Recently, I challenged the staff of DFN Sport to submit their lists of the best active college basketball coaches. After seeing the fantastic response that our best active college football coaches article received in October, I felt like we were overdue for the same list of the best basketball coaches. Sure, similar lists can be found online elsewhere, but I have confidence that our staff knows their sports better than even some of the so-called big-name sports reporters.
One interesting point that factors in to these rankings is the whole "high standards" issue. Recently, Kentucky sent Tubby Smith packing by basically sealing his fate thanks to what I call a spoiled-rotten fan base. In comes a new coach and a not-so-pleasant start to the season for the Wildcats. Even more recently we witnessed the Kelvin Sampson debacle at Indiana. After sending Mike Davis packing, IU welcomed a man with a history of NCAA violations to lead their program only to be embarassed by that same decision. Fans often forget that W's are not the only measure of a top coach.
Many statistics and pieces of information were factored into this list of the best active college basketball coaches; career record, career winning percentage, past coaching experience prior to their current coaching position, history of building a program(s), cleanliness of program(s), players sent to the NBA, National Championships, Conference Championships, Final Four appearances, NCAA Tournament appearances & wins, basketball program graduation rates, reputation of coach, reputation of program, coaching awards, player awards and much more. Voting was conducted during January 2008 as members of the DFN Sports family of sites were polled on who they felt were the top active college basketball coaches. Voters included staff from all DFN Sports sites & blogs. Each voter was asked to list their Top 10 active coaches and provide honorable mention coach nominees. Scoring of the votes was based on a 1st place vote worth 10 points and a 10th place vote worth 1 point.
Please note that voting took place before two major coaching changes rocked the world of college basketball. As a result, both Bobby Knight and Kelvin Sampson received a significant enough number of votes to be included in the Top 10 college basketball coaches or the honorable mention list.
And now, without further ado, the CollegeSports-fans.com Top Active College Basketball Coaches list:
#10 - Lute Olson - Arizona - It should come as no surprise that the only thing capable of keeping Lute Olson off the court is his own family. Citing undisclosed personal issues at home, Olson announced in December of 2007 that he would forgo coaching the University of Arizona for the 2007-08 season, returning to the helm in Tucson the following season. Prior to this season, Olson had only missed seven games in 24 seasons at Arizona during which time he has amassed nearly 600 wins, 21 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, 11 Pac-10 titles and a 1997 National Championship. You want more? Olson holds the nation’s highest winning percentage over the past 18 years and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
#9 - Ben Howland - UCLA - He revitalized and injected new life into a Pittsburgh program that
was languishing. Howland guided the Panthers to consecutive Big East championship games in 2001-02 and 2002-03, with the Panthers winning their first ever Big East championship in 2002-03. Howland also led Pittsburgh to back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances. Howland has done another great revitalization job in Westwood, thrusting UCLA back into elite status. Under his watch, the Bruins made back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2005-06 and 2006-07 and the Bruins lost the national championship game to Florida in 2005-06 season. This season, UCLA started the season strong yet again ranking in the Top 10 and with #1 high school prospect Kevin Love, the Bruins are poised to make their 3rd straight Final Four.
#8 - Tom Izzo - Michigan State - A product of Iron Mountain, Michigan, Izzo has made the country stand up and take notice of the state’s wealth of basketball talent and, subsequently, established Michigan State as the epicenter of Big Ten success during his 13-year tenure in East Lansing. But despite his natural ability to recruit, Izzo’s greatest asset is his knack for developing young talent, preparing them for the next level. In the last seven years, Izzo has sent 10 players to the NBA, 7 of which have been drafted in the first round. And the teacher-pupil relationship does not end with his players. Five current Division I coaches have served as assistants under Izzo, including Marquette’s Tom Crean and Brian Gregory at Dayton.
#7 - John Calipari - Memphis - While every other coach on this list has had the majority of their success at a "major" college program, only Calipari can claim that his success has come at schools not in the traditional power conference. First at UMass and now at Memphis, Calipari has proven to be one of the top coaches in all of college basketball. Calipari's UMass teams won 5 consecutive Atlantic 10 titles from 1991-1992 through 1995-1996 before leaving for the NBA, and since arriving at Memphis in 2000, his Tiger teams have won 20+ games every year and Memphis is well on it's way to a 3rd-straight 30+ win season. With one Final Four appearance at UMass, Calipari will now look to guide Memphis to the Final Four in the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
#6 - Jim Calhoun - UConn - A guy who has won nearly 73% of his games over a span of 20 years deserves to make this list. Calhoun began his coaching career at Northeastern University where he collected 248 victories in 14 seasons. But it wasn’t until the 2005 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee arrived at UConn in 1986 that his sheer hardwood genius was realized. The Huskies have won over 500 games since Calhoun came to New England, pushing his career win total over 700 games and thus making him only the 19th coach in history to eclipse the plateau. Like his peers that appear on this list, Calhoun claims his share of national titles (2) as well as players that have not only excelled at the collegiate level, but gone on to achieve all-star status professionally.
#5 - Bobby Knight - Texas Tech - What can you say about Knight that has not already been said? The only aspect of his illustrious career potentially greater than his win total is his reputation for historically unpredictable antics on the court and within the post game interviews. Division I college bsketball's winningest coach spent nearly three decades at Indiana where he won an eye-popping 662 contests including back-to-back perfect seasons (1975 & 1976), three national crowns (1976, 1981, 1987) and an unprecedented 37 consecutive Big Ten victories. And although Knight’s individual awards are too numerous to mention they do nothing to diminish those of his throng of players over the years, most notably the graduation rate. All but four of Knight’s four-year players have completed degrees, a rate of almost 98 percent. To top it off, Knight's teams never had a single NCAA violation of any sort, something they now know all too well in Indiana.
#4 - Rick Pitino - Louisville - Who’s the only coach EVER to take three different schools to the Final Four? Yep, it's Pitino who lead Providence, Kentucky and, most recently, Louisville all to the Final Four. But before Pitino achieved rarified air in the annals of collegiate basketball history, he fell in line with a number of other hardwood idols that resided in Lexington, Kentucky. Pitino led the Wildcats to three Final Fours, all in his final five years at the helm, and won it all in 1996-97. This success stemmed from a .814 winning percentage in eight years with a mind-boggling 17-1 record in the SEC tournament. Now in his 21st year as a head coach, Pitino is sustaining success, albeit nearly 80 miles to the west, in Louisville where he has revived the once-proud Cardinal program.
#3 - Billy Donovan - Florida - For the better part of ten years, Donovan learned under the tutelage of none other than the legendary Rick Pitino. Pitino became the coach of Donovan’s Providence Friars in 1985, turning the undersized guard into a difference-maker. Donovan then followed his tutor to Lexington where he thrived as an assistant and served a major role in orchestrating the recruiting class that ultimately won the 1996 National Championship. Since parting ways with his mentor, all Donovan has done is compile nearly 300 wins in a short stint at Marshall and his current tenure in Gainesville. He has taken a once-floundering Florida program and turned it into back-to-back national champions after a runner-up finish in 2000. But the 2007-08 season may go down as the prime example of Donovan’s coaching prowess. After losing nearly three-fourths of his national championship roster, Donovan has guided the Gators to a 15-2 record through mid-January and has an eye on a fourth consecutive SEC conference title.
#2 - Roy Williams - North Carolina - If it wasn’t for some guy named Phog Allen, Williams would be Kansas’ all-time winningest coach with the 418 wins to which he led the Jayhawks from 1988-2003. Instead of chasing Allen’s record, Williams opted to leave Lawrence in favor of returning to his alma mater at Chapel Hill. Roy finally got the preverbial "monkey off his back" when his UNC Tar Heels won the 2004-2005 National Championship. With a career 549-133 record, his .805 career winning percentage at Kansas and North Carolina is amazing.
Despite Williams’ inability to bring home a title at KU, Jayhawk fans will forever look upon him with tremendous respect as indicated by this September 2007 quote from the Lawrence Journal-World as Williams was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame: “Williams is a winner, not only on the basketball court but also as a person. Collegiate sports need more coaches such as Williams, men and women who set an example for others to try and match."
#1 - Mike Krzyzewski - Duke - Duke's "Coach K" tops our list receiving the #1 vote from over 80% of our voters. While Krzyzewski's teams have gotten younger and less and less inexperienced the past few years and the Sweet 16 seems to have the Blue Devils stumped, it's hard to argue with the bottom line: 10 ACC Championships, 10 Final Four's, back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992, 3 total national championships, 68 tournament wins and he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2001.
Best College Basketball Coaches Honorable Mention:
Rick Barnes, Texas
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
Jim Christian, Kent State
Tom Crean, Marquette
Scott Drew, Baylor
Mark Few, Gonzaga
Billy Gillispie, Kentucky
Bob Huggins, West Virginia
Jim Larranaga, George Mason
Chris Lowery, Southern Illinois
Thad Matta, Ohio State
Rick Majerus, Saint Louis
Bruce Pearl, Tennessee
Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
Kelvin Sampson, Indiana
Bill Self, Kansas
Tubby Smith, Minnesota
Eddie Sutton, San Francisco
John Thompson III, Georgetown
Gary Williams, Maryland
"The Best College Football Coaches" was written by Michael Shull, CollegeSports-fans.com Director of Content, with help from staff members at several DFN Sports member sites.
Other College "Best" lists from College Sports Fans include: