Ranking the 10 Greatest Coaching Rivalries in College Basketball History
One of the most intriguing parts of college basketball is to see some of the classic coaching matchups that take place both during the regular season and during March Madness.
It is fascinating to watch accomplished coaches go at it, using every strategy, every approach in their repertoire to win closely contested games.
Here is a list ranking the 10 greatest coaching rivalries in college basketball history.
Many of these rivalries come from the past. Some are still in force today.
All of them reflect some of the best coaches of all-time going against a most challenging counterpart.
Here we go!
10. Chuck Daly vs. Pete Carril
Before former Penn coach Chuck Daly went on to the NBA, he waged epic battles with Princeton’s Pete Carril for the Ivy League title.
You could not find two more opposite styles. Daly was a well-groomed clothes horse. Carril was a rumpled mess who liked to smoke cigars.
During Daly’s six seasons leading the Quakers, he won four league championships.
His overall record at Penn was 125–38 (74–10 within the Ivy League).
During the time that Daly was at Penn, Pete Carril went 117-44, going 73-11 in the Ivy League, winning two Ivy League championships (the two Daly did not win), as well as taking the 1975 NIT championship.
To this day, Carril is the Ivy League’s all-time winningest coach, posting a 514-261 record over the scope of 29 seasons.
Sports Illustrated’s Kent Hannon once wrote:
Chuck Daly for years Carril's rival at Penn and now an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers, once gave a pep talk to his Quaker team in which he said, ‘We have to play our hearts out to win this game. Princeton is a tough team. And they're better coached.’
9. John Wooden vs. Pete Newell
UCLA’s John Wooden is widely considered one of the greatest coaches of all time in any sport.
His history-making record of 10 NCAA men’s basketball championships in 12 seasons is not likely to be broken.
Even though Pete Newell is not known nearly as much as Wooden, he is also thought of as one of the top coaches from college basketball’s yesteryear.
His record of 233-133 while at San Francisco (1946-50), Michigan State (1950-54) and Cal (1954-60) does not tell the whole story. Newell’s 1959 Cal team won the NCAA championship.
Also, he was one of the few coaches who seemed to have Wooden’s number.
The L.A. Times’ Jerry Crowe recalled:
Newell, who had coached previously at San Francisco and Michigan State, was matched against Wooden 15 times over six seasons at Cal.
Wooden's teams won the first seven, Newell's the last eight.
It was not always a cordial rivalry, written accounts suggest. In the Wooden biography "The Wizard of Westwood," authors Dwight Chapin and Jeff Prugh describe Newell as the UCLA coach's "bitter nemesis."
And in "A Good Man: The Pete Newell Story," author Bruce Jenkins writes that the two men had little in common, "and neither had much respect for the other's style."
Crowe also noted that, a year after Newell’s retirement in 1960, “UCLA started a 52-game, 25-year winning streak against Cal and, in 1962, Wooden and the Bruins reached the Final Four for the first time.”
8. Billy Tubbs vs. Larry Brown
Brown’s five years in Lawrence were impressive.
He posted a 135-44 record at KU (75.4 winning percentage). The Jayhawks won the 1986 conference title on his watch.
Tubbs had quite a run in Norman.
His OU teams went 333-132 (71.6 winning percentage) overall, but were particularly outstanding during the time that Brown was prowling the sidelines at KU.
From 1983-88, the Sooners were 145-34 (81.0 winning percentage) and won the conference championship three times.
Though Brown and Tubbs saw each other plenty of times during their conference matchups, it is their battle in the 1988 NCAA championship game that will forever stick out as most important.
Oklahoma was favored after winning both of their regular season games. Kansas, however, was on a historic roll.
Brown and the Jayhawks won it all, with Danny Manning writing one of the greatest chapters in NCAA tournament history.
7. Lute Olson vs. Jerry Tarkanian
Coaching greats Lute Olson and Jerry Tarkanian legitimately deserve their Hall of Fame selections.
Both coaches had over 700 career wins (Olson, 780; Tarkanian, 729) and they each won NCAA championships.
However, there is no love lost between Olson and Tarkanian.
In a 1988 Sports Illustrated article, Alexander Wolff shed some light on their feud:
The bad feelings have their roots in the early '70s, when Olson, then coaching at Long Beach City College, and Tarkanian, then at Long Beach State, lunched together frequently and steered players each other's way. When Tark left for UNLV in 1973, Lute took over at Long Beach State, where he inherited a passel of fine talent—and an untidy NCAA probation.
Their dispute extended further into their careers and onto the recruiting trail. Wolf also pointed out that:
More recently, in 1986, UNLV received an oral commitment from a junior college talent named Tom Tolbert. The night before he was scheduled to sign, Arizona swooped in to nab Tolbert, who became a starter on the Wildcats Final Four team last spring. Tarkanian felt stung. "There was a 180-degree turnaround in one night, and those things just don't happen," says Tarkanian, who believes that Tolbert in a UNLV uniform would have meant a national title for the Rebels two years ago.
For this interchange, Tarkanian publicly referred to Olson as “Midnight Lute.”
6. Roy Williams vs. Mike Krzyzewski
Roy Williams is, without a doubt, one of the top current college basketball coaches.
As of the end of the 2012-13 season, Williams has won two NCAA championships at North Carolina and has a career record of 700-180 with a 79.5 winning percentage. Impressive.
Starting in 2003, when he took his dream job in Chapel Hill, Williams jumped into one of the great coaching rivalries with his nearby adversary, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
The results of this rivalry have been fairly even. Coach K has won 12 times, while Roy has been victorious in 9 contests.
UNC’s Roy Williams has a built-in distaste for Duke, but a great respect for Krzyzewski.
Citizen-Times.com’s Keith Jarrett quoted Williams concerning his high opinion of his rival:
He’s the face of college basketball, and has been for a while after Coach Smith and Coach (Bobby) Knight retired, and since then it’s been Mike more than anyone else.
I hate losing to them, it’s been some of the toughest things I’ve had to put up with, but it would be impossible for me to respect any more what he has accomplished than I already do.
It is always great to hear that some of the elite coaches (and biggest rivals) actually esteem each other.
5. Bo Ryan vs. Tom Izzo
These two court side commanders have both had great success at their respective schools.
Izzo has spent his entire head coaching career at MSU, winning an NCAA championship in 2000, making six trips to the Final Four and posting a 437-176 record.
Ryan spent many years coming up through the ranks at Wisconsin-Platteville and Milwaukee before coming to Madison in 2001.
Ryan has taken his UW teams to the NCAA tournament every season. He has posted a 291-113 record at Wisconsin, with a 674-216 career mark.
When these two titans go head-to-head, look out.
Their teams reflect their personalities. Both play an extremely physical and intense brand of ball.
Ryan has done what many coaches have not been able to do: consistently beat Tom Izzo.
Ryan’s teams beat Michigan State the first six times that they played them.
The current rivalry record stands at 13-11 in Ryan’s favor. Izzo’s Spartan’s have won the last five meetings between these two Big Ten teams.
With the expanded conference membership, Michigan State and Wisconsin only meet once (Feb. 9 in Madison) in the upcoming season.
Definitely a game to watch!
4. Jim Calhoun vs. Jim Boeheim
The spirited rivalry between Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun lasted over a quarter of a century (1986-2012).
During his time in Storrs, Calhoun won three NCAA championships (1999, 2004 and 2011), seven Big East tournament championships and 10 regular season Big East titles.
During those same 26 years, Boeheim acquired one NCAA championship (2003), four Big East tournament championships (five in his career) and eight regular season Big East titles (nine overall).
The New Haven Register’s David Borges quoted Calhoun about the rivalry between the Huskies and Orange:
There is not any question in my mind they have been our No. 1 rival in the Big East. I do not remember a game played with them that was not meaningful.
The feeling was apparently mutual with the Orange’s head coach. Syracuse.com’s Mike Waters captured Boeheim’s thoughts:
We have been unbelievably competitive. That’s our relationship, but we always had respect for each other. That’s the key. We had great respect for how we played each other over the years.
Syracuse holds a 54-37 all-time advantage in the rivalry between these two college hoops heavyweights.
3. Bob Knight vs. Gene Keady
The intense in-state rivalry between Purdue and Indiana extends to much more than college basketball.
However, the two-decade battle (1980-2000) between Gene Keady and Bob Knight may have trumped any other struggle.
Knight’s 902 career victories and three NCAA championships outpaces Keady’s 550 career wins (512 coming at Purdue).
But their head-to-head battles were much more closely fought.
During the time that these two coaching greats faced each other in the Hoosier state, Keady won seven Big Ten coach of the year awards and Knight won five (Knight won eight overall at IU).
In terms of conference regular season success during the 1980’s and 90’s, Keady’s Boilermakers won six Big Ten regular season championships, while Knight’s Hoosiers won seven.
In terms of actual games that Keady and Knight coached against each other, Keady beat a Knight-coached IU team 21 of 41 games.
Technically, because Purdue had to vacate a win, Knight holds the advantage 21-20.
2. Rick Pitino vs. John Calipari
These two high-octane coaches have been clashing for many years.
Presently, their rivalry record is 9-9. It does not get any closer than that.
What makes this rivalry that much more interesting is to see that these two charismatic coaches cannot stand each other.
Two years ago, CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander blogged about an exhibition game that was set up for Calipari’s Dominican National Team to play against former UK players in Louisville’s home arena.
Norlander laid it all out:
Louisville and Pitino were so anti-Kentucky when this new joint got built, they had it put into the contract that Kentucky could not play any games at the Yum! Center. And, technically, they're not -- it's former Kentucky players going up against the Dominican National Team.
Still, Pitino is biting the inside of his cheeks as much as he can on this. Just (not really) grinning and (barely) bearing it. And I'm sure he hated having to address it to the media yesterday, when a press conference was scheduled so he could discuss his team's upcoming summer plans. Pitino and the Cardinals will be just getting back from the Bahamas when this game is taking place. And then there's this from the AP:
When an obviously irritated Pitino was asked why isn't the exhibition game being played at Freedom Hall, he said: "Why don't you ask them that?"
When their particular teams play, it is usually one of the highlights of the season.
This year’s matchup on December 28 will be a battle royal.
Must see holiday hoops action!
1. Dean Smith vs. Mike Krzyzewski
Legend versus Legend.
This is how you could describe the matchup every time that Dean Smith’s Tar Heels and Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils went at it.
From 1980 to 1997, these two illustrious coaches battled 38 times, with Smith coming out on top in 24 games. Many of these contests greatly influenced ACC regular season titles, conference tournament championships or even various parts of NCAA tournaments.
WBTW’s Jeff Reeves stated that Smith and Krzyzewski’s “elite coaching brought the Duke-UNC rivalry to a national audience.”
In Reeves’ recent interview with Coach K, the all-time winningest coach said this about his next-door rival:
The standard he set motivated everyone in the league and motivated me. Being able to compete against the best every year helps you.
Two great coaches. Two competitive rivals. Two exceptional men.