Head of the class
Ranking the top 10 active coaches in the nation
Posted: Wednesday April 11, 2007 11:45AM
With Mark Turgeon's hiring at Texas A&M on Tuesday, an eventful spring coaching carousel (particularly for Arkansas) appears to finally be slowing to a stop. Because so many high-profile programs have changed coaches -- and so many high-profile coaches changing jobs -- now seems as good time as any to survey the current coaching landscape in college basketball.
Much like I've done the past two seasons for football, the following list is an attempt to rank the sport's top 10 coaches right now. It is not a career-achievement list, so while a coach's track record obviously plays a huge part in his reputation, more weight was placed on his most recent performances (sorry, Lute Olson). Similarly, only those who have been head coaches for at least three seasons were considered (sorry, Anthony Grant).
As for the criteria, winning championships and getting to Final Fours is the benchmark by which all college coaches are judged. But I also placed added value on coaches who get more out of less, have recently rebuilt programs or whose imprint is clearly visible in the way their teams play.
Without further ado, the nation's top-10 coaches as of April 2007:
1. Billy Donovan, Florida: The 41-year-old just pulled off one of the great coaching feats of the modern era, molding a cast of four largely unheralded freshmen three years ago into the nucleus of a selfless, highly cohesive juggernaut that pulled off the sport's first repeat national championship in 15 years.
2. Roy Williams, North Carolina: His 524 wins through 19 seasons far eclipse that of any other coach in history (Jerry Tarkanian had 436), and, much like the way his team plays, he only seems to be picking up the pace, having reestablished UNC as an annual national-title threat (the Tar Heels could start next season No. 1).
3. Jim Calhoun, Connecticut: Yes, the Huskies are coming off their worst season since 1992-93, but that can happen when you lose a record five NBA Draft picks. Before that, Calhoun had won two national titles and earned five No. 1 or 2 NCAA seeds in an eight-year span.
4. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke: Coach K was the no-brainer No. 1 for nearly 20 years, but his most recent teams have been plagued by a lack of depth, several high-profile washouts and a tendency to underachieve in the NCAAs (J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams made it out of the Sweet 16 just once despite having a No. 1 seed three times).
5. Rick Pitino, Louisville: It's been nearly a decade since Pitino ended his dominant run at Kentucky, yet his up-tempo style and recruiting prowess have remained a model. Pitino took the Cardinals to the Final Four in 2005 and has them in position to be a top-10 (possibly top-five) team next season.
6. Tom Izzo, Michigan State: It's been a rough couple years for Izzo's program since he lost the core of the 2005 Final Four team (Izzo's fourth trip in seven years), but even so the Spartans have maximized their talent, reaching the NCAAs both years, and should be back in contention for a Big Ten title next season.
7. Ben Howland, UCLA: He pretty much fits all the aforementioned criteria, having rebuilt the Bruins with a clearly defined, defense-oriented philosophy and has reached consecutive Final Fours with a talented but hardly loaded group of players. With star recruit Kevin Love joining the mix this fall, UCLA will certainly have a shot at another.
8. John Calipari, Memphis: Say what you want about the guy's recruiting tactics, or his failed NBA tenure, but Calipari can flat-out coach college basketball, as proven again this past season when, despite losing two first-round draft picks and his starting point guard, he still led a young Tigers team to its second-consecutive Elite Eight.
9. Thad Matta, Ohio State: In seven years as a head coach, Matta has been to seven NCAA tournaments, reached a national-title game with the Buckeyes, the Elite Eight with Xavier and managed to sign one of the most impressive recruiting classes in history despite the Buckeyes enduring NCAA sanctions at the time. More to come.
10. Billy Gillispie, Kentucky: He would have made this list whether Kentucky hired him or not. Gillispie has demonstrated a remarkable ability to make an immediate impact on a program with quick turnarounds at both UTEP (from 6-24 to 24-8) and Texas A&M (from 7-21 the year before his arrival to the NCAAs in his second season and Sweet 16 this year).
Just missed: Michigan's John Beilein, Kansas' Bill Self, USC's Tim Floyd, Gonzaga's Mark Few, Wisconsin's Bo Ryan.
Also considered (in alphabetical order): Texas' Rick Barnes, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon, Texas Tech's Bob Knight, Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery, Tennessee's Bruce Pearl, Indiana's Kelvin Sampson, Georgetown's John Thompson III.
In case you're curious why I didn't compile a list of the "five worst" like I do for football -- it's because there are 336 Division I teams, for crying out loud. I'd be lying if I told you I even knew the names of the bottom 150.
But that doesn't mean I won't accept nominations.