The 25 Best Coaches to Never Win an NCAA Title

Alan RubensteinAnalyst IIIApril 12, 2011

The 25 Best Coaches to Never Win an NCAA Title

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    Butler’s run to the NCAA championship game the last two seasons have been spectacular. Brad Stevens, in just over a year, has established himself as one of the best young coaches in college basketball. The only thing left for him to accomplish is winning the NCAA championship.

    There have been many great coaches in the history of college basketball that have failed to win a national championship during storied careers. Some of these coaches are in the Hall of Fame and others should hear their names called someday. Here are the 25 best coaches in college basketball history that have failed to win a national championship.

25) Jack Hartman

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    Hartman followed Jack Gardner, Tex Winter and Cotton Fitzsimmons at Kansas State. All three led the Wildcats to at least the Sweet 16. Winter and Gardner took K-State to the Final Four.

    Hartman was hired after a successful run at Southern Illinois. He took over for Fitzsimmons who left for the NBA. In 16 seasons in Manhattan, Hartman won 295 games against 169 losses. Hartman made the most of his NCAA tournament appearances. In seven trips to the NCAA’s, Hartman advanced to four Elite Eights and six Sweet 16’s. He was never able to advance to the Final Four.

    Southern Illinois, 1966-70: 66-31; Kansas State, 1970-86: 295-169, 361-200; 20 years overall. 

24) Harry Litwack, Temple

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    Litwack was Temple’s front man for 21 years. He took the Owls to the 1956 and 1958 Final Four. Litwack posted a 373-193 record.

    Temple, 1952-1973: 373-193

23) Rick Majerus

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    Majerus has been successful wherever his coaching career has taken him. He led every school he has coached to a postseason berth. His best runs came at Utah. Under Majerus,the Utes lost in the 1998 NCAA championship, advanced to the 1997 Elite Eight and had two other Sweet 16 appearances.

    Majerus has an 18-12 NCAA tournament record. In 24 seasons as a head coach, his record is 491-208, a 70.2 career winning percentage.

    Marquette, 1983-86: 56-35; Ball State, 1987-89: 43-17; Utah, 1989-2003: 323-95 and Saint Louis, 2007-Present: 69-61. 491-208 overall, 24 years.  

22) Slats Gill

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    Gill led Oregon State for 36 seasons. The Beavers won 599 games and lost just 393 during his tenure. Under Gill, Oregon State won five conference titles and advanced to the 1949 and 1963 Final Four. Oregon State’s home court, Gill Coliseum, is named for him. Gill was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1968.

    Oregon State, 1928-64: 599-393

21) Thad Matta

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    Matta is one of just two coaches to post  20 victories in each of his first 10 seasons. After one season at his alma mater Butler, and three at Xavier, Matta was hired at Ohio State. In 11 seasons as a head coach, Matta has won seven conference titles. Six of those have been outright.

    His teams have advanced to one national championship Game/Final Four, two Elite Eights and four Sweet 16’s. He has a 292-88 record (76.8 winning percentage).

    Butler, 2000-01: 24-8; Xavier, 2001-04: 78-23 and Ohio State, 2004-Present: 190-57; 292-88 overall, 11 years

20) Ralph Miller

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    Miller led Wichita State, Iowa and Oregon State to 657 wins in 38 years against just 382 losses. He won conference championships at all three schools in the Missouri Valley, Big Ten and Pacific Ten. Miller’s only downfall was his inability to achieve postseason success. He had only two tournament runs past the second round.

    He advanced to the Elite Eight in his last season at Wichita State in 1964 and led Oregon State within a game of the Final Four in 1982. He finished his career with a 5-11 NCAA tournament record.

    When Miller retired after the 1990 season, he was first in wins among active coaches and seventh all-time. Miller was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988.

    Wichita State, 1951-64: 220-133;  Iowa, 1964-1970: 95-51 and Oregon State, 1970-1990: 342-198; 38 years.

19) Brad Stevens, Butler

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    In just four seasons, Stevens has established himself as one of the best coaches in the country. His 117-25 record translates to a winning percentage of 82.4.

    His accomplishments early in his career allows him to walk with the legends of the game. He set the record for most wins in NCAA history for a coach in his first three seasons. When Butler advanced to the 2010 NCAA championship game, Stevens became the second youngest coach to do so. The 2011 Final Four appearance made Stevens the youngest coach with two trips to the Final Four.

    The Bulldogs locked up Stevens through 2022 with a contract extension after the 2010 season. If a bigger school with a Brinks comes calling, its going to be hard to persuade him to stay in Nap Town.

    Butler, 2007-Present: 117-25 

18) Norm Stewart

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    Stewart led his alma for 32 seasons. Prior to Stewart’s arrival in Columbia, the Tigers had made only one NCAA tournament. Stewart led Missouri to eight regular season conference championships and six tournament titles. Stewart posted a record of 631-332. He took the Tigers to the Elite Eight twice and Sweet 16 five times. Mizzou is still seeking its program's first Final Four.

    Missouri, 1968-99: 631-332. 

17) Pete Carril

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    Carill is the only coach in college basketball history to win 500 games without benefit of a scholarship. In 29 years at Princeton, Carril finished 514-261. Carril’s final NCAA tournament win was his most memorable.

    Princeton upset defending national champion UCLA 43-41 on a patented backdoor cut for a layup.

    His “Princeton” offense that utilizes motion and backdoor cuts, had been used by at least five NBA teams and 10 college programs.

    Lehigh, 1966-67: 11-12 and Princeton, 1967-1996: 514-261; 525-273, 30 years overall.

16) Gene Keady

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    Before Keady arrived at Purdue, the Boilermakers had only three NCAA tournament appearances. In his 25 seasons in West Lafayette, Keady’s teams appeared in 17 NCAA tournaments.

    He won 493 games at Purdue and 512 overall. Although he advanced to two Elite Eights and five Sweet 16's, Keady never led Purdue to the Final Four. The Boilermakers had a 19-18 NCAA tournament record under Keady’s leadership.

    Western Kentucky, 1978-80: 38-19; Purdue, 1980-2005: 493-287; 27 years overall, 531-306

15) Terry Holland

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    Holland is best known for coaching Ralph Sampson at Virginia. Sampson was a three-time Naismith Player of the Year. The Sampson era was the highlight of Holland’s career at Virginia. In his four seasons, they won the NIT when that was still considered important, and advanced to one Final Four, two Elite Eights and three Sweet 16’s.

    In Holland’s 16 seasons in Charlottesville, he led the Cavaliers to a 418-216 record. In addition to the success with Sampson, UVA advanced to one more Final Four and two Sweet 16’s during his tenure. He finished his coaching career with a very respectable 15-10 NCAA tournament record.

    After retiring from Virginia, he moved on to become the Athletic Director at Davidson. He returned to UVA five years later as their AD.

    Davidson, 1969-74: 92-43; Virginia, 1974-90: 326-173; 418-216, 21 years.

14) Lefty Driesell

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    Driesell’s 786 career wins are second to only Eddie Sutton among coaches that have never won a title. The left-hander never advanced to the Final Four. He is one of only a few coaches to lead four schools to the NCAA tournament. He retired in January of 2003 at Georgia State.

    Driesell’s teams made four trips to the Elite Eight and eight to the Sweet 16 in 13 NCAA tournament appearances.

    Part of his legacy is that he is credited with the creation of midnight madness.

    Davidson, 1960-69: 176-65; Maryland, 1969-86: 348-159; James Madison, 1988-97: 159-111 and Georgia State, 1997-2003: 103-59; 41 years.

13) Everett Case

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    Case led North Carolina State for 19 seasons. The Wolfpack compiled a 377-134 record in his tenure. Under Case, the Wolfpack advanced to seven NCAA tournaments, including the 1950 Final Four. NC State won nine conference titles in his first 13 seasons.

    Case is credited with making basketball king in North Carolina, the practice of cutting the nets down after a championship and the popularity of the ACC tournament.

    North Carolina State, 1946-65: 377-134

12) Ben Howland

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    In 17 seasons as a head coach, Ben Howland can be credited as a program builder. Howland led Northern Arizona to their first NCAA tournament bid in 1997, guided Pittsburgh to its three-straight Big East Tournament championship games and rebuilt UCLA into a national powerhouse.

    At Pitt, the Panthers' 2003 Big East Tournament championship game was the program’s first. Before Howland arrived at Pittsburgh, the Panthers had only one NCAA trip in the previous eight seasons and hadn’t advanced past the second round since 1974. In his final two seasons, the Panthers finished 57-11.

    At UCLA, Howland restored the Bruins as a Pac-10 and national power. They advanced to three straight Final Fours from 2006-08, including the 2006 national championship game. Howland has a 357-182 career record and a 19-9 NCAA tournament record.  

    Northern Arizona, 1994-99: 79-59; Pittsburgh, 1999-2003: 89-40 and UCLA, 2003-Present: 189-83. 357-182, 17 years. 

11) Lou Carnesecca

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    In the early days of the Big East, Carnesecca was one of its biggest characters and most successful coaches. In 24 years leading the then-Redmen, Carnesecca guided St. John’s to a 526-200 record. They advanced to the 1985 Final Four, along with four trips to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16. They also won five Big East titles.

    St. John’s, 1965-70 and 1973-1992: 526-200.

10) John Chaney

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    Before John Chaney arrived at Temple, the Owls had only one NCAA tournament appearance in the previous 11 years. Under Chaney’s leadership, the Owls made 17 trips to the tournament in his first 18 seasons.

    Chaney compiled a 516-253 career record in 24 seasons at Temple. He led the Owls to the Elite Eight five times, but they were never able to secure a berth to the Final Four.

    Temple, 1982-2006: 516-253.

9) Harry Combes

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    Combes led the University of Illinois for 20 seasons. He enjoyed the majority of his success early in his tenure in Champaign. They advanced to three Final Fours in Combes' first five seasons. Combes led the Illini to only one other NCAA tournament appearance. The Illini lost in the Elite Eight in 1962. In Combes’ era, conferences were only allowed to send one team to the NCAA tournament. Combes retired from Illinois at the conclusion of the 1967 season with a 316-150 record.

    Illinois, 1947-67: 316-150.

8) Lou Henson

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    Henson compiled a 779-412 career record in 42 seasons at Hardin-Simmons, New Mexico State and Illinois. He turned the Aggies around immediately. They improved from 4-22 the year before Henson’s arrival to 15-11 and an NCAA tournament berth in his second. Henson led the Aggies to the 1970 Final Four and six NCAA tournaments in nine seasons at his alma mater. He left for Illinois at the conclusion of the 1975 season.

    Henson led Illinois to the 1989 Final Four and his 214 career Big Ten wins ranked third at the time of his retirement. The man who made the Lou-Do famous is still waiting for his call to Springfield.

    Hardin-Simmons, 1962-66: 67-36; New Mexico State, 1966-75: 1997-2005: 289-152 and Illinois, 1975-96: 423-224; 42 years, 779-412

7) Jack Gardner

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    Gardner is the only coach to ever take two schools to the Final Four twice. He led Kansas State to college basketball’s promised land in 1948 and 1951 and Utah in 1961 and 1966. In a 32-year career, Gardner was 486-235, he also advanced to the 1956 Elite Eight with Utah, in addition to his four Final Four appearances.

    Gardner was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984. He is also a member of nine other Hall of Fames. Gardner was a scout for the Utah Jazz from 1979 until 1991 and is credited with discovering fellow Hall of Famer John Stockton.

    Kansas State, 1939-53: 147-81 and Utah, 1953-71: 339-154; 28 Years, 486-235.

6) Bob Huggins

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    Before Bob Huggins arrived at Cincinnati, the Bearcats had only three NCAA tournament appearances in the 23 previous seasons. In Huggins' 16 seasons in the Queen City, he led the Bearcats to the NCAA tournament in all of his final 14 seasons there. Under Huggy Bear, Cincy advanced to one Final Four, two Elite Eights and four Sweet 16’s.

    After being unceremoniously dismissed from UC, he spent one year at Kansas State before taking over at his alma mater West Virginia. He has led the Mountaineers to the NCAA tournament in all four of his seasons in Morgantown, including the 2010 Final Four.

    Huggins has a career record of 620-227, including a 27-19 career NCAA tournament record.

    Akron, 1984-89: 97-46; Cincinnati, 1989-2005: 399-127; Kansas State, 2006-07: 23-12 and West Virginia, 2007-Present: 101-42; 26 years, 620-227. 

5) John Calipari

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    John Calipari made a name for himself at Massachusetts. He led the Minutemen to their second NCAA appearance in school history in 1992. They made the NCAA tournament the next four seasons before Calipari left for the New Jersey Nets. UMass advanced to its only Final Four appearance in 1996.

    He returned to college basketball in the fall of 2000 at Memphis. He rebuilt the Tigers into a national power. In six seasons in Graceland, the Tigers went to six NCAA tournaments, advanced to three Elite Eights and lost in the 2008 NCAA championship game.

    He left for Kentucky following the 2009 season. Calipari has a 459-150 career record. This season, Calipari became only the second coach (Rick Pitino was the first) ever to lead three schools to the Final Four. In addition to the three Final Fours, Calipari has also coached in seven Elite Eights and eight Sweet 16’s. He has a 28-12 career NCAA tournament record.

    Massachusetts,1988-96: 189-70; Memphis, 2000-2009: 214-69 and Kentucky, 2009-Present: 64-12.

4) Vic Bubas

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    Bubas accomplished a lot in his short coaching career. In just 10 seasons heading Duke, he led the Blue Devils to a  213-67 record and three Final Four appearances. He is widely credited with making Duke a national program and being the first coach to aggressively recruit players.

    He retired from coaching in 1942 at the age of 42.  He would eventually become the first commissioner of the Sun Belt conference in 1976 before retiring in 1990.

    Duke, 1959-69: 213-67

3) Ray Meyer

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    Meyer had an amazing 42-year run at DePaul. He enjoyed his greatest successes very early and very late in his career. Meyer lost only 43 games in his first seven seasons and 30 in his last seven. Hall of Fame center George Mikan helped the Blue Demons to three NIT Final Four appearances from 1943-45. They won the title in 1945.

    DePaul finally made its first NCAA Final Four appearance in 1979, Meyer’s 37th season as coach. The next three years after that, DePaul earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They were unable to translate their regular season success into deep runs in the tournament. DePaul lost in their first NCAA tournament game (then the second round for top seeds) from 1980-1982.

    DePaul, 1942-84: 724-354.

2) Guy V. Lewis

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    Lewis coached for 30 years at the University of Houston, posting a 592-279 career record. He led the Cougars to five Final Fours. He was instrumental in desegregation, the re-installment of the dunk in college basketball and the current popularity of basketball becoming an up-tempo, more athletic game that is played above the rim.

    His early eighties Phi Slamma Jamma teams featured Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon and current BYU coach Dave Rose. They made college basketball appointment TV. Many criticized Lewis for his tactics in the Cougars 1983 championship game loss to North Carolina State. Houston didn't force the tempo and NC State was able to play a slower tempo to pull the 54-52 shocker.

    Despite losing Drexler, Houston would return to the title game a year later. In a legendary showdown, Olajuwon and Houston lost to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown.

    Lewis also helped usher in dome stadiums for use for major college basketball games. On January 20, 1968, Houston hosted UCLA and Lou Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabaar). Houston upset UCLA to end the Bruins' 47-game win streak and usher in a new era of college basketball.

1) Eddie Sutton

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    Sutton coached 36 years of college basketball at five Division I schools. He was the first coach to lead four schools to the NCAA tournament (Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State) and is one of eight coaches to accumulate 800 wins. He took Arkansas to the 1978 Final Four and his alma mater Oklahoma State to the 1995 and 2004 Final Fours. He has yet to be elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. With his accomplishments, he deserves to be in. Sutton had a 803-328 record in 37 years.

    Creighton, 1969-74: 82-50; Arkansas, 1974-85: 260-75; Kentucky, 1985-89: 88-39; Oklahoma State, 1990-2006: 368-151 and San Francisco, 2007-08: 6-13.