Figuring out what makes a Hall of Famer and who isn’t quite good enough will lead to debates that lead to loud noises. (They usually escalate quickly!)
In September, Rick Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian and Guy Lewis will be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame. For fans of Pitino and Tarkanian, it should have been an “it’s about time” reaction. Both coaches could have been inducted years ago.
The selection committee’s criteria for electing college basketball coaches has been pretty clear. In the last 25 years, 15 college coaches (counting this year’s soon-to-be inductees) have made it to Springfield. Out of those coaches, only two didn’t have at least 500 wins (John Chaney and Al McGuire) and only two didn’t win at least one Division I national title (*Chaney and Guy Lewis).
*Chaney did win a D-II title in 1978 at Cheyney State. Lewis made it to back-to-back title games in 1983 and 1984.
With those numbers in mind, here’s a prediction of the next five coaches to get in.
Once John Calipari wins his second national championship—that could be as early as 2014—it will be hard to keep Calipari out of the Hall of Fame. Only one coach who is eligible for the hall and has two or more titles (Ed Jucker) has not made it.
Calipari has 526 wins that the NCAA counts and 568 wins total—42 of those victories have been vacated by the NCAA.
Whether you love him or loathe him, Calipari has consistently won. He’s been to four Final Fours, two championship games and has won one title. Those numbers alone are good enough to get him in.
Eddie Sutton is the only coach with more than 800 wins who is not in the Naismith Hall of Fame. Sutton and his famous scowl deserve to be in Springfield.
What could hurt Sutton’s cause is the way he left Kentucky in 1989—the program was on probation the following two years. But Sutton built his reputation back up in 16 years at Oklahoma State.
Sutton made it to three Final Fours, taking the Cowboys there twice and Arkansas once. He had only one losing season in his career—his final year at Kentucky*—and in his final 29 full seasons from 1977 through 2006, his teams went to 25 NCAA tournaments.
*Sutton was 6-13 in 2007-08 when he came out of retirement to coach at San Francisco for part of the season on an interim basis.
Rick Majerus’ mentor, Al McGuire, is one coach who got in the Hall of Fame without something most of the other coaches had (500-plus wins). The fact that he was one of the game's greatest characters had to help his cause. The Hall of Fame should also consider Majerus, who is without a national title, for the same reasons.
Majerus was loved for his sense of humor and passion for the game. As a coach, what he did best was turn programs around. In 1987, Majerus took over at Ball State, a team that had gone 9-18 the year before. In year two, which would be Majerus’ final season at Ball State, he led the team to a 29-3 record and a trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
In 1990, Majerus took over a middling program at Utah and by his second season, he had the Utes in the Sweet 16. Majerus took the Utes to the tournament in six of his nine years, including three trips to the Sweet 16 and a trip to the national title game in 1998.
Majerus’ final stop was at Saint Louis, taking over the program in 2007. The Billikens had not made the tournament since 2000. The turnaround took longer than the others, but Majerus got it done in his final year of coaching, leading SLU to a 26-8 record and the round of 32.
Majerus tallied 517 wins and that number would have been higher if not for health problems. He’s not a sure-thing, but his resume is worthy for consideration.
The numbers indicate that Bill Self is a lock to get in the hall at some point.
Self already has 500 wins—he’s at 507—already has a national title, and no program has won more games than Kansas since Self arrived. Self is 300-59 in his 10 seasons at KU, has won nine straight Big 12 titles and made two title games.
It will likely be a few more years until Self gets in—he’s only 50—but like Calipari, if he adds a second title to his resume soon, that should speed up the process.
Tom Izzo is currently at 439 wins and has two or three more seasons until he gets to 500. Once there, it’s a good bet that Izzo will get the invite to Springfield.
What has been most impressive about Izzo’s career is his prowess in the postseason. From 1999 through 2010, Izzo led the Spartans to six Final Fours and won one national title in 2000.
Izzo, Self, Calipari and Billy Donovan will be remembered as the best coaches of their generation and I’d expect them all to make it in the next 10 years.
The only reason Donovan was not on this list is that he’s not yet eligible. You have to be in coaching for at least 25 years to qualify and next year would be his first of eligibility. At 47, it will probably be at least another five years until he’s considered.