Top Ten Coaching Jobs in College Basketball


By: David K.

Billy Gillespie gets the boot at Kentucky after not meeting expectations in his two seasons.  John Calipari is attempting to pick up the pieces in Lexington as he bolts from Memphis to help re-build UK.  Tony Bennett leaves Washington State for Virginia while VCU’s Anthony Grant makes the jump from mid-major to major conference by taking the reigns at Alabama.  Ah yes, the college basketball coaching carousel is already spinning round and round.

When Tom Crean left Marquette to become the head coach at Indiana last year, his reasoning was simple; “Because It’s Indiana.  It’s Indiana.”  That sparked debate among my friends and me about the top ten coaching jobs in college basketball. Here is my list ranked 1-10, meaning if you left job #8 for job #6, it would be considered a step-up.

I took into consideration the following factors:
-the history of the program’s success
-success of the team under their current coach
-the longevity of past coach’s tenures
-recruiting abilities

10. Indiana-
This position has certainly taken a hit since the whole Kelvin Sampson debacle.  But as Tom Crean demonstrated when he left Marquette for IU, it is still a very desirable destination because “It’s Indiana.  It’s Indiana.”

Bob Knight not only left his stamp on this job by winning three NCAA Championships, but also because of his eccentric personality.  However, since the General took the Hoosiers to the Final Four in 1992, IU has only returned once (in 2002 as a five-seed in a season they finished with 12 losses.)  In fact, the program has had 13 double-digit loss seasons since 1994-’95 and have not made in past the second round of the tourney.

Long-term history helps Indiana’s stock, but if Crean does not get the Hoosiers back on the winning track soon, this job will continue to lose some of its glamour.

9. Arizona-

It is to be assumed that ‘Zona interim coach Russ Pennell will not retained after this off-season.   Arizona has already stated that they intend to hold a national search to fill the up-coming vacancy, and there should be a plethora of quality coaching candidates wanting to come to the desert this off-season.

The legendary Lute Olsen built the Wildcats into a national powerhouse before having to retire due to health reasons.  ‘Zona has made 25 straight trips to the tourney and because of it’s location out west, it is always a hotbed for high school recruits from all over the U.S.

8. Michigan State-
Since 1976 only two men have been in charge of the MSU program, Jud Heathcoate and Tom Izzo.  Izzo took the reigns in ’95 as has led the Spartans to a National Title and eleven straight trips to the Big Dance.  State hasn’t finished with a below .500 record in more than twenty years.

Sparty has taken control as “the team” in the Big Ten due to their success and the recent downfall of Indiana meaning they are the top program in the Midwest.

7. Syracuse-

Jim Boeheim has put Syracuse on the national map.  In his 33 years with the Orange, Boeheim has won 20-plus games in all but one season, won one National Championship, and finished runner-up twice.  All Big East schools get an extra boost in these rankings because it the elite conference in the country.  A lot of players want to play in the Big East and a lot of coaches want to coach in it as well.

When Boeheim decides to hang it up, this job will likely draw interest from numerous major conference coaches.

6. UConn-
What helps the Huskies most is that they are consistently one of the top teams in the premiere country in America.  Year-in and year-out, they bring in some of the top talent in the nation as 13 Huskies are currently in the NBA.

Jim Calhoun deserves much of the credit for bringing UConn to the upper-echelon of college hoops.  Since taking over in 1986, Connecticut has been to ten Elite 8’s and brought home two NCAA Titles.  When Calhoun steps down, probably in the next couple years, expect to see a lot of interest in his job.

5. Kentucky-
Historically, Kentucky is the winningest college basketball program of all time.  But their “drought” during the past decade has decreased their current prominence.  They have not made the Final Four since 1998 when they won their seventh National Championship.

Adolf Rupp obviously put Kentucky on the map during his 42 year span as head coach.  Since then major names like Eddie Sutton and Rick Pitino have held the job.  But I think the recent defection of Tubby Smith to Minnesota and Billy Gillespie’s getting the quick pink slip hurts the value of this job a little bit.  Of course, with Calipari about to leave Memphis to head to UK, it also shows the value the position still holds.

4. Kansas-
When you look at KU’s coaches since 1983, it’s an impressive list; Larry Brown, Roy Williams, and Bill Self.  Consider that Brown left Kansas for the NBA and Williams for UNC, and it shows just how respected this position is in the college basketball world.  Add in that Bill Self left a prominent Big Ten school in Illinois to take the job, and you can see why it is listed at number four.

What puts Kansas ahead of Kentucky is their recent success; 20 straight NCAA Tourney berths, three Final Fours since 2002, and of course last year’s National Title.

3. UCLA-

I could see the argument that UCLA should be number one because of the success that John Wooden brought to the Bruins in the 1960’s and 70’s, including seven straight National Titles.  But since Wooden retired in 1975, UCLA has had eight head coaches.

The Bruins are still the cream of the crop out West, but despite having made three consecutive trips to the Final Four from 2006-2008, have fallen behind Duke and Carolina in desirable destinations.

2. Duke-
How anxious are Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski for the day that Mike Krzyzewski decides to retire.  While Duke does not have the historic success of a UCLA, or Kentucky, their recent success is second to none.  Since Coach K became head coach in 1981, Duke ranks number one in NCAA Championships (3), Final Fours (10), and NCAA Tournament wins (71).

Coach K has brought Duke to the top of the college basketball world.  Every coach will be drooling over this job when it finally becomes available.

1. North Carolina-
It was a major statement when Roy Williams left a Kansas team that he had just taken to the National Championship game to head to UNC.  Sure, Williams had been an assistant at Carolina under Dean Smith for 11 seasons, but to leave a year-in, year-out National Title contender where you had just spent the last 15 years as head coach to take over the Tar Heels certainly says something.

Dean Smith set the bar at North Carolina, piling up 879 wins in 37 years as head coach.  Carolina is second all-time with 17 Final Four appearances and has won four National Championships.  UNC is always a major player in the recruiting race, pulling in the top high school players from all around the country, including 50 McDonald’s All-Americans.

Honorable Mentions: Georgetown, Louisville, Memphis

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  1. Peter Christian says

    I think Kentucky and Indiana are #9 and #10… success in the last decade is crucial to a top ten gig and a program’s history can only take the job so far. If we relied simply on historical value, UCLA is #1 (which it isn’t) and schools like St. John’s would be considered top ten. One gig that has to be the fastest riser in the last decade is the Gonzaga job, right?

  2. I included “success of the team under their current coach” to avoid the St. John’s of the world making this list… If Calipari leaves Memphis for Kentucky, it shows that the UK job still has juice… Gonzaga is definitely a high-riser but still below a lot of major conference schools… like would Bruce Weber leave Illinois for the Zags? No way. Would Mike Brey leave Notre Dame for the Zags? No way. It will be interesting to see what kind of candidate Memphis draws if Cal does leave… that could boot them off the Honorable mentions…

  3. Nice list, but a few things I’d like to add:

    1. I think Syracuse is a little high. Syracuse has been very good and was fortunate enough to get Carmelo Anthony for a year to get that national title. However, despite my distaste for the program, I hold Indiana in higher regard. I understand why you knocked it down, as it has soured since Bob Knight left. Perhaps Syracuse and Indiana are in the same boat as “one coach programs,” places that only one coach can make great? Let’s face it, no one has helped IU fans forget Knight yet, maybe no one will.

    2. I think Kansas is in a fair spot, but I would add a couple notes with regard to coaches at KU. First, even though they did not coach at KU, two coaches who helped build other programs on this list played at Kansas and took their knowledge elsewhere: Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp. Oh, and another coach at KU? James Naismith, the guy who invented the game.

    3. With regards to the first post, I think another thing to consider is “ceiling of the program.” In other words, how high can it go with the right coach in place? I hate to say it, but I firmly believe that Gonzaga will never win the national title, and I’m not sure the Zags will ever see the Final Four either. If/when Few leaves, Gonzaga goes back to the dark ages. In contrast, with the right coach in place, Indiana and Kentucky can absolutely get back to the top. All the programs that made DK’s list have won national titles and can win multiple national titles in the future with the right man at the helm.

  4. Peter Christian says

    I think Cuse and UConn are both tough to gauge. Prior to Calhoun showing up in Storrs the Huskies were laughable. Unless Calhoun gets so arrogant that he tells the UConn AD, University President and Connecticut Governor to go fist themselves (not completely implausible) he is staying there until he either retires or kicks it. Same goes for Boeheim. However both of those coaches have taken those programs to such heights that there would be a ton of outside interest in those jobs. For example, if Boeheim quit tomorrow and Syracuse would pay for Crean’s buy out he would jump at the chance to get back in the Big East. Better yet, if they offered the job to Calipari and he was weighing Syracuse or Kentucky, do you really think that he chooses Kentucky? Not a chance. NONE.

    I agree with the “ceiling of the program” point that Joe made. However, Few’s departure (if/when) wouldn’t be the black plague to the program. The only thing that will derail that program from its current status as one of the top three mid-major schools is a major NCAA sanction or penalty.

    One other thing to mull over about Kentucky. Billy Donovan has turned them down not once but twice in the last two years. With the success he’s had at Florida does that mean that the Gator job is better than the Kentucky job? No, but it definitely discounts the Kentucky job. If Kentucky truly was #5 and Memphis was just outside of the top ten (which is probably pretty accurate), Calipari would jump ship in a heartbeat. The fact that he hasn’t done so yet, goes to show that currently the difference between Memphis and Kentucky is relatively negligible (like jumping from #11 to #9 or #12 to #10), but currently the question that Calipari needs to ask himself is which program can I elevate more over the next three years? Realistically, the Kentucky program is probably at least two years from being considered better than Michigan State, UConn or Syracuse. Memphis on the other hand could elevate to an equal footing with Michigan State and Syracuse (or just behind) with a national Championship, which is a real possibility for the Tigers next season.

  5. Peter Christian says

    and he took the job anyway… what an idiot.

  6. David K. says

    Capel is rumored to be the leading candidate for the Zona job… that would prove the juice that position has he left Oklahoma… plus make Moe really happy

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