North Carolina vs. Indiana: Is Roy Williams or Tom Crean the Better Coach Now?
On Monday, the Indiana Hoosiers and the North Carolina Tar Heels will square off in the most ballyhooed game of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
This isn't just the No. 1 team versus the No. 9 team in the nation. This is Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams versus the up-and-coming leader of the Hoosiers, Tom Crean.
Who is the better coach right now; Tom Crean or Roy Williams?
While that question is nearly impossible to answer definitively, that doesn't mean we shouldn't open the debate. A win by either team may not even answer the question, as player performance does factor into the equation.
But this is the beauty of sports, folks—everyone has an opinion.
The best we can do is take a look at the facts, and then form our conclusions from there.
The Case for Tom Crean
Tom Crean is in his 14th season as a head coach, and his success as such is tough to dispute.
In 1999 Crean took over a 14-15 Marquette team that had seen its better days. While his first season wasn't a success, it didn't take long for him to rebuild Marquette's winning tradition.
After back-to-back 15-14 seasons to start out his coaching career, Tom Crean put Marquette back on the map in just his third season. The team finished 26-7 in 2001-02—the most wins for the program since 1975-76.
The following year his team would make it all the way to the Final Four, but Kansas crushed all hope of a championship with a 94-61 pounding of the Golden Eagles. Despite the loss, Crean had managed to lead Marquette to 27 wins—the second-highest mark in the program's history.
Crean would never reach that mark again. In his final five years at Marquette, he took his team the NIT twice, and then followed that up with three straight appearances in the NCAA tournament. However, he was never able to get past the second round in those NCAA tourneys.
By 2008 he had made a big enough splash in the college basketball world to be hired by the Indiana Hoosiers. Though the program had a storied history with a tradition of winning, NCAA violations left Crean with little to work with.
Indiana finished the 2008-09 season 6-25.
It would be a rebuilding period for the next two seasons, compiling a 22-41 record over that time. Just as he catapulted Marquette back into the spotlight, Indiana jumped to a 27-9 record in 2011-12 and made it all the way to the Sweet 16.
That would be the program's best finish since they made it to the NCAA championship in 2001-02.
Now, Tom Crean's Hoosiers are sitting at 5-0 as the top-ranked team in the country. I think it's safe to say he has led Indiana back to its winning ways.
The Case for Roy Williams
Roy Williams was blessed to take over Kansas in his first head coaching job. But it was a program that was also facing NCAA violations, following their national title year under the legendary Larry Brown.
After a 19-12 season to begin his coaching career, he followed that up with the second 30-win season in the Jayhawks' history.
Over the next 13 seasons at Kansas, Williams would tack on four more 30-win seasons. He also had nine Sweet 16 appearances, five Elite Eights, four Final Fours and appeared in two championships.
Roy Williams finished his coaching career at Kansas with a winning percentage of 80.5—a mark no prior Kansas coach could top. Bill Self is the only Kansas coach to have a better winning percentage.
Despite his winning ways, the actual title eluded him while he was in Kansas.
In 2003, Roy Williams accepted a second offer from his alma mater, the University of North Carolina. He turned down the previous offer in 2000, but he couldn't say no twice to his Tar Heels. Not only did he graduate from there, he also began his collegiate career as an assistant coach under Dean Smith at UNC.
There was history between Roy and the program.
However, his departure from Kansas did not sit well with fans of the Jayhawks. It was taken about as well as Cleveland took The Decision. That day marked the beginning of the poking and prodding Williams would receive in terms of his coaching ability.
Taking over a storied program that was 27-36 over the previous two season, Williams managed a decent 19-11 record in his first year at UNC. He would follow that up with another 30-win season in his second year, but this time it would lead to a title—North Carolina's first since 1993.
Over the next seven seasons, Roy Williams' Tar Heels would appear in five Elite Eights, two Final Fours and one more NCAA title would be added to his resume. He also owns the most single-season wins for a UNC coach, with 36 in 2007-08.
With only 14 years under his belt, there aren't many arguments against Tom Crean. Just give it some time and folks will pick him apart, just as they do any other winning coach.
Tom Crean is considered a cerebral coach, making numerous in-game adjustments and loading up his kids with a vast array of offensive sets. Despite being a man-to-man defensive team, Crean switched Indiana to the zone to counter Georgetown's overwhelming height in the 2012 Progressive Legends Classic championship.
Those are the things Roy Williams has been ridiculed for not doing. He appears to have a set way of doing things, no matter how the game is going. It's basically on the players to perform in order to get a win.
It's hard to argue against a strategy that has produced 680 wins, though.
Both coaches have seen their share of amazing talent come through their programs' doors. It's tough to make a case against either of their recruiting abilities. Many say that's what Roy Williams does best—if not the only thing he does.
After all, talent seems to be the biggest argument against Roy Williams. The statement, "he should have done more with his talent" gets me every time.
I could possibly see that argument sticking with his 15 years without a title at Kansas. But in nine seasons with the Tar Heels, he has two titles.
Since when did that become bad? That's as many as the great Dean Smith had over 36 seasons at UNC.
Talent is too thick and player tenure is too short for there to ever be another "John Wooden Era." Sorry folks, that time has passed.
Recently, CBS polled nearly 100 coaches to decide the most overrated coach in college basketball. The crown was handed to Roy Williams for a whopping 23 percent of the votes—six percent higher than Rick Barnes of Texas.
An anonymous coach said of Roy Williams, "He's won at Kansas and UNC. But who couldn't do that—besides Matt Doherty?"
For those that don't know, Doherty was the UNC coach prior to Williams.
While that statement is true to some degree, will Tom Crean's tenure at Indiana be looked at in the same light? It certainly shouldn't be, no matter what he does in the future.
Mike Kryzewski and Jim Boeheim are just about the only title-holding coaches left one can argue built the winning tradition for their respective programs. That doesn't leave much wiggle room for other coaches to be considered "greats."
There simply isn't enough on Tom Crean for him to be labeled a better coach than Roy Williams.
While I'll stand with anyone that considers Crean a more cerebral coach than Williams, recruiting and level of success also factor into the equation of a great college basketball coach.
There was success before and after Crean's tenure at Marquette, just as there will be at Indiana. The only Final Four he saw was with Dwyane Wade, and they got crushed.
Who is the Better Coach Now?
That isn't to say Tom Crean won't win a title. He could have one this March for all we know. But the proof is in the pudding, and right now there's a shortage of pudding for Crean.
On the other hand, Roy Williams has two titles and a winning percentage that ranks sixth-best all-time at 80 percent, according to sports-reference.com. As much as people continue to pick him apart, it's tough to argue against his record.
And just as many of us didn't want to put LeBron among the NBA's greatest until he got that chip, coaches are—and should be—held to that same standard.
Even then, championships and winning percentages aren't enough to escape the naysayers. We live in an age where even Phil Jackson can be picked apart until he is left an "average" coach. Don't mind the NBA records of 11 titles and a winning percentage of 70.4.
He also "did it with talent"—that nobody else was able to do anything with before or since.
Haters will hate, and lovers will love. The best the rest of us can do is come to a conclusion with what we see with our own eyes, along with the historical facts in front of us.
In my book, Roy Williams wins this argument.
Let the debate begin.
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