Today is a day of honor.
It’s not Thanksgiving. It’s not Labor Day. No… it’s not even Election Day.
Today is National Coaches Day. Why is that a most honorable day?
For many athletes around the country, it is a day that would be most like Father’s Day or Mother’s Day. How would I correlate a day like National Coaches Day to Father’s Day or Mother’s Day? Because for many athletes around the country, a coach is as close to a dad, or a mom, as some athletes will ever have to a father figure or mother figure in their life.
This is especially true in college basketball. A sport in which many athletes leave their homes and their families to join “new families” and to be led by a new authority figure in their life. One that could help lead them to their ultimate goal….. which is being a professional athlete.
National Coaches Day is that day where we take a hard look at the people who truly mean a great deal to the university where they coach. Today we are going to do that for the sport of college basketball.
When you think of college basketball what pops into your head? The atmosphere of the crowd, the student cheering sections, the traditions?
Now… if someone mentions Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, Kentucky or Syracuse to name a few…. I can about guess what will be in the first four things you would mention about each of these schools. One, I am sure, would be the names of their head basketball coach.
Why might I say one of the things mentioned would be the names of the head basketball coaches at these schools? Well, these people are not just coaches. They are people who have made such an impact on their university that the day they ultimately retire or leave the game…. it is going to be considered a major loss.
So in honor of National Coaches Day, I am going to list our “Men of Honor: The Top 10 Coaches Who Mean The Most To Their University.”
If you agree or disagree, feel free to comment. Everyone will have their opinions. I am sure that you will see, though, that the men mentioned in this article are there for a reason. It is because they have brought not just honor to the game…. but have changed the university that they represent, forever. They have also changed and made college basketball history in some small …. or big way
The Top Ten Coaches Who Mean The Most To Their University
The One That Got Away – The Honorable Mention
Shaka Smart (former VCU Head Coach) – This is the one that got away. If there ever was a viable top 10 nomination for the coach that means the most to a university, it was Shaka Smart at Virginia Commonwealth University. Smart led the Rams to an unprecedented run in the Final Four from an unknown start in the First Four in Dayton to a showdown with the big boys throughout the tournament. If ever there was a coach who meant a great deal to their university and was the face of the university it was Shaka Smart. People in the Richmond area still hold Shaka Smart in high regard.
10. Gregg Marshall (Wichita State) – This man is becoming an icon everyday in the Wichita area. From his early days at Winthrop, Marshall is the complete workaholic coach. Look at his track record. Wichita State is now one of the most relevant college programs in the nation since Marshall took over the helm. The Shockers have produced not only championship teams but championship people. Gregg Marshall is on the fast track to becoming a coach of legendary status at Wichita State. The only thing that would keep that from happening would be him leaving for a bigger program and not producing as much in results at a higher level. Gregg Marshall has a job for life in Wichita, Kansas.
9. Bruce Pearl (Auburn) – Want to know what Bruce Pearl means to Auburn University? Ask some people in Knoxville who would take him back in a second… and that’s even with Rick Barnes being the coach there. Now taking nothing away from Coach Barnes, Bruce Pearl endeared himself to the people in Knoxville. He was what Tennessee had envisioned being as a coach for their program since Ray Mears. His personality was engaging, charismatic and very personable. Heck he evened married a woman from Knoxville and lived in the area even after some negative allegations forced his resignation from Tennessee. Now at Auburn, he is at the same plateau that he was in Knoxville as far as his favor among the fans. If all goes well for him, Pearl should be a mainstay in the Auburn community and in the basketball program for the rest of his coaching career. Winning the SEC Championship has not hurt his future there either.
8. Bob Huggins (West Virginia) – Huggins has had his demons in the past. Nothing… but nothing means more than coming home. I’m not sure about the country roads but West Virginia should in all matters of fact be Coach Huggins last stop on his coaching career journey. Having had a successful stint coaching players like Corey Blount and Nick Van Exel and leading them to the Final Four while at Cincinnati, his being back in his native West Virginia roots should plant him and his legacy with as much fanfare as Jerry West and his glory days of coming from there. For West Virginians, having Bob Huggins as a coach is like having Bobby Knight in his prime at Indiana. His teams are going to always be competitive and his players are going to do all they can to please their coach. That’s not to mention what the atmosphere is like walking into the arena. I mean…. this is West Virginia. If the country roads don’t take you home, a big loss from Huggins teams and the rabid fans will definitely make you wish you were there.
7. Tony Bennett (Virginia) – Virginia was always the school that throughout its college basketball history should have or was always going to win the national championship. From its days with Terry Holland and Ralph Sampson, the Cavaliers goal of winning the national championship was always in sight. Then you had Jeff Jones and Curtis Staples. The Cavaliers dreams were always alive and kicking. For whatever reason, they just lacked that extra something to get there.
Now Charlottesville has a guy named Tony Bennett whose coaching style is as smooth as charismatic as his singing namesake. Coach Bennett is at a place where the goal was finally realized as the Cavaliers most recently brought home a national championship. Not off the backs of one player but off the heart and soul of a team defense that has driven countless teams crazy in the ACC.
Bennett has a forever home in Charlottesville if he never chooses to leave. He has the charm and the energy to keep him around at Virginia for many years. Whenever Coach K decides his time is finally done at Duke, Charlottesville should become the most feared place to visit in the ACC. That’s only if he stays at Virginia…. and John Paul Jones Arena…. forever.
6. Mark Few (Gonzaga) – If any man means a great deal to their university, it is Mark Few at Gonzaga. You have to really look at this though. About twenty years ago, no one knew about this small Catholic college tucked away in Washington. The only person of note from Gonzaga was John Stockton. Since Coach Few has taken over the helm of the Bulldogs, they have made countless trips to the Final Four and the national championship game. Barring any great unknown moves, Mark Few should remain in Spokane until his coaching days are over. His name should be on the name of the arena and a statue out front of his basketball home should be erected in his honor. Mark Few loves Gonzaga and Gonzaga loves Mark Few. His players feel the same about him as well. Many people still think of Gonzaga as an underdog… but they are and will never be seen as such again by people out west. Not as long as Mark Few leads the Bulldogs during his coaching career.
5. John Calipari (Kentucky) – Calipari has been a traveling salesman it seems while in his coaching journey. With stops at UMass and the Nets of the NBA, Calipari is at a place where he is now closely held in the same regard as another legendary Wildcat boss… Adolph Rupp. Rick Pitino was a popular head boss for the Cats but then he left for the Celtics and came back from the NBA for a joint with the Cats biggest rivals…. the Louisville Cardinals. Kentucky fans now hold their current coach in high regard……. very high regard. While at Kentucky, Calipari has changed the game and the rules as to how college basketball plays its game now. The term, One and Done, never existed until Calipari came around. From Calipari’s experiment, we have seen a revolution of the college game and also the NBA. The league, which before was seen as a man’s game played by grown men, has now become younger, faster and way more athletic. College basketball has changed because of Calipari’s “Kentucky Project” of recruiting high school all Americans to one team. With more high profile players leaving school and starting lineups becoming younger in the power conferences, more experienced non power conference teams are making runs through the tournament and making their own history.
John Calipari will always be remembered as the One and Done Coach….but in Kentucky he will always remembered as being the best recruiting coach to walk a Kentucky sideline and who has brought unparalleled success not even experienced by Adolph Rupp.
4. Roy Williams (North Carolina) – How do you fill the seat and the footsteps of a legend when two of your biggest rocks retire and the successor doesn’t work? You bring in one of the rocks biggest protege in Roy Williams. Dean Smith will forever be etched in history as one of the greatest ACC coaches of all time… especially at North Carolina. Bill Guthridge, a longtime Dean assistant, took over for Coach Smith when he left and for two years led Carolina to success much like his boss for many years before. Then Carolina stayed in the family and hired a guy who was not the prototypical Carolina guy. He wasn’t as stoic and as solemn on the sidelines as Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge. He was more animated. More passionate. But to many fans in Carolina, something was missing. Finally they found out what it was. They needed Roy.
Roy Williams, a longtime assistant who had recruited Michael Jordan during his assistant coaching days at UNC, was heading up a successful Kansas program. After seeing the Tar Heels falter to depths that he was not used to seeing, he felt it was his obligation to move to Chapel Hill and rejoin his longtime Carolina family.
What happened? He helped lead the Tar Heels back to the realm of national glory and helped bring them home a couple national championships and quite a few trips to the Final Four.
Now getting into his elder years, Williams legacy will forever be etched in Chapel Hill. Much like his counterpart in Durham, he is and will forever be remembered as a great Tar Heel. He will never topple Dean Smith and his legacy and Williams would never want that anyway. As a coach who means a great deal to its university, Williams is the ideal man for Chapel Hill. Known for his tears of joy and wearing his emotions on his sleeve, it will be an emotional day for Williams when his coaching days are done in Carolina. And the fans of Tar Heel basketball will be there… right beside him.
Basketball is family in Carolina.
3. Tom Izzo (Michigan State) – Tom Izzo. That’s all you need to say in Lansing. Izzo is as synonymous with Spartan basketball as the Great Lakes are with Michigan. Outside of Magic Johnson, Michigan State is known for a Magic all of its own when the Spartans play in town. Every team that enters the arena knows that an Izzo coached team is going give you their very best. Even the fans make sure of it. You have to remember one thing. This is a coach that has his players use football pads when they do rebounding drills. Physical mentality. Tough gritty mentality. For an area and a state that has went through an economic disaster, Izzo is that beacon of light. Izzo is that proud hope that not is all dead and lost in Michigan.
Coach Izzo has endeared himself to Spartan fans and to all of Michigan. Izzo loves his teams because he wants them to represent the best of what the state of Michigan was in the past and what he wants them to be in the future. Tough, gritty, blue collar, get the job done right kind of people. The Spartans haven’t been regulars in the NCAA Tournament for years and played for championships very often and been mainstays in the NCAA Tournament Final Four for nothing. Izzo has not only produced great teams and great players but he has produced great people who have a genuine love and respect for others.
2. Jay Wright (Villanova) – This man could easily be number one on an poll of a coach who is loved by its university. Coach Jay Wright has done a great deal for this small Catholic university in Philadelphia and winning is just a small part of that.
His offense is simple but run with discipline and a precision that even the simplest and most passionate of basketball lovers can appreciate.
Wright has given his heart and soul to Villanova and Villanova has given theirs to him. Wright is not only seen as the ultimate coach for the Wildcat program but the ultimate professional and ultimate gentleman. He always carries himself with a class that he always wants his players to hold as a standard……not only on the court but off. Villanova has been one of the most competitive teams in the NCAA for over a decade now with two national championships to its name. It’s the way in which they win these championships is what makes no sense. They are the team each year that no one expects to do well yet they overachieve and bring home excellence.
This is Jay Wright’s philosophy. You desire excellence…. be excellent. Don’t be flashy…. don’t be what you aren’t. But…. always be …. Villanova.
What is Villanova? Look under the name Jay Wright. It is hard working, blue collar and class. It is everything you want your son or daughter to be. This is why if any school loves its coach in a way that it should….. it should be in the way that Villanova loves Jay Wright. Rocky Balboas statue got moved from its past location to another spot in Philadelphia. Next statue to replace the old Balboa spot, Jay Wright. There wouldn’t be a better one.
Tie 1. Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) – First question. How can anyone in America not love this man? This man is pretty synonymous with Syracuse Basketball. And if not Syracuse, you can’t Boeheim without saying zome defense. Jim Boeheim has been the rock for which all Big East teams would love to have their programs built on. In his coaching career, it would be absolutely crazy to see how many coaching changes other teams have made in the past forty years at their own schools while Boeheim has remained as the head boss at Syracuse.
Boeheim has entered the category of forever legend. While the 1990’s and the 2000’s may have allowed basketball fans to experience some of the games greatest players, the past decade has allowed all basketball lovers in America to experience the best of some of who will be college basketball’s greatest ever coaches. The Big East, the ACC… Boeheim has seen it all and experienced it all. Their growth. Their contraction. And still all the while…. he has seen his Syracuse Orangemen and now his Orange succeed in every form and fashion. Boeheim is the Tom Landry of college basketball. He has a formula. He has this method for him that works. He has his tall skyscrapers you have to get by in his zone defense and then you have to defend the scorers and shooters on your own defensive end. Not only that, you have to contend with a raucous Carrier Dome that always supports their Syracuse Orange players in the most rabid of ways.
Boeheim has always been a class act. A gentleman and sportsman of the game. Always upfront. Always honest. Always congratulatory of his opponents and upfront of his own mistakes while never blaming his players for the teams losses. The sport of college basketball has its solid rocks. Some have already left and were fierce opponents of Boeheim. John Thompson to name one. But while Georgetown’s reputation has faltered since Big John has left the helm of the Hoyas (and who recently died……. many prayers to his family), Syracuse has remained as one of the greatest college basketball destinations for many great high school basketball players still yet. And for one reason….. Boeheim.
Why would kids in todays game want to spend their winters in upstate New York where the snow seems as high as some hills off the Great Plains or sand dunes off the California beaches. One word. Boeheim.
It is why Boeheim, when he finally does leave college basketball, will be held in the highest regard for his legacy that he has left at Syracuse University…. in the Big East and the ACC…. and in college basketball as well. Boeheim is forever a legend. Forever a winner. Forever a Syracuse Orange.
Boeheim is Forever.
Tie 1. Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) – For any person who knows the most minute knowledge of college basketball…when you think of Duke University and the Blue Devils…. I’m pretty sure your first thoughts do not turn to academics. Your first thoughts turn to basketball.
There is a reason for this. The name of that reason is called, for short, Coach K. His name is Mike Krzyzewski. Hired in 1980 out of his head basketball coaching job at the US Military Academy (Army), the first few years at Duke were not the most favorable. He had a 73-59 record at Army and two of his first three seasons at Duke were losing seasons. People were calling for his head. After the third season, in which Duke finished 11-17 and finished 7th in the ACC at 3-11, he could have easily been fired. The athletic director stayed with Coach K and that was the last losing season he ever had. After going 38-47 his first three years, he has since gone 1046-244 in the last 37 years at Duke without a losing season.
The Cameron Crazies? Yes. That’s a Coach K creation. He coaches them just as much as he does his players. If their chants are out of line and not representative of what he feels Duke should be? He isn’t afraid to let them know it. He has a coaching tree with seven current branches on it and all of them are at division one power conferences.
The Duke vs UNC battle was a great rivalry when he took over as coach. Since Coach K’s arrival and going against former UNC great Dean Smith, current great Roy Williams and former coach Brad Doherty, the rivalry has grown into what some call “the greatest spectacle in all of sports.” Coach K is to Duke what the Big Mac is to McDonalds or the Whopper is to Burger King.
For many people at Duke, Coach K is to Duke Basketball what oxygen is for breathing to living organisms. It just has to be there for it to survive. Coach K has always been spoken of in the best fashion by former players. To say he is loved and admired is an understatement.
As a true college basketball fan…. if you are one…. you answer me this. When the time comes that Coach K is no longer at Duke…. who will fill his shoes? Who will have the draw and the attraction that Coach K so clearly has now as the head boss at this proud university? If it takes you a while to answer, then you would be correct on all answers. I don’t know might even be your best answer because after the day that Coach K leaves, Duke University and the Durham area will never be the same again.
The ACC has already lost a few legends: Dean Smith, Jim Valvano. Enjoy the time that this 73 year old man still roams the sideline. These are special times as a Blue Devil fan. This is why Coach K is #1 on this list. Duke and Coach K are linked together for infinity. As long as Duke exists, Coach K will forever live. With the Emily Krzyzewski Center established in 2006 in honor of his mother, the K to College model serves to help students break their cycle of poverty and achieve their dreams. He has also been a huge backer of Duke’s Children’s Hospital, the Chidrens Miracle Network and the V Foundation for Cancer Research among other things.
This is why for National Coaches Day, as we honor the Top 10 Coaches Who Mean The Most To Their University, we honor as our number one coach…. Coach K and Duke University.
When the day does come that there isn’t a Coach K on the sidelines in Durham, it will be a sad blue day for us all.