There aren’t many coaches with the résumé Rick Pitino boasts. With 661 wins and 17 tournament appearances spanning four decades, the legendary coach should have found a home in the Hall of Fame long before this season.
Three things measure the success of a head coach: wins, championships and longevity. Pitino exemplifies those things, and his team’s tournament run this season is the icing on the cake.
The 60-year-old has left an indelible mark on the sport of basketball in his 35 years as a head coach. With two stints in the NBA (New York Knicks, Boston Celtics), a national championship at Kentucky and another potentially on the way with Louisville, Pitino has put together one of the most impressive careers of any coach in the sport’s history.
The list of college basketball coaches with more wins than Pitino is brief, but the names are impressive. His 661 wins ranks 22nd, putting him in the company of legendary coaches like John Wooden (664), and not far behind the likes of Roy Williams (700) and Jerry Tarkanian (761).
Tarkanian joins Pitino in this year’s Hall of Fame class, further signifying the mark the latter has made on the sport. Tarkanian’s 761 wins rank 11th among college basketball coaches, also winning a national title at the helm of UNLV in 1990.
Louisville’s success this season has brought Pitino back into the national spotlight, but his accolades should have already earned him a place in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
If he can lead the Cardinals to a national title Monday night, Pitino will become the only coach in NCAA history to win a championship with multiple programs (h/t Nate Taylor of The New York Times). That success with both Kentucky and Louisville quantifies his accolades, but it also proves how talented he is as a leader and program-builder. Pitino remains the only coach to have taken three different schools to the Final Four (Providence in 1987).
The ambiguity of the Hall of Fame selection process has always been a hotly debated topic, and while Pitino certainly has the résumé to have gotten in before this year, there’s something to be said for his selection taking place prior to the national title game.
He didn’t need another championship to secure his place in basketball’s most hallowed hall, though earning another title on Monday night would undoubtedly punctuate a career that any coach would be proud of.