March Madness: The 11 Greatest Coaches in NCAA Tournament History
Conference tournaments are in full swing, as are my seasonal allergies, which can only mean one thing...
March Madness is upon us!
Without any truly dominant teams in the field, this year's NCAA tournament is sure to be as exciting as ever. Top seeds will be upset, Cinderellas will be born and legends will be made.
And there's no shortage of big names, especially in the coaching ranks, whose legacies have been built on wins in the Big Dance.
With this being the 2011 edition, let's have a look at the 11 greatest men to stalk the sideline in tourney history.
11. Jerry Tarkanian
College basketball fans may have long forgotten about Jerry Tarkanian, but history sure hasn't.
"Tark the Shark" had a rather colorful career as a college coach, mixing tremendous on-court success with off-court issues with the NCAA.
Though he spent time at Long Beach State and Fresno State, Tarkanian is best known for his tenure at UNLV from 1974 to 1992, during which he took the Runnin' Rebels to four Final Fours, including the 1990 national championship in which Tark's team trounced Mike Krzyzewski's Duke Blue Devils, 103-73—the widest margin of victory in a championship game in NCAA history.
With a total career record of 38-18 (a winning percentage of .679) in March and April, "The Shark" certainly deserves a place among the best coaches to ever partake in the tourney.
10. Jim Boeheim
Forty-one wins, three Final Fours and one national championship.
Not bad for a guy who's spent his entire coaching career at one institution.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is to college basketball what Penn State's Joe Paterno is to college football—a true loyalist who worked his way up, from player to assistant coach to head coach.
And after 25 years and 855 wins at the same school, there's no sign that Boeheim is ready to call it quits anytime soon, meaning he could very well find himself a ways up this list when all is said and done.
9. Jim Calhoun
It's only fitting that Jim Calhoun finds himself one spot ahead his longtime friend and coaching rival Jim Boeheim on this list, as the UConn coach has seemingly always been one step in front of Boeheim in just about every way.
Calhoun has more tournament wins (45) and two national championships (two) and just as many Final Four appearances (three).
However, unlike Boeheim, Calhoun's name has been sullied in recent years by alleged NCAA recruiting violations, though not enough to drag him down too much further among the best coaches of March Madness.
8. Tom Izzo
Few coaches these days can measure up to what Tom Izzo has accomplished over the past decade and a half.
In that span, Izzo has led Michigan State to 13 tournament appearances, nine Sweet 16s, seven Elite Eights, six Final Fours and, of course, a national championship in 2000.
All of those numbers add up to 35 wins in the Big Dance since Izzo took over the Spartans basketball program in 1995, which is particularly impressive when considering that those wins account for nearly one in 10 of Izzo's overall victories.
7. Rick Pitino
With so many great coaches in the league, it should come as no surprise that the Big East does so well in March year after year.
Add Rick Pitino to the picture, and the advantage becomes even clearer.
Boeheim and Calhoun may get more praise than the Louisville coach, but no one anywhere can boast the sheer variety of success that Pitino has on his resume.
Sure, other coaches have more tournament wins than Pitino's 38, more Final Four appearances than his five and more national championships than his one with Kentucky in 1996.
However, no other coach in NCAA history has ever taken as many different ballclubs to the national semifinals as Pitino has; Slick Rick has guided three schools—Providence, Kentucky and Louisville—to the Final Four.
6. Denny Crum
Before Rick Pitino was the man in Louisville, and during his deification at Kentucky, Denny Crum was busy establishing the Cardinals as a perennial tournament contender.
In 30 seasons, Crum, who played under John Wooden at UCLA, took the 'Ville to the Big Dance 23 times, winning 43 games and two national championships with six Final Four appearances.
Unfortunately, the man known for his red blazers and rolled-up programs isn't quite the name he used to be in the world of college basketball, though he is easily deserving of a spot on this list.
5. Roy Williams
Perhaps no coach has ever benefited more from a job change than Roy Williams.
Not that Williams wasn't successful in his 15 years at Kansas; he led the Jayhawks to four Final Fours during his time in Lawrence.
However, since taking over at North Carolina in 2003, Williams has led his alma mater to three Final Four appearances and two national championships while adding to his already sizable total of 55 wins in March and April.
4. Dean Smith
With or without Roy Williams, North Carolina wouldn't be among college basketball's blue bloods without the legendary Dean Smith.
Like Williams, Smith got much of his basketball training at Kansas, where he played under another legend, Phog Allen, who learned the game from the man who invented it, James Naismith.
Smith put his training to excellent use, especially in the NCAA tournament, where he wracked up 65 wins, 11 Final Fours and two national championships in 36 years in Chapel Hill.
Of course, Smith didn't do it all by himself; he had a few pretty good players along the way, assuming names like Sam Perkins, James Worthy and Michael Jordan still ring a bell.
3. Bobby Knight
No list of college coaches, regardless of the topic, would be complete without "The General."
The man known to his family as Robert Montgomery Knight had himself an incredibly productive career in the world of college basketball, throwing tantrums and abusing his players while adding some remarkable accomplishments to his resume.
Though Bobby Knight spent time at the helm of the teams at Army and Texas Tech, he will clearly be remembered for his 30-year tenure at Indiana, where he guided the Hoosiers to five Final Fours and three national titles.
On top of all that, Knight's 1975-1976 Hoosiers are still the most recent team to finish a season undefeated—a feat the weight of which grows greater year after passing year.
2. Mike Krzyzewski
The one fact worth noting about Bobby Knight's time at Army is that he coached the man just ahead of him on this list.
That's right: Mike Krzyzewski played for "The General" when he was at West Point.
It's certainly strange to think of the straight-laced Krzyzewski emerging from the coaching tree of the boisterous and blather-mouthed Bobby Knight, but that's exactly what's happened.
And one would have to imagine that folks at Duke don't mind one bit.
Coach K is about as close to a mythical figure as one will find stalking the sidelines in college basketball today.
Not that Coach K's six seasons as the head coach at Army need be disregarded, but clearly, his 30 years at Duke have yielded quite a bit more success.
Especially in the NCAA tournament, wherein Krzyzewski holds the all-time record for wins (77) to go along with 11 Final Fours and four national championships.
Oh, and he's won gold medals at the Olympics and the FIBA World Championships.
Not bad for a Polish kid from Chicago, eh?
1. John Wooden
Coach K may continue to amass wins and tournament accomplishments for years to come, but he, like any other coach, would be hard-pressed to ever measure up to the late, great John Wooden.
Sure, plenty of coaches have passed up the overall win total of the "Wizard of Westwood" in the 36 years since he stepped down from his post at UCLA.
And, yes, Wooden's 47 tournament wins, though impressive, leave him a full 30 behind Coach K, though this gap can be at least partly corrected for by the fact that the tournament consisted of only 16 participants up until his retirement.
This point may diminish Wooden's 12 Final Four appearances somewhat, but they certainly don't and will never tarnish the 10—count 'em—national titles he won as the head coach of the Bruins in those 12 tries, seven of which came in succession.
Is it any wonder that Wooden, who would have been 100 years old this year, has been honored in just about every way possible, including being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the most prestigious award that the President can give to a civilian?
So while the accomplishments of the other coaches on this list may someday be dwarfed by their younger peers, there is little chance of any coach proving so overwhelmingly dominant in the month of March as John Wooden once was.