The Defining Moment of 10 Great College Basketball Coaches' Careers
The best coaches in college basketball have moments that have defined their careers.
For many of them, it’s involved winning a national championship and shedding the “unable to win the big one” label. For others, it’s involved taking a position at a new program that has put them in a position to have a new level of success.
No matter when the defining moment was, there’s no question that the following ten men are some of the best coaches in college basketball.
The following list looks at the defining moment for ten of the best coaches in the game.
10. John Beilein: Leading Michigan to the 2013 Final Four
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John Beilein has long been regarded as one of the best tacticians in college basketball. His teams always feature an innovative offense that is beautiful to watch and difficult to defend.
However, it was unclear whether Beilein’s style of play provided enough substance and consistency to be effective in the NCAA tournament.
That question was answered this past season when Beilein’s Michigan Wolverines reached the 2013 Final Four. Beilein took gifted athletes at Michigan and built his offense around them, making the Wolverines one of the most dangerous teams in college basketball.
He nearly led Michigan to a national championship before ultimately falling short against Louisville, but it still validated everything about Beilein’s approach to the game.
9. Thad Matta: Landing the “Thad Five” Recruiting Class in 2006
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Thad Matta worked his way up through the ranks of the mid-majors by having incredible success with programs that competed very well in the NCAA tournament. This success is what eventually landed him the job at Ohio State.
Similar to John Calipari going to Kentucky, Matta’s success went to another level once he had access to the resources of coaching at a major program.
He landed the top recruiting class in the country in 2006, which was known as the “Thad Five.” This class included Greg Oden, the No. 1 ranked player in the country. The class lived up to the hype in its first season together and Matta led the Buckeyes to the 2007 Final Four.
With his coaching and recruiting ability, the “Thad Five” proved Matta had become a force to be reckoned with.
8. Bill Self: Winning the National Championship in 2008
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Prior to 2008, Bill Self and his teams at Kansas had a reputation of underachieving in the NCAA tournament.
Fortunately for Kansas, Bill Self was able to get the monkey off his back when the Jayhawks defeated Memphis in the national championship game in 2008. It was one of the most thrilling games in the history of the tournament and Kansas defeated an incredibly talented Memphis team.
Self proved he could lead a team to the pinnacle of NCAA tournament success and handle the incredible pressure to win at Kansas.
7. Billy Donovan: Returning to Florida in 2007
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Billy Donovan established himself as one of the best coaches in college basketball when he led the Florida Gators to back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007.
However, he nearly took that success and used it as a stepping stone when he accepted the head coaching position for the Orlando Magic in the NBA following the 2007 season.
After less than a week as head coach of the Magic, Donovan had a change of heart and elected to return to the University of Florida.
The Gators immediately re-hired Donovan and he did not have to face the potential situation of leading an NBA team through a rebuilding process. Instead, he chose to keep his position as an outstanding college basketball coach.
6. Jim Boeheim: Winning the National Championship in 2003
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Until 2003, Jim Boeheim’s career at Syracuse had been defined by heartbreaking losses on the biggest stage.
Boeheim had led Syracuse to the national championship game in 1987 and 1996, but the Orange fell just short in both games. The loss to Indiana in 1987 was particularly painful, as Syracuse held the lead until Keith Smart’s jumper with four seconds remaining gave the Hoosiers a one-point win.
However, Boeheim finally was able to call himself a national championship coach when he guided the Orange back to the Final Four in 2003. This time, Boeheim and his Syracuse team would not be denied as the Orange defeated Kansas in the national championship game.
It was vindication for Boeheim’s earlier defeats in the Final Four and provided the ultimate credibility to his unique coaching style.
5. Roy Williams: Becoming the Head Coach at North Carolina
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Roy Williams grew up in Asheville, North Carolina. He graduated from the University of North Carolina. He even spent 10 years as an assistant coach at North Carolina under Dean Smith.
Though he left to become the head coach at Kansas in 1988, North Carolina has always been home for Roy Williams.
He considered returning to North Carolina in 2000 to become the head coach of the Tar Heels after Bill Guthridge retired, but ultimately decided to remain at Kansas. When the opportunity presented itself again in 2003 to return to Chapel Hill, Williams couldn’t resist the Tar Heels.
He returned home to North Carolina and helped restore the Tar Heels to greatness after a difficult period during the Matt Doherty era. The move ended up being a perfect match for the university and for Williams.
4. Tom Izzo: Winning the National Championship in 2000
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Tom Izzo had the unenviable position of replacing Jud Heathcote when he became the head coach at Michigan State in 1995.
Yet, Izzo has taken the Michigan State program to a new level of success during his 18 years of leading the Spartans.
He proved he was more than just a former Heathcote assistant when he guided the Spartans to the national championship in 2000.
It was the second of three consecutive trips to the Final Four for Michigan State, and it established Izzo as one of the best young coaches in the game. It also helped serve as the catalyst in what has made Izzo’s program one of the truly elite in college basketball over the past 15 years.
3. John Calipari: Becoming the Head Coach at Kentucky
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Based on his incredible recruiting ability, it was only a matter of time before John Calipari would lead a team to a national championship.
He came close at UMass and Memphis, but neither school offered the type of resources and prestige he would have at one of the major programs in the country.
The biggest moment of his career came when he decided to take the head coaching job at Kentucky.
With one of the most passionate fanbases in college sports, Kentucky fans knew Calipari would be the man to lead their team back to the promised land. The school would also provide Calipari with unlimited resources and tradition that he could use to bring recruits to Lexington.
With the support of Big Blue Nation, it only took Calipari three seasons to lead the Wildcats to a national championship.
2. Rick Pitino: Winning the National Championship in 1996
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When Rick Pitino led Kentucky to the Final Four in 1996, it was his third time guiding a team to a Final Four. He was the head coach at Providence in 1987 when the Friars reached the Final Four and at Kentucky when the Wildcats made the 1993 Final Four.
No one doubted that Pitino was a great coach. But people questioned whether or not he could win the big game.
Pitino erased all doubt when the Wildcats defeated Syracuse to win the national championship in 1996. The 1996 Kentucky team was loaded with talent and is arguably one of the best teams in the history of college basketball.
It was also a huge accomplishment for the Kentucky program, as Pitino had picked up the pieces and restored the program to greatness after the scandals caused by Eddie Sutton’s tenure as head coach.
1. Mike Krzyzewski: Passing Bob Knight on the All-Time Wins List
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On November 15, 2011, Mike Krzyzewski won his 903rd game as a head coach, making him the winningest coach in the history of Division I men’s basketball.
Krzyzewski got his 903rd win under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden against Michigan State, which is coached by his good friend Tom Izzo. The man he passed on the list is Bob Knight, his mentor and former college coach.
Knight was also in attendance that night, and the two shared a warm embrace immediately after the game as he congratulated Krzyzewski.
Having already won four national championships, the spot atop the list of winningest coaches cemented Krzyzewski’s legacy as one of best coaches in the history of basketball.