The 10 Most Bitter Coaching Rivalries in College Basketball

Jake Curtis@jakecurtis53Featured ColumnistMarch 7, 2013

The 10 Most Bitter Coaching Rivalries in College Basketball

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    Today's world of social media, increased exposure and public relations concerns has dampened the coaching feuds that once pervaded college basketball.

    Coaches now often hide or disguise their disdain for opposing coaches for the good of their high-salaried careers and their school's image.

    Usually only hints of bitter rivalries remain and sometimes the so-called rivalry is more a product of happenstance than authentic animosity. In a few cases, the rivalry is noticeable to the public. 

    We start with an homage to the coaching rivalries of the past. Then, we count down nine current coaching rivalries.

10. Past Coaching Rivalries

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    Counting down eight classic coaching rivalries of the past:

    8. Jerry Tarkanian vs. Lute Olson: Tarkanian called Olson "Midnight Lute" for his recruiting practices and laid it on Olson in a Sports Illustrated article, according to the Tucson Citizen.

    7.Gene Keady vs. Bob Knight: The two intense coaches had years of passionate contests when Purdue battled Indiana for supremacy in a basketball-crazed state. Knight's chair-tossing incident came against Purdue.

    6. Bruce Pearl vs. Jimmy Collins:  Pearl turned in Illinois on a recruiting violation when Collins was an Illinois assistant. As a result, the two did not shake hands after games when Collins became head coach at Illinois (Chicago) and Pearl was head coach of Wisconsin (Milwaukee).

    5. Rick Barnes vs. Dean Smith: Barnes, then head coach of Clemson, had a heated sideline exchange with Smith during an ACC tournament game in 1995 after the North Carolina coach pointed at one of Clemson's player following a hard foul.

    4. Billy Donovan vs. Eddie Fogler: In 1998, Fogler, then South Carolina's head coach, made a reference to a Southeastern Conference school involved in unethical recruiting. He obviously meant Florida, coached by Donovan. Donovan called Fogler a coward for not naming the school.

    3. Pete Gillen vs. Bob Huggins: Huggins, then head coach at Cincinnati, and Gillen, Xavier's head coach, exchanged heated insults during a game in 1994.  Huggins refused to shake Gillen's hand afterward in this intense Cincinnati rivalry.

    2. Billy Tubbs vs. Norm Stewart: Stewart refused to shake hands with Tubbs after Missouri beat Tubbs' Oklahoma team in 1986. Earlier in the season, Tubbs had called Stewart "Francis the talking horse." Tubbs later "apologized" for not calling him a mule rather than a horse. 

    1. John Chaney vs. John Calipari: Temple coach Chaney charged at Massachusetts coach Calipari during Caliprari's postgame press conference in 1994. Chaney threatened to kill Calipari, still a YouTube favorite.


9. Bruce Weber vs. Bill Self

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    The Bruce Weber-Bill Self rivalry is predicate on a single anecdote and happenstance rather than any documented animosity between the two.

    After Weber succeeded Self as head coach of Illinois, much of the credit for the Illini's accomplishments was given to Self for recruiting the players Weber coached. To try to remove the shadow Self cast over his players, Weber held a mock Bill Self funeral at an Illinois practice in 2003.

    The mock funeral became relevant again when Weber became head coach of Kansas State, the arch rival of Kansas, coached by Self.

    It may be just coincidence that Kansas won both regular-season meetings between the two teams currently tied for the Big 12 lead. The Jayhawks won the latter matchup by 21 points.

8. Thad Matta vs. Bo Ryan

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    This perceived rivalry is born mostly from the fact that Ohio State's Thad Matta and Wisconsin's Bo Ryan rank first and second all-time in winning percentage in Big Ten games.

    The boisterous Ryan has given the notion of a rivalry some legs with verbal jabs.

    Matta expressed surprise at his team's play in a loss to Wisconsin despite a good practice the previous day. Ryan later responded by saying the quality of a practice seldom indicates how a team will perform on game day.

    In 2011, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger claimed a Wisconsin fan spit on him after a Badgers victory. A few days later, Ryan said he saw no evidence of a spit and added, according to, "All I know is, we won the game. Deal with it." 

7. Scott Drew vs. Rick Barnes

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    A single quote established the uncomfortable feelings between Texas head coach Rick Barnes and Baylor coach Scott Drew.

    Barnes spoke about his adversarial relationship with Drew and the latter's recruiting practices, according to a New York Times blog report.

    “There’s a line that he knows that he can’t cross with me,” Barnes said, of Drew in the Times report. “He knows that. He definitely knows that.”

    The fact that both coach in the state of Texas and that Drew has had success recently may have something to do with this bitter relationship.

    Texas may have ended Baylor's NCAA tournament hopes by beating the Bears 79-70 in their second meeting of the season.

6. Mark Few vs. Lorenzo Romar

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    This rivalry between Gonzaga's Mark Few and Washington's Lorenzo Romar may be dead because the in-state rivals no longer meet.

    A 2010 story by Dan Raley on outlined why those teams are unlikely to face each other again after their last meeting in the 2006-2007 season.

    Few responded to suggestions of renewing the rivalry by saying, according to the Raley report, “The chances of that happening are about the same as Bigfoot having my baby.”

    Few said he thought those comments were off the record.

    Gonzaga officials had reported Cameron Dollar (then a Washington assistant under Romar) to the NCAA for Dollar's missteps in the recruitment of Josh Heytvelt, who eventually signed with Gonzaga, 

    Romar asked Few why the differences could not have been settled in private. Soon thereafter,the teams stopped their annual rivalry after meeting for 10 consecutive seasons.

5. Dan Muller vs. Gregg Marshall

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    This one involves the staffs of Illinois State and Wichita State more than the Shockers' Gregg Marshall and the Redbirds' Dan Muller specifically.

    After Wichita State's one-point victory over Illinois State last month, members of the two staffs got into a heated argument outside the locker rooms, according to the Wichita Eagle. No punches were thrown, but security guards were called in.

    “That was crazy. It was uncalled for, I’ll just put it that way,” Marshall told the Eagle afterward.

    The Shockers won the game by outscoring Illinois State 8-0 in the final 40 seconds with the help of a controversial flagrant foul call. The Missouri Valley Conference later said the wrong Wichita State player was allowed to shoot the free throws on the play.

4. Mike Krzyzewski vs. Roy Williams

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    The Duke-North Carolina rivalry is so intense that any suggestion of a coaching feud can develop into a major story.

    The Tar Heels' Roy Williams and Blue Devils' Mike Krzyzewski provided the necessary ingredients in 2008.

    Duke freshman Nolan Smith had been playing through a knee injury when Krzyzewski said on his radio show, "unlike other schools, we don't release our injuries," according to an story.

    Williams interpreted that as a dig against his program and, according to the story, responded, "I don't give a crap what somebody else says, but coach their own damn team, I'll coach my team."

    That was five years ago and no animosity between the two coaches has arisen since. However, in this rivalry, fans' memories fade slowly.

3. Donnie Tyndall vs. Tom Herrion

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    Something more than competitive basketball seems to be at work when a team beats a conference opponent by 56 points.

    That's what happened earlier this season when Donnie Tyndall's Southern Mississippi squad thumped Tom Herrion's Marshall team 102-46.

    Chuck Landon of the Huntington (W. Va.) Herald-Dispatch claimed the explanation is simple: The two Conference USA coaches share a common hatred for one another.

    Landon said it stems from an incident when Tyndall was head coach at Morehead State and declined an invitation from Herrion to schedule a game with Marshall. Tyndall reportedly blamed Herrion for prodding Landon into chiding Tyndall about it in print.

    Presumably revenge was sweet for Herrion when Marshall won the rematch 88-84. Tyndall refused to speak to the media afterward, according to the Herald-Dispatch.

2. Frank Haith vs. Mike Anderson

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    This rivalry erupted during the 93-63 shellacking that Frank Haith's Missouri squad laid on Mike Anderson's Arkansas team.

    It was Anderson's first visit to Columbia, Missouri since departing as Tigers coach following the 2010-2011 season. As Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted, this one seemed personal for Haith.

    Missouri senior Alex Oriakhi told Strauss he had never seen Haith so emotional during a game.

    Anderson had made earlier comments suggesting he had supplied the talent that helped Haith have success in his first season with Missouri. Anderson said the 2011-2012 Tigers, who lost to Norfolk State in the NCAA tournament's first round, could have been a Final Four team, according to Steve Walentik of the Columbia Daily Tribune.

    The Tigers poured it on Arkansas and Haith and Anderson engaged in a shouting match during the game, according to a Jeff Eisenberg report that appeared on Haith had to be restrained by assistants at one point.

    The two coaches then had a heated conversation after the game. Afterward, they claimed it was a matter of clarifying a "miscommunication."

1. Rick Pitino vs. John Calipari

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    Kentucky coach John Calipari has developed rivalries with several coaches. But the one with Louisville's Rick Pitino has received the most attention.

    This is partly due to the fact that Louisville and Kentucky have developed an in-state basketball rivalry that is every bit as intense as the Duke-North Carolina matchup. Add in that Pitino won a national title at Kentucky and you have the makings of a major coaching rivalry.

    All it needed was a spark.

    The two have provided plenty of sparks over the years.  A 2012 Wall Street Journal article titled "The Last Bastion of Loathing," called the Calipari-Pitino relationship "perhaps the last great coaching rivalry in American sports."

    Pitino claimed he helped Calipari get hired as Massachusetts head coach in 1988. Calipari didn't recall it that way and did not approve of his version of the story as revisionist history.

    Calipari once said, according to the Journal article, that Kentucky had no in-state competition. Pitino responded by saying, "I ignore the jealous, I ignore the malicious, I ignore the ignorant and I ignore the paranoid."

    "We don't send each other Christmas cards," Pitino said before their Final Four meeting last year, according to


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