Unlike the pros, the college game is more defined by the coaches than the actual players. That’s because a good coach will stick around for decades, whereas players will cycle in and out every few years. It’s not uncommon for a college program to be defined by its coach, at least such is the case with NCAA hoops.
Just think about it. When you think of UCLA basketball, John Wooden likely pops up immediately. Indiana? Yep, Bob Knight is synonymous with the program. Jerry Tarkanian? UNLV is still playing in his shadow — even 30 years since Tark departed the school.
With the new college season underway and everyone gunning for an NCAA Tournament title, we wanted to list the very five best coaches on the sidelines today. Given the coaching pedigree of these next five, there’s a good chance their teams will be playing deep into the 2021 March Madness tourney.
It was obvious we were going to start with Coach K, wasn’t it? We mean, don’t you have to consider Krzyzewski is the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history — he has 1,157 wins and counting.
While you might recognize the Blue Devils as a college powerhouse today, that’s a testament solely to Coach K. He took over Duke in 1980. Back then, the program had finished up as runner-up once before, but it wasn’t the measuring stick in NCAAB by any means.
Since then, Coach K has cut down five nets in the NCAA Tournament final. But even more than that, Krzyzewski-lead teams have given hoop fans the most unforgettable moments in history. There are too many to name, but few will ever outdo Christian Laettner’s “The Shot” or upset the aforementioned UNLV in the 1991 Final Four.
When you think of Duke, North Carolina is mentioned not far after. Likewise, Krzyzewski and Williams’ name will forever be mentioned in the same breath. The two’s rivalry, both as programs and coaches, makes the sport what it is today.
Though, Williams is an exception to the rule we mentioned at the beginning. That’s because before he took over the Tar Heels, he carved out a 15-year legacy of his own at Kansas. He’s the rare coach that’s defined separate programs over his career.
At both schools, Williams has proven himself to be one of the all-time greats. His career win percentage of 77 percent is actually a hair better than Krzyzewski’s 76. Williams also has three national titles to his name.
Simply put, Few single-handedly put Gonzaga on the map. Here’s a mid-major program — without the deep pockets of Duke and North Carolina — in the West Coast Conference and despite that, the Bulldogs are consistently ranked in the top-25 and have made the NCAA tourney every year since 1999.
To put the program into perspective, it had qualified for March Madness only twice pre-Few, this despite being around since 1907 (the tourney first began in 1939). While opportunities have been abundant for Few to jump ship to a bigger, more well-funded school, he’s remained loyal.
Of course, the knock-on Few is he’s never won a national championship. That’s definitely fair, but with the current number-one ranked team nationally, that might change come 2021.
Unlike the other coaches on this list, Calipari is quite polarizing. Despite his accolades — three Naismith Coach of the Year honors and a 2012 national championship — Calipari’s reputation is a bit stained.
That’s mainly due to “one and dones.” The term, mostly used as a pejorative, refers to highly-recruited players that leave college after a year for the NBA. Many believe this has ruined the college game and Calipari is credited for creating the shift. No matter what you think of him, you can count on Calipari-coached teams to be consistent title contenders year in, year out.
We caught you off guard with this one, didn’t we? Obviously, Auriemma coaches in the female game rather than men, but there’s no denying his absolute dominance.
Where do we even start with Geno? His 11 national titles? Or leading his team to at least the Final Four every season since 2008? An unthinkable win percentage of 88 all time?
Or how about this one: unlike the previous-mentioned coaches, when you think of Auriemma, you don’t merely associate him with Huskies basketball. No, you relate Auriemma with women’s collegiate basketball as a whole. Period. That’s a second-to-none accomplishment in itself.