 12 right now than Self. Since being hired by Kansas in 2003 Self has led the Jayhawks to first place finishes in the regular season every year except for his first, when they finished second. He’s won 83% of the time with Kansas and has averaged 29 victories a season.
Winning his first national championship in 2008, Self has clearly established the Jayhawks as perennial contenders. Regardless of how many players they lose early to the NBA Draft, you can bet on the Jayhawks being amongst the nation’s bests. Self likes what he’s built at Kansas so much that he passed on an opportunity to coach at Oklahoma State, his alma mater a few years ago.
Billy Donovan – Florida
This upcoming season would have been the final year of the original contract that Donovan signed with the Orlando Magic back in 2007 after leading Florida to back-to-back championships. However, he ended up fulfilling just a few days of that deal before deciding that the NBA wasn’t where he wanted to be.
The next two years would be trying as the Gators failed to make the NCAA tournament, but they’re back on track and projected to be quite formidable next year. He’ll win his 400th game next season. That, along with his two titles and three Final Four births put him in pretty elite company.
Honorable Mention: Thad Matta (Ohio State), Jay Wright (Villanova), Rick Barnes (Texas), Tubby Smith (Minnesota) and Bob Huggins (West Virginia).
Yannis Koutroupis is a senior NCAA and NBA writer for HOOPSWORLD. You can follow him on twitter. His weekly chat is scheduled for 11:00 AM EST this Friday, click here to drop him a question!