Mark Few, Gonzaga Bulldogs, March Madness

Mat Mlodzinski ranks all of the head coaches in March Madness, 68-1.

March Madness is known for upsets, buzzer-beaters, and memorable moments made on the biggest stage in college basketball.

But without head coaches, none of these 68 teams would be here. They turn the gears and make everything run like a well-oiled machine. Some more than others.

I expect there will be debate and this is entirely up to opinion, and deciding what matters more. For my rankings, I looked at a few factors:

  • Career coaching record
  • Record at current school
  • Tournament success
  • Recency

Of course, sometimes, this becomes difficult (cue Tommy Lloyd winning AP Coach of the Year in his first season at Arizona). Above all, March Madness is about having fun, so have at it, call me out if you think I’m wrong, and let’s prep for Tuesday night and the First Four!

68. Brad Korn (Southeast Missouri State)

Make no mistake – every coach on this list has done something right. They’ve led their team to March Madness when nearly 300 other coaches couldn’t say the same. However, with a career record of 44-50 and no 20-win seasons, Korn gets last place. For what it’s worth, the Redhawks have improved every year since he’s been there.

67. Kenneth Blakeney (Howard)

The former Duke player has a long way to go until he matches Mike Krzyzewski, but Blakeney has done plenty of good in four years at Howard. After going 5-33 in his first two seasons (year two was shortened due to COVID), Blakeney has posted a respectable 36-25 record since the 2021-22 season.

66. Tobin Anderson (Fairleigh Dickinson)

1 year as a head coach, 1 trip to the NCAA Tournament. Not a bad start for Tobin Anderson at the Division I level. The 51-year-old has had plenty of stops at non-DI schools, and FDU looks like some geniuses for hiring him to lead the program.

65. Mike Morrell (UNC Asheville)

In year one, Morrell guided the Bulldogs to a 4-27 record. Four years later, the 40-year-old posted a 27-7 record, winning both the Big South regular season and conference tournament championships. He’s a Shaka Smart product too, as an assistant coach at VCU and Texas before branching off for his first head coaching job.

64. Steve Lutz (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi)

If FDU’s hiring manager is a genius, Texas A&M-CC’s hiring manager should be granted a major raise. Lutz is 2-for-2 in making March Madness as a head coach. In both years, the Islanders have appeared in the First Four as a 16 seed. Last year, they fell to Texas Southern. Lutz is hoping to build on that with a win over SEMO on Tuesday night.

63. Danny Sprinkle (Montana State)

Sprinkle took over the Bobcats’ program in 2019 and has brought it to new lengths. After two sub-par seasons, Sprinkle’s teams have a combined record of 52-17 over the last two seasons. That’s accounted for two straight trips to the Big Dance. As a Montana State grad, it’s got to feel good.

62. Amir Abdur-Rahim (Kennesaw State)

The brother of former NBA star Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Amir is making his own name for himself. Now in his fourth season as the head coach of the Owls, they’ve jumped from 1-28, to 5-19, to 13-18, to 26-8, and Atlantic Sun Tournament champs. That’s how you turn a program around.

61. Dusty May (Florida Atlantic)

Dusty May has only had one losing season in five tries at FAU, but no one can deny how great the Owls have played this year. The 31-3 record is tied with Houston for the best in the NCAA Tournament. That in itself is an accomplishment.

60. Mitch Henderson (Princeton)

Henderson has now made the Big Dance 2 times in 11 seasons as the Tigers’ head coach. Both of them have come since 2017, but Henderson’s impact has been felt. Princeton has won at least 20 games on 6 different occasions under Henderson.

59. Rob Senderoff (Kent State)

Like Henderson, Senderoff’s Kent State teams have gone dancing twice since 2017. They’ve hit the 20-win mark 8 times in 12 seasons, with an impressive 28-6 record for a 13 seed in this year’s tournament. Plus, the MAC is no joke.

58. Darrin Horn (Northern Kentucky)

The first coach on our list with experience as a head coach in a power conference, Horn’s tenure at South Carolina didn’t go as planned. After a 21-20 inaugural season, it only went downhill, getting fired after going 10-21. But in the mid-major ranks, Horn’s teams have always competed for conference championships. He’s never had a losing record in nine seasons between Western Kentucky and Northern Kentucky. Maybe it’s just something about the state.

57. Bob Marlin (Louisiana)

Bob Marlin could’ve gotten a job at the power six level. He’s nearing 500 career wins, split between Sam Houston and Louisiana. And his teams almost always finish near the top of the conference. This is Marlin’s 4th time in March Madness, but he’s yet to take home a win.

56. Johnny Jones (Texas Southern)

Once the successful coach at North Texas, Jones also made the NCAA Tournament at LSU. However, the Tigers fired him after a 10-21 season in 2016-17. Jones has since led the Texas Southern program for five years, making the NCAA Tournament in each of the last three. His only tournament wins come in the First Four, where the Tigers will play again this year, following a 14-20 season, somewhat surprisingly winning the SWAC.

55. Bryce Drew (Grand Canyon)

Take out the 40-59 record in three seasons at Vanderbilt and Bryce Drew’s coaching career is pretty impressive. He’s got a career-winning percentage of .714 between stops at Valparaiso and his current job at Grand Canyon. That includes seasons of 28-6 and 30-7 at Valpo, and two Big Dance births in three years at GCU. In fact, Drew’s mid-major teams have reached the NCAA Tournament more often than not.

54. Joe Pasternack (UC Santa Barbara)

All Joe Pasternack does is WIN. In six seasons at UCSB, Pasternack has won at least 20 games in five of them. This year, the Gauchos went 27-7, earning a 14 seed. Don’t be surprised to see the 45-year-old’s name pop up in the coaching carousel this offseason.

53. Paul Mills (Oral Roberts)

Credit Max Abmas all you want, but Mills has turned ORU from barely getting 10 wins to a 30-4 record in just six seasons. Of course, that included a Cinderella run in 2021 when the Golden Eagles went to the Sweet 16 as a 15 seed. And this March, they’re back for more.

52. Darian DeVries (Drake)

DeVries has elevated the Drake Bulldogs to a consistent top dog in the Missouri Valley. That’s no easy task, especially when it means 20+ wins in each of your first five seasons. Drake beat Wichita State in the 2021 First Four, but this year, they’re in the round of 64 against a tough Miami (Fla) team. Can DeVries pull off the upset for his first career NCAA Tournament win?

51. Chris Collins (Northwestern)

You’ve got to give credit to anyone willing to take over the Northwestern program. It’s got to be one of the toughest jobs in the power six. We also don’t know what Collins is capable of at a smaller, mid-major program, because Northwestern is all he’s ever known as a head coach. The simple fact of the matter is, he’s led the program to its only two NCAA Tournament appearances in its 118-year history. I’m willing to cut him a break for not winning 25 games every season.

50. Rodney Terry (Texas)

There are a few guys (Chris Collins included) who could be placed in a lot of places. Rodney Terry is absolutely one of them. Between his time at Fresno State and at UTEP, Terry’s teams were competitive, but he only made it to March Madness once in ten years. Now, he takes over a Texas team in the middle of the season after Chris Beard was fired after he was arrested on domestic violence charges. If anything, Terry’s 19-7 record is notable given the circumstances. You don’t plan for stuff like that, and Terry’s handled it like a true professional.

49. Matt Langel (Colgate)

Matt Langel inherited a Colgate team that hadn’t been to March Madness in 16 seasons. It took him a bit, but now 12 seasons in, Langel’s Raiders have been dancing in four straight tournaments. Hamilton, New York is a great place, but don’t be surprised if Langel finds a new home this offseason.

48. Bob Richey (Furman)

Richey started the 2017-18 season at Furman as a 34-year-old fresh onto the Division I head coaching scene. Who knew he would have this good of a start? The Paladins have never had a winning percentage lower than .640 during his tenure. They reached 23rd in the AP Poll in 2018-19 and finally made it to the Big Dance. Something tells me Richey will be dancing with a power conference team sooner rather than later.

47. Ryan Odom (Utah State)

Ryan Odom might be the next best thing since sliced bread in college basketball head coaching. You may know him best for a 2018 NCAA Tournament upset as the head coach of UMBC. Well, now he’s back for a second time, only this time with the Utah State Aggies. Clearly, Odom knows how to win at the low mid-major level and the high mid-major level. The question is, what’s next?

46. John Becker (Vermont)

Speaking about mid-major powerhouses, look no further than John Becker’s Vermont Catamounts. He’s brought them to five NCAA Tournaments since 2012 and has won 8 America East regular season titles. The Catamounts always seem to be a popular upset pick and you can credit Becker’s sustained success for that.

45. Kevin Keatts (NC State)

After an impressive track record at UNC Wilmington, life brought Keatts to NC State, where he’s been the head coach since 2017. They made the NCAA Tournament in his first year, but before sneaking in as an 11 seed this year, hadn’t been back since. Don’t get it wrong – Keatts has had four 20-win seasons in six tries. But following an 11-21 campaign last year, this year just saved him off the hot seat for a little while.

44. Leon Rice (Boise State)

Leon Rice might be single handily turning Boise State from a football school into a basketball school. The Broncos have reached the NCAA Tournament two seasons in a row and four times in 13 years under Rice. They’ve yet to win a game in March under him, but it seems like that is bound to happen sooner rather than later.

43. Micah Shrewsberry (Penn State)

Penn State basketball is far from an easy place to be the head coach, but two years in and Micah Shrewsberry is proving all of the doubters wrong. The Nittany Lions made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. There’s a long way to go, but it’s about as good of a start in Happy Valley as you can draw up.

42. Dennis Gates (Missouri)

Dennis Gates wasn’t at Cleveland State for too long, winning two Horizon League Coach of the Year awards and heading to Missouri last offseason. Tigers fans should be pleased. Gates led them to a 24-9 record – a team that hit the transfer portal heavy. Gates has a lot of good qualities as a coach and should shoot up these types of lists in years to come.

41. Pat Kelsey (College of Charleston)

Speaking about coaches who will move up the ranks very soon, Kelsey is carving out a path to do just that. His 9-year run at Winthrop ended in back-to-back conference tournament championships, including a 23-2 season in 2020-21. After going 17-15 at CofC last year, Kelsey’s team just went 31-3 and got a 12 seed. His stock continues to soar.

40. Bobby Hurley (Arizona State)

Bobby Hurley was another coach who may have saved his job this season after grinding out an at-large bid into March Madness. After two impressive seasons at Buffalo, ASU has been shaky. But there’s also been a lot of good. Hurley’s been part of four losing seasons and four 20-win seasons alike. Consistency is key, but at least the potential for it is there.

39. Mike Rhoades (VCU)

Rhoades’ VCU team didn’t even get to play when they made the 2021 NCAA Tournament, as COVID forced a forfeit. It may not be the same roster makeup, but the program gets redemption this year after winning the A-10 Tournament and going 27-7. It might be next to impossible to top what Shaka Smart did at VCU, but Rhoades has certainly kept the Rams in a very good place.

38. Chris Jans (Mississippi State)

Chris Jans is just one of those coaching who gets the job done at every stop. At Bowling Green, that was a 21-12 record. He was fired for inappropriate conduct but got a second chance at New Mexico State. It was there, that Jans’ teams went 122-32 (.792). Of course, that led him to his current stop in the SEC, where Mississippi State finished 21-12 and was one of the last four at-large teams selected. You’ve got to think Jans will only continue this success rate.

37. TJ Otzelberger (Iowa State)

Otzelberger’s ability to take a 2-22 Iowa State team and bring them to the NCAA Tournament in his first season with the Cyclones deserves some type of award. That’s practically unheard of. He brought them back to March Madness again this season, as the 45-year-old has accomplished four times in seven seasons as a head coach.

36. Penny Hardaway (Memphis)

For Hardaway, recruiting isn’t the issue. It’s maximizing the talent that’s raised some eyebrows. Well, this year, the only thing raising eyebrows is Memphis, and for all the right reasons. Hardaway nearly coached them to two wins over Houston – one close loss and one win in the AAC Championship. Even despite some seasons falling below the bar, Hardaway has put together five straight 20-win campaigns to start his college coaching career.

35. Mike Woodson (Indiana)

Indiana is a difficult place to coach, but so far, Woodson has faired well. The Hoosiers went 21-14 last year and followed it up with a 22-11 record for a 4 seed in the 2023 NCAA Tournament. For Woodson, the question isn’t about his coaching ability. He did an unbelievable job with the New York Knicks. College is different though, but so far, he’s been more than capable.

34. Jon Scheyer (Duke)

One season isn’t a whole lot to base Scheyer’s coaching ability on, especially when you inherit a lot of players from Coach K. Let’s not forget that Scheyer was an assistant since 2014, so he’s technically been a coach on the Duke sidelines for ten years now. I will say this – with the way Duke ended the regular season and ACC Tournament, you’ve got a good feeling about what Scheyer will do in Durham.

33. Jerome Tang (Kansas State)

The other first-year head coach at a power conference program is Jerome Tang. It was fitting that I ranked them together, considering both of their seasons. For Tang, it was just a bit more impressive. He improved the Wildcats’ wins by 9 from a season ago, earning them a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament after playing a grueling schedule in the toughest conference in college basketball. I’m sure we’ll be seeing both Tang and Scheyer vaulting up this list as the seasons accrue.

32. Jeff Capel (Pittsburgh)

Too many people talk badly about Capel’s track record at Pitt, which is a record below .500 in five seasons, this being his first appearance in March Madness with the Panthers. Those same people seem to forget Capel’s success with Oklahoma, reaching the Elite Eight in 2009. It’s been a long time since then, but Capel is capable of getting back to that type of success.

31. Brian Dutcher (San Diego State)

Few coaches teach defense as well as Brian Dutcher, whose Aztecs have ranked top 50 in points allowed per game each of the past three seasons. That’s translated to three straight NCAA Tournaments, plus one more in his first season in 2018. Dutcher has a great shot to get his first win in March Madness this year.

30. Kevin Willard (Maryland)

For Kevin Willard, it’s all about tournament success. His Seton Hall teams got to March in 5 of his last 7 seasons in South Orange. His best year, a 20-9 campaign with a final AP ranking of 15 might’ve been his best chance for a long run had COVID not canceled the dance. Year one has been positive at Maryland, but the 1-5 record when it matters definitely stings.

29. Ed Cooley (Providence)

Ed Cooley‘s teams always resemble grit and a will to win. That’s especially impressive when you think about Providence as a program. Cooley has done a tremendous job considering the obstacles. But the failure to take a 27-6 team far in March last year sticks out. Still, a 3-6 record in 7 appearances is commendable.

28. Dan Hurley (UConn)

The standards set by Jim Calhoun at UConn are very high, but Hurley has begun to bring the Huskies back to center stage of college basketball. Dan’s 2-4 career record in the NCAA Tournament is concerning, given UConn was a 5 seed and lost in the round of 64 last season. Consider this part of my rankings very good coaches who have failed to win in March. It’s the story of Willard, Cooley, and Hurley. But if we’re talking coaches who motivate their players, Hurley has a special seat reserved all for himself.

27. Andy Enfield (USC)

So many coaches go on a Cinderella run at a mid-major school, get a power conference job, and watch their careers shrivel up. The same can’t be said about Andy Enfield. After taking 15 seed FGCU to the Sweet Sixteen in 2013, Enfield has done a fine job at USC. His Trojans have made the NCAA Tournament five times since taking over in 2014, including each of the last three seasons. And they usually do fairly well, as Enfield is 5-4 in the Big Dance with USC.

26. Fran McCaffery (Iowa)

Winning in March is hard and Fran McCaffery can attest to that. He’s had All-Americans, a Big Ten Championship, and 7 NCAA Tournament bids at Iowa. But in 27 years as a head coach in Division I basketball, McCaffery has won a whopping total of 6 NCAA Tournament games. Of course, a lot factors into this, but winning in March seems to be a struggle for a guy who has won over 500 career games.

25. Brad Underwood (Illinois)

Brad Underwood’s career has continued to rise, making the NCAA Tournament three straight seasons and turning around the Illinois program in the process. Now 59 years old, Underwood has never been a bad tournament coach but just doesn’t have a run that sticks out.

24. Steve Alford (Nevada)

At Steve Alford’s height, he was arguably a top 20, maybe even 15 coach in college basketball itself. His New Mexico teams consistently won upper than 20, once even 30 games in a season. Even his time at UCLA was notable, going 31-5 in 2016-17. At 58 years old, Alford’s career took a bit of a step back at Nevada, but no one can argue that he has what it takes to get the job done.

23. Greg McDermott (Creighton)

Perhaps McDermott’s biggest feat was a seamless transition from the MVC to the Big East for Creighton. The Jays have been in the conference since 2013 and have only had less than 20 wins in a season once. That’s a testament to a coach who adapts to what’s in front of him. With a 6-10 record in Mach Madness, it hasn’t always translated to the tournament, but as a 6 seed with a high-octane offense, this might be the year.

22. Randy Bennett (Saint Mary’s)

Mark Few gets like 90% of the credit for turning Gonzaga into a powerhouse in the lowly West Coast Conference. But what about Randy Bennett? It’s not like his Saint Mary’s teams haven’t gone to 9 NCAA Tournaments themselves. Sure, it’s a lofty comparison, but the Gaels are fortunate to have a coach like him.

21. Buzz Williams (Texas A&M)

I get the feeling that Buzz Williams gets forgotten about and maybe it’s because he’s bounced around from team to team so much. But at 50 years old, Williams has had notable success at Marquette, Virginia Tech, and now Texas A&M. He’s only had two losing seasons since 2008-09 and has made it to March Madness at a success rate of 56% in his career. Not everyone can get there every year like Roy Williams or Jim Boeheim.

20. Jamie Dixon (TCU)

The 2008-09 Naismith Coach of the Year, Dixon has been at the top of college basketball. While his name has faded off since leaving Pitt for TCU, his teams haven’t. The Horned Frogs have still compiled 5 20-win seasons in 7 tries. And a 13-13 record in March Madness is nothing to be ashamed of.

19. Shaka Smart (Marquette)

When you reach a Final Four, no matter with what team, it automatically puts you in the top 20. Such is the case with Shaka Smart, who did that with VCU in 2011. He stayed there and continued to win a lot of games, before finally making the move to Texas in 2015. Smart’s Longhorns underperformed a bit in March, which led him to his current stop at Marquette. But don’t think that Smart has fallen off. The Golden Eagles should advance a couple of rounds in this year’s tournament, and Shaka is the architect behind it all.

18. Jim Larranaga (Miami-Fla)

Jim Larranaga will reach the 700-win mark next season, something only 24 coaches have done in the history of college basketball. He’s also made it to the Final Four, albeit back in 2006 with George Mason. His Miami (Fla) Hurricanes were one win away from getting there last year. Larranaga’s had a few iffy seasons in recent memory at Miami, but they’ve begun to trend back up, a testament to his coaching ability during the changing landscape of college athletics.

17. Nate Oats (Alabama)

Nate Oats has done a lot of good things as a head coach, and this year, a lot of bad things, especially when dealing with serious decisions about playing players. But when it gets down to it, he can still coach and has coached great since coming to Alabama in 2019. But now with the pressure of the 1 seed, can Oats live up to the expectations?

16. Rick Barnes (Tennessee)

I told you I value NCAA Tournament success! Barnes has had 36 years of coaching experience, 35 of them coming at the power conference level. That’s resulted in 27 trips to the Big Dance, but only 1 Final Four. Of course, Final Fours weren’t necessarily expected at Providence and Clemson, but Barnes took the Texas job in 1998 and has been at Tennessee since 2015. He’s had a lot of great teams along the way but for whatever reason, can’t always cap it off in March. In fact, Tennessee has lost to a lower seed in each of the past four tournaments.

15. Eric Musselman (Arkansas)

Admittedly, the new wave of top-notch coaches is the hardest to rank, especially when going between guys like Barnes and Musselman. If we’re looking at accomplishments, Barnes has many more, because of longevity. But Musselman’s potential seems to be just getting tapped. Now, he is 58 years old. He’s no spring chicken either. But Musselman’s rise to prominence was noteworthy, and the dominance has been there.

14. Bruce Pearl (Auburn)

Staying in the SEC for this one, Pearl made a Final Four in 2019, which pretty much ends any argument here between him, Oats, Barnes, and Musselman. He’s got both the accomplishments and very recently. Pearl turns 64 on March 18, so the question for him his will he ever get a shot at a second Final Four.

13. Sean Miller (Xavier)

Now in his second tenure with Xavier, Sean Miller is showing that he hasn’t lost it, even after being out of coaching for a full season. Not that that was expected, but it was at least confirmed. Xavier has injury problems heading into this March Madness, but never count out his 19-11 career record in the tournament.

12. Matt Painter (Purdue)

Matt Painter is on the shortlist of college basketball coaches who are just waiting for that first national championship. It’s always the hardest, and it seems like all of his great Boilermakers teams come up short. Will this finally be the year?

11. Rick Pitino (Iona)

Pitino was another one of those hard-to-rank coaches, because of his legendary status, three years off from the college game, and return to a mid-major school. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I don’t think he’s fallen off either. Pitino’s Gaels have a 64-21 record and rumors are swirling that he might take the job at St. John’s. He’s also the main reason why Iona is a popular pick to upset UConn. Is Pitino turning into the new Boeheim as the coach who will never retire?

10. Tommy Lloyd (Arizona)

The single handily toughest coach the rank in this entire article – even more so than Jon Scheyer – was Tommy Lloyd. He has a career-winning percentage of .859, plus an AP Coach of the Year award. But, Lloyd has only been the head coach for two seasons. I don’t care. Plenty of guys have been thrust into power conference jobs with high demands right away. Lloyd did amazing in year one and just as well in year two. The standard has been raised.

9. Mick Cronin (UCLA)

Making the Final Four in 2021, Mick Cronin was an awesome hire for UCLA. He was always great at Cincinnati, but it’s a big step up going to coach the Bruins. Cronin has done as good as you can ask and then some. Demand is high at UCLA to keep on performing and so far, Cronin has shown no signs of falling short. If anything, he’s somehow exceeded.

8. Bob Huggins (West Virginia)

Huggy Bear is a fan favorite, coaching legend, and Basketball Hall of Famer. He’s made 2 Final Fours in 38 years. Now, I will say, there are easier places to do that than Cincinnati, Kansas State, and West Virginia. But there are a few other coaching legends on this list who have just accomplished a bit more in the dance.

7. John Calipari (Kentucky)

Carrying my thought over from the previous explanation, John Calipari is one of them. One reason is – he has a National Championship! Now, there will always be the debate on if Coach Cal is more so a recruiter than an x’s and o’s guy. When it gets down to it, his title is ‘Coach’ and he’s done a good job at it. 6 Final Fours in 31 years good.

6. Tom Izzo (Michigan State)

When I compiled my list, I figured this would create the most debate of any. After all, Tom Izzo has won a championship and been to 8 Final Fours – more than anyone else on this list. But when it comes down to it, recent success has a play into this, and the Spartans have slowly dipped off. Izzo hasn’t had a 25-win season since 2018-19 and is also only 1-2 in the Big Dance since then. All of the five guys listed above Izzo have gone further recently. If we’re ranking active coaching legends, Izzo would be higher and probably either first or second. But that’s not the criteria.

5. Kelvin Sampson (Houston)

Kelvin Sampson has revitalized his career at Houston after a wonky ending to his time at Indiana. And lately, he’s been better with age. The Cougars made the Final Four in 2021 and nearly made it again last year, falling to Villanova in the Elite Eight. Can they do it again this year? Credit Sampson if so.

4. Mark Few (Gonzaga)

I’m tired of hearing the same old narrative about how Gonzaga always gets beat early in March. That’s simply not true. The Zags have made the Final Four twice since 2017 and the Sweet Sixteen in each of the last SEVEN tournaments they’ve been in. Sure, sometimes their runs end short, but getting upset is not in the Bulldogs’ blood. Stay the course, Mark Few.

3. Tony Bennett (Virginia)

The coach of the 2019 National Champions, Tony Bennett has meant everything to Virginia. People forget that before he came to town, UVA was far from being a contender in the ACC. Now, they’re usually a contender on the national stage. Between his pack-line defense and 16-9 career record in March Madness, Bennett is a coaching legend in the flesh.

2. Scott Drew (Baylor)

Drew’s championship came a year after Bennett’s, in 2020, and once again, he has Baylor in position for another Final Four run. At 52 years old, there’s probably still a hefty amount of years left in the tank too, as Drew should close in on 500 career wins within the next 3-5 years.

1. Bill Self (Kansas)

Could I really choose anyone else? Bill Self is the only active coach with multiple national championships and is in a good position to get number three this season. His run at Kansas has been as dominant as you may ever see in the current landscape of college basketball.