Sunday, January 14, 2007

The junior varsity of active coaches

Bob Knight recently became the winningest Division I men's basketball coach. He leads a group of 5 active coaches already in the Basketball Hall of Fame. (Author's Note: All victory totals are current as of the end of game play on Sunday, January 14, 2007.)

Bob Knight (age 66, 41st season, 882 wins, 3 national titles)
Lute Olson (72, 34th season, 774 wins, 1 title)
Mike Krzyzewski (59, 31st season, 767 wins, 3 titles)
Jim Calhoun (64, 35th season, 746 wins, 2 titles)
Jim Boeheim (62, 31st season, 739 wins, 1 title)

This next tier of active coaches may earn Hall of Fame discussion when the time is right.

Gary Williams (61, 29th season, 575 wins, 1 title)
Roy Williams (56, 19th season, 508 wins, 1 title)
Tubby Smith (55, 16th season, 379 wins, 1 title)
Rick Pitino (54, 21st season, 482 wins, 1 title)
Kelvin Sampson (51, 15th season, 467 wins)
Tom Izzo (51, 12th season, 269 wins, 1 title)

My question: in the pantheon of great men's hoops coaches, who's got next? Seth Davis writes an interesting analysis of those who could break Coach Knight's win record. But I'm more concerned about who will sustain a Hall of Fame career. Granted, it's sheer guesswork, but here are ten candidates under the age of 50.

Ben Howland, 49: He's certainly in the right place: UCLA. Flew under the radar last year, but no more. Needs the Pac-10 to stay strong to gather more national attention. Higher profile recruits will win him a title eventually.

Mike Brey, 47: He may yet deliver consistency to Notre Dame. But there's a lot less pressure at a football school, so he has time to mold the Irish into the Big East's best program once the Jims retire.

Dave Leitao, 46: Great situation at Virginia, with a new arena and devoted fan base. The unbalanced ACC schedule means fewer trips to Tobacco Road and greater impact. Once the Williamses and Coach K retire, expect the power to shift to him and Paul Hewitt.

Mark Few, 44: An unusual situation at Gonzaga, where he could write his own ticket, but will probably stay and rack up the wins. There isn't much room in the Hall of Fame for coaches outside the major conferences, so he'll have to be an exceptional exception.

Paul Hewitt, 43: Probably my favorite coach in the ACC, and I'm supposed to say Coach K. So good, and so unlike Bobby Cremins, that he can get teams to the Final Four without NBA-level talent. Like Dave Leitao, he'll draw attention away from Duke and UNC.

Billy Donovan, 41: The only person on this list (so far) to coach a national champion. But that 2005-06 team feels like an anomaly because it was so different from past Florida squads. Can he keep it up when those players leave?

Tom Crean, 40: He signed a contract to stay at Marquette for another 10 years, so already he's thinking a little about legacy. Can mold this program into a lot more than Guard U. Eventually, he won't need a pre-stardom Dwyane Wade to make the Final Four.

John Thompson III, 40: Coaching at the same school where your father was a legend is a curse (that's some shadow to escape) and a gift (Georgetown will never fire him). But it's not as if he's learning on the job; he honed his skills at Princeton.

Thad Matta, 39: The poster boy for a meteoric coaching rise. He started at Butler in 2000, upgraded to Xavier the next year, and has been at Ohio State since 2004. Recently introduced the world to the Thad Five. Could make Ohio State-Michigan a big hoops rivalry... if he stays.

Jeff Capel III, 31: Much younger than the others, but already in his 5th season as a head coach, and now at Oklahoma. If he runs a clean program committed to winning, he should sustain a long career. If he leaves, he'll have a great resume and should be able to keep coaching as long as he wants. (Note that Bob Knight was around 25 when he got started.)

And now, this week's seeds. After my sloppy placement last week, Pittsburgh has been adjusted accordingly.

San Jose Regional
1. UCLA: Barely survived round 1 of the Battle of Los Angeles.
2. Texas A&M: Two Big 12 road wins confirm they're no pretender.
3. Nevada: Not just a one-man team, but they'll need Fazekas.
4. Air Force: I may attend their game against UNLV.

St. Louis Regional
1. Wisconsin: Huge statement win against the Buckeyes.
2. North Carolina: Shades of Dean in near-comeback loss to VT.
3. Oregon: Gigantic win at Arizona speaks volumes.
4. Butler: 3rd in Horizon, so I had to drop them.

East Rutherford Regional
1. Florida: Not seriously challenged for next 2 weeks.
2. Pittsburgh: Get home tests vs. UConn and Marquette.
3. Clemson: No shame in losing at Maryland.
4. Arizona: Pac-10 deserves 3 teams in the mix.

San Antonio Regional
1. Kansas: A worthy top seed after beating OK State by 30.
2. Ohio State: Tennessee win balances loss at Wisconsin.
3. Notre Dame: But can they win on the road?
4. Memphis: Only newcomer to the seeds this week.


EJ said...

My first comment is that some of the ages surprised some extent they are pretty similar. Maybe 5 years is a big deal in the sense of becoming iconic, I'm not sure.

Second, big drop off between the 5 HOF and the next group. I think Roy Williams at UNC will be a HOF and belongs in the first group, but not sure of the rest. They all have had nice runs, but have not sustained excellence. Izzo at Michigan State has done well, but has dropped off lately. Pitino was great at Kentucky, but hasn't found that same magic at Louisville. Williams had a few great years at Maryland, but has fallen off. For that matter Syracuse hasn't been a real consistant power since the 80's. Carmelo Anthony was a one year star that put them over the top.

For the final group it is hard to say. I think most of them will need to move to a big power at some point to be consistantly great. Then again 25 years ago you might have said the same thing about coach K. I like Howland at UCLA since he is at UCLA. Of the list I probably like Donovan the best. He is young and potentially is the best in his conference. Nothing against Leitao and Hewitt, but they are in a loaded conference. Coach K plus Roy and Gary Williams put them at #4 or #5 at best in the conference. Maybe they can rise up once those 3 retire, but we can assume that those 3 schools will bring in high profile coaches to replace them with great brand recognition.

ok that was rambling...enjoy

Brando said...

Both the Williams are HOF locks, given that many wins and at least a national title. Pitino will definitely make it, and I think Tubby will too. Izzo is more definite than Sampson due to the title, but his win total relative to his age is not very high.

Donovan seems almost assured of making it unless Florida really tanks at some point. Matta should make it if he continues to recruit the way he has.

Mark Few is probably not getting in without at least a championship appearance. The tendency of Gonzaga to underperform in the tourney in recent years doesn't help.

Neel Mehta said...

Some very good points, both of you.

EJ: Your comment about Syracuse makes me wonder if that 2003 team was an anomaly the way that I view Florida last year. I still believe that Melo and Co. got it done with Boeheim's style, while Noah and Co. didn't play at all like a Donovan team.

I agree about Roy Williams. He's got the best resume at this point, I think, and will be perceived as the most due.

I'm standing by my assessment of Leitao and Hewitt. A 12-team ACC is more likely to experience cycles of power, and I'm not convinced that Duke, UNC, and Maryland are going to stay on top once their coaches retire.

Brando: Your comment on Tom Izzo raises an unspoken pattern of HOF coaches: they tend to start their head coaching gigs at a young age. By comparison, I'm not sure Izzo (or Ol' Roy, for that matter) should be penalized for "squandering" valuable years being a loyal assistant.

The modern big-budget nature of these major schools makes a gamble on a young coach all the more rare, so fewer candidates are going to be able to rack up Bob Knight numbers in wins and longevity. By necessity, HOF criteria may start emphasizing winning percentages and sustained tourney success instead.

Brando said...

Neel, I definitely think Izzo belongs in the HOF. The history of the NCAA tourney is not very long, and the number of coaches who've made it to the top of the mountain is not very large. Izzo has definitely maximized his time with four Final Four appearances along with his title in 2000.

Neel Mehta said...

Brando: I agree. I'm just saying that when he's selected to the HOF, he won't have numbers anywhere near those 5 HOF coaches currently active, which means that the HOF will have to consider things besides career wins and longevity.

PG said...

I didn't even realize UVA had gotten a new basketball coach. [Bad Wahoo, no booze for you!]

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