College Basketball Coaches Most Likely to Be Hired by an NBA Team
While the objective of basketball remains the same regardless of level, coaches need a different skill set to lead in college than they do in the NBA.
The stern disciplinarian who drives college kids through fear—think Bob Knight—would likely draw eye rolls or outright insubordination from a group of NBA multi-millionaires.
On the flip side, NBA bench bosses must massage egos throughout the duration of a nine-month season. College coaches do their glad-handing on the front end, just to get the top talent through the door.
The Boston Celtics' hire of Brad Stevens is the latest case study in the grand experiment of college coaches making the transition to professional ball. Several other coaches could draw NBA attention in the next few years, with these men—presented alphabetically—being the most enticing possibilities.
John Calipari, Kentucky
In March of 2012, then-UConn coach Jim Calhoun told SNYtv.com's Adam Zagoria that he could imagine Kentucky's John Calipari returning to the NBA. Calipari immediately tweeted that "I have the greatest job in basketball at any level." As if to prove the point, his team won him his first national championship mere weeks later.
Every year, Calipari's name will be linked with NBA coaching openings. The very NBA and pop culture connections that bolster his credibility with a succession of McDonald's All-American recruits also make him an attractive candidate at the next level.
Small-market organizations need not apply, however. Calipari has succeeded on the grandest stage in college, winning more than 30 games per season—plus the aforementioned championship—at Kentucky. His salary, which USA Today reported at $5.4 million, is one of the largest in the country. An NBA team would have to offer a big stage and even bigger paycheck to turn Coach Cal's head.
Those qualifications are the primary reason that only organizations like the Bulls, Knicks and Nets have been prominently rumored as suitors for Calipari.
Calipari can take a lesson from the NBA difficulties of former Kentucky coach and current in-state rival Rick Pitino, whose struggles in Boston sent him stomping back to the college game. Conversely, there could be motivation there, a desire to succeed where Pitino failed, and where Cal himself did the same in the 1990s.
Calhoun's comments could be seen as gamesmanship, trying to throw a wrench in Calipari's unstoppable recruiting machine. Ultimately, though, Calhoun did offer Zagoria one truth that no one who knows Calipari will dispute: “I think John very simply marches…to his own drummer.”
The anxiety and waiting are now just part of doing business for Big Blue Nation. Every time the Clippers, Lakers, Knicks, Nets and Bulls make a coaching change, the rumors will begin again.
Andy Enfield, USC
New USC coach Andy Enfield showed no red carpet discomfort at the ESPY ceremony, which bestowed the "Best Upset" award on his former Florida Gulf Coast team. While his team was categorized as a group of wide-eyed Cinderellas, the coach has spent plenty of time rubbing shoulders with respected names.
A former assistant to Rick Pitino with the Boston Celtics and a savvy recruiter for Leonard Hamilton at Florida State, Enfield has learned from veterans at both levels. His All Net Shooting company catered to players at all levels, including the pros. Recruits should be intrigued by the idea of learning their craft from a man who used to have NBA players paying him for similar instruction.
As a head coach, Enfield's CV is still very much a work in progress. He enjoyed surprising success in both of his seasons with FGCU, falling one game short of the NCAA tournament in his rookie season. The Sweet 16 run was an epic encore. Still, the air of the one-hit wonder surrounds him as he transitions to the Pac-12.
The biggest mark in Enfield's favor is his ability to recognize his own shortcomings. He lacked West Coast connections, so he went out and snared assistants familiar with California's AAU scene. That humility will be viewed favorably by an NBA general manager who's not interested in a prolonged power struggle with a new coach.
Enfield looked right at home in Los Angeles, unfazed by the cameras and lights of ESPN's pet award show. Trojan basketball fans hope he stays comfortable on their sideline for years to come.
Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg was one of the hot candidates for the Celtics' opening before Boston closed the deal with Brad Stevens. Depending on whether or not you believe Georges Niang's account of events, Hoiberg may have actually received an offer.
The question with Hoiberg isn't if—or when—he'll receive offers, it's how many he'll turn down before finally leaving Iowa State. Pulling a man away from coaching at his alma mater is hard enough without the school actually being located in the coach's hometown.
As a 10-year NBA player and former member of the Minnesota Timberwolves' front office, Hoiberg has been about the pro life before. His understanding of the differences for players would make him a man that both rookies and veterans could relate to and play for.
Iowa State's current niche as "Transfer U," with players rolling in from other schools around the country, isn't terribly different from NBA free agency. Replace paychecks with educational opportunities, and it's essentially the same—players looking for a good fit and a coach they can respect.
Hoiberg's laid-back demeanor is attractive to those transfers, and it could also draw professional veterans who just want someone to trust that they know their roles.
Whenever Hoiberg gets a job in the Association, it'll surely be controversial, because a pro club will need to pay him handsomely to pry him out of Ames. Still, as CBS Sports reported earlier this month, there's no one that other college coaches see as more prepared to mentor the pros.
Tom Izzo, Michigan State
Andy Enfield and Fred Hoiberg are younger coaches, guys in their forties who don't believe that their players respond well to a ranter and raver.
Michigan State's Tom Izzo is pushing 60, and he is a bit more old-school in his approach.
Granted, it doesn't work for everybody. Former Spartan point guard Korie Lucious called him an "in-your-face, yell, cuss-you-out type of guy" in a March interview with USA Today. Lucious said this from the safety of the Iowa State program, in which he landed after leaving East Lansing.
Izzo was famously intrigued by the Cleveland Cavaliers' job opening in 2010. He turned it down just in time to avoid being left holding the bag after LeBron James' defection to Miami. Following the decision (not to be confused with The Decision), Izzo put out a statement calling himself a "lifer."
Similar to Duke's 66-year-old coach Mike Krzyzewski, Izzo's age is advancing to the point where the thrill of a new challenge can't offset the difficulty of the change. Coach K is not included on this list for that very reason, and Izzo's window closes a little faster every time Michigan State threatens to reach the Final Four.
Kevin Ollie, UConn
Kevin Ollie is exactly the kind of player that makes a good NBA coach. A point guard for 11 teams in 13 years, Ollie appears to be cut out of the same cloth as Avery Johnson, Rick Carlisle, Scott Skiles and other veteran floor generals who transition to the bench.
Playing for that many teams gives a guy a lot of connections in the league. Those connections may prove to be a prime reason that Ollie can succeed as a college recruiter.
If not, there are plenty of general managers who would jump at the chance to hire a coach with Ollie's lack of ego. HoopsHype cites an Adrian Wojnarowski tweet claiming that Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti was eager to keep Ollie on staff when he retired.
Ollie toiled under the difficult specter of an interim coach's tag for the first half of his season at UConn. Although the team was barred from postseason play thanks to prior academic performance, motivation never seemed to flag. The Huskies fought their way to 20 wins, earning Ollie a five-year contract.
After achieving a winning season under that sort of challenge, the prospect of taking over a lottery team wouldn't seem quite so daunting. As Ollie racks up the years and wins at UConn, he'll also be connected to more professional openings.
Bill Self, Kansas
Bill Self's Kansas tenure has been marked with the kind of success that very few college coaches ever experience. In that respect, the 2008 national champion resembles peers like Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski.
Unlike Izzo and Coach K, Self says he's never been seriously approached by an NBA franchise. Quoted by The Oklahoman at his induction into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, Self said of coaching the pros, "I'm not saying I never would (coach in the NBA) but I'm locked in.”
The Edmond, Oklahoma native would be a natural first call for Sam Presti of the Thunder, also quoted in the above article. He has a longtime friendship with Spurs GM R.C. Buford, going back to the mid-1980s when both were KU assistants under Larry Brown.
Self has built other NBA relationships through not only sending more than 20 players to the pros, but in probing executives for draft feedback on behalf of his kids who left early.
The 50-year-old Self could conceivably coach another two decades or more. NBA salary and roster rules make assembling a roster much more difficult than the picking and choosing among elite recruits that he can currently do at Kansas. Still, would the challenge draw him in? He's never said never, and Jayhawk Nation can only wait.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.
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