Ranking the 10 Most Underrated Coaches in College Basketball History
There are tons of successful college basketball coaches who don't receive the credit or honor that their achievements deserve.
They are under-recognized and underappreciated.
The following is a list of the 10 most underrated coaches in college basketball history.
Half of the coaches on this list are still prowling the sidelines. The other half have finished their careers and crossed over into retirement.
These 10 coaches have received a measure of recognition for their successes and contributions. However, they have still been largely undervalued and held in lower esteem than they deserve.
Historical information courtesy of Wikipedia, unless noted otherwise.
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Rick Byrd is Belmont basketball.
He has developed the program from obscure mediocrity to one of the best mid-major programs in the country. In his 27 years as the Bruins head coach, Byrd has posted a 545-284 record. The only other active coaches that come to mind who have collected more wins at their current schools is Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski.
If you include Byrd’s five years at Maryville College and Lincoln Memorial, he has piled up 663 career wins.
Byrd is an offensive mastermind, helping the Bruins on an annual basis to be one of the most prolific scoring and accurate shooting teams in the country.
John Beilein is a coach who has paid his dues at a wide variety of college basketball programs. He has worked his way up the college coaching ranks, winning at every stop.
His Michigan bio mentions that he is “the only active coach in the collegiate ranks to record a 20-win season at four different levels -- junior college, NAIA, NCAA Division II and NCAA Division I.” It also states that “Beilein has compiled a career coaching record of 642-395 (.619) with winning records in 29-of-34 seasons.”
Michigandaily.com’s Alex Prosperi points out that Beilein is one of seven coaches (along with Lefty Driesell, Eddie Sutton, Tubby Smith, Rick Pitino, Lon Kruger and Jim Herrick) who have taken four different teams to the NCAA tournament.
Beilein is an old-school Xs and Os guy. He makes great in-game adjustments. He knows how to set his team up for success and to get the most out of his players. He recruits players who fit his system and then he develops their talent.
While making it to the 2013 NCAA championship game certainly helps Beilein’s overall reputation, he is still an undervalued teacher of the game.
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Even though Mike Montgomery has won big at each of his three collegiate stops, he still lacks the national notoriety of some of his coaching counterparts
Montgomery’s Cal bio states that he “enters the 2013-14 season as the NCAA's ninth winningest active Division I head men's basketball coach with 656 career victories in 31 seasons of collegiate coaching.”
His Wikipedia page states that he piled up “25 winning seasons in his 26 years as a head coach at both Stanford and Montana. Montgomery's Stanford teams reached the NCAA tournament 10 straight times from 1995 to 2004.”
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Very few fans (outside of America’s Dairyland) truly appreciate the coaching genius of Bo Ryan. Year after year, he puts Wisconsin teams that are lean on raw talent and athleticism into the Big Ten title race and usually into the later rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Ryan’s Wikipedia page details how he started his collegiate coaching career at Wisconsin-Platteville, going 353-76 (82.3 winning percentage), winning four NCAA D-III championships. After two ordinary years at UW-Milwaukee, Ryan was hired as the Wisconsin Badgers’ coach, and the rest is history.
UW has gone to the NCAA tournament in each of Ryan’s 12 seasons, advancing to the Sweet 16 four times and the Elite Eight one additional time. The Badgers have posted a 291-113 record on his watch
Ryan’s 75.7 winning percentage (674-216) puts him currently at No. 10.
Bob Huggins is a hard-nosed, tough-minded coach who has achieved booming results wherever he has landed.
Closing out the 2012-13 season, "Huggy Bear" has put up an career record of 719-279 over his 31 years as head coach at Walsh University (NAIA), Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State and West Virginia.
His 72.7 winning percentage puts him at No. 11 all-time among Division I coaches.
Huggins established Cincinnati as a top-notch program from 1989-2005. His Bearcat teams averaged nearly 25 wins per season over 16 years. That’s impressive. Cincy advanced to the NCAA tournament in 14 consecutive seasons.
He has had good success (130-67) at West Virginia, leading the Mountaineers to the NCAA tournament in all but this past season.
With all of this success, why doesn’t Huggins receive more acknowledgment by the college basketball world? I don’t get it.
DePaul’s Ray Meyer earned his place among the all-time great college basketball coaches for his long-lasting success and farsighted leadership at the Chicago-based university.
Meyer was the Blue Demons’ coach over a period of five decades (from 1942-1984). During those 42 seasons, he posted a 724-354 (67.1 winning percentage) record. On his watch, the Blue Demons made two trips to the Final Four (1943, 1979).
Meyer was known and respected within the coaching fraternity. In an ESPN article following his death in 2006, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, who grew up in Chicago, shared his memories about Meyer and his coaching legacy:
He was a coach's coach, he was a man's man. He was the face of college basketball in Chicago. When you think of basketball in that city, you think of Ray Meyer.
Meyer’s most significant contribution to the game of basketball was his visionary development of basketball’s first true big man, George Mikan.
When Meyer began his college coaching career, the general mindset was that tall players were too uncoordinated to excel at the sport. Meyer worked tirelessly with Mikan until he was skilled at making hook shots with either hand.
Instead of being a clumsy hindrance, Mikan became a dominant force who led the Blue Demons to a trip to the Final Four. Mikan went on to literally change the game of basketball.
Because of Meyer’s fundamental role in this paradigm shift and his long-term success at DePaul, he was selected for the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1979 while still actively coaching the Blue Demons.
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Charles "Lefty" Driesell put Maryland basketball on the map. Before he arrived from a successful nine-year stint at Davidson (176-65), the Terrapins were a lackluster program that struggled to play winning basketball.
It took Driesell two years to get things straightened out in College Park. But in his third year, he led them to the 1972 NIT championship, and the program took off from there.
Over his 17 years at the helm, Maryland went (348-159), with two trips to the Elite Eight and three additional trips to the Sweet 16.
CBS DC’s David Elfin reminds us that “In 1974, the Terps were ranked fifth but went uninvited to the NCAAs under the one bid per conference rule.”
All of this success did not guarantee job security for Driesell. After going 19-14 in the 1985-86 season, Driesell was removed from his coaching position. He coached for another 15 seasons at James Madison (159-111) and Georgia State (103-59).
Driesell’s Wikipedia page mentions that he is the only college basketball coach to win at least 100 games at four different colleges. His career coaching record was 786-394, which puts him as No. 9 among Division I coaches.
Some men are meant for longevity in one location.
Guy Lewis played college basketball at Houston. He was an assistant coach at Houston. And, from 1956 to 1986, Lewis was the head coach of the Houston Cougars, where he posted a 592-279 record.
In his 30 years as head coach, the Cougars made five Final Four appearances, which puts Lewis in elite company. The only other coaches to make five Final Four appearances are Bob Knight and Lute Olson. Not too shabby.
His five Final Four appearances came in streaks. Two of them came back-to-back in 1968 and 1969. The other three were consecutive (1982-84) in the Phi Slama Jama years.
Lewis led the Cougars to 27 straight winning seasons from 1959-85. He was named National Coach of the Year in 1968 and 1983.
The Daily Cougar’s Christopher Shelton reported that legendary UCLA head coach John Wooden once said, “The coaches I hated coaching against were the real good ones, and Guy was one of those. I think Guy took a bum rap because he never won a national championship.”
This spring, however, Lewis finally “got the call from the Hall.” In April 2013, at age 91, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
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UTEP’s Don Haskins is a trailblazer of college basketball that deserves more recognition than he has been given. He led the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) program over four decades (1961-1999). His overall record as the Miners head coach was 719-354 (67 winning percentage).
His teams made 14 NCAA tournament appearances and won it all (when the school was known as Texas Western College) in 1966.
Simply winning the national championship of 1966 was only part of the true accomplishment of that national title.
In that game, TWC faced the heavily favored Kentucky Wildcats, coached by the legendary Adolph Rupp. One of the unique features of this contest was that Rupp’s starting lineup was all white players, while Haskins’ first five were all African American.
This was the first time that a college playing for the national championship had started five African-American players.
In an overview of Haskins’ career on DonHaskinsMemorial.com, the coach downplayed the significance of the racial makeup of his starting squad, saying, “I really didn’t think about starting five black guys. I just wanted to put my five best guys on the court. I just wanted to win that game.”
In that same overview, it is noted that Haskins wrote in his book, Glory Road, “I certainly did not expect to be some racial pioneer or change the world.”
In some ways, Haskins’ lack of “manufacturing” this breakthrough helps to keep it innocent. He was a coach, like any other coach, attempting to win the biggest game of his career. But, in doing so, he set an example to future generations of coaches to not allow past practices or cultural norms to dictate their decisions.
Haskins was selected for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997.
Joe B. Hall
What would you say about a Division I college basketball coach who, over his 13 years, went 297-100, won an NCAA championship, made it to the Final Four two additional times, the Elite Eight twice and the Sweet 16 twice? I would think you were describing one of the top coaches in that time period.
Unfortunately for Kentucky's Joe B. Hall, he never received anything close to that type of recognition nationally or among some of the Big Blue Nation. He had the outrageous challenge and unique opportunity of following coaching legend Adolph Rupp. Rupp won four national championships over his 40-plus years of coaching at UK.
Kykernel.com’s Les Johns described the context that Hall entered:
He is the only coach in college basketball history to successfully follow directly in the footsteps of a coaching legend.
Not only did he follow a legend, but he followed a legend who left the game reluctantly. Rupp was forced to retire because of hitting the university policy mandating retirement at the age of 70 for administrative positions.
There are coaches in this profession that have to follow legends in their time: John Wooden, Bear Bryant, Vince Lombardi...Phog Allen. The other guy was Adolph Rupp. No one that followed those other coaches won championships. No one.
Last fall, Hall was fittingly inducted into the National College Basketball Hall of Fame after retiring from his Kentucky head coaching post 27 years ago.