The college basketball season has reached a point where just about every game matters. Conference tournaments can be important to teams “on the bubble” for an invite to the NCAA tournament and teams comfortably in the tournament can have their seedings affected positively or negatively based on games in the conference tournaments. I am not about to go and make predictions about the various conference tournaments around the country but the ramping up of college basketball at this time of the year got me to thinking about the sport in general over the weekend.
Coaching is an element of team success at almost every level of sport and – in my opinion – coaches/managers generally get too much credit for successes and too much blame for failures across the full landscape of team sports. In college basketball, I think that coaches are more visible and more identified with success and failure than in other sports. There are 6 college coaches working today whose record and whose reputation puts them at the top of their profession. However, only one of them will probably around 10 years from now and in fact he may be the only one on the scene 5 years from now;
- Jim Boeheim: He has been at Syracuse and associated with the basketball program since 1963 when he was on the team. He has been the head coach there since 1976; he is 72 years old. Although he has not made a formal announcement and signed his retirement papers, the reports are that he will step down at the end of this season and turn over the program to long-time assistant and coach-in-waiting, Mike Hopkins.
- John Calipari: He is the youngster of this group at 58 years old. I can see him still on the sidelines at Kentucky in 2027; he is under contract at UK through 2021.
- Tom Izzo: This year’s Michigan State team is hardly one of Izzo’s best; nonetheless, he is as secure in his position as any coach on this list. He is 62 years old and is signed with Michigan State through 2021
- Mike Krzyzewski: Coach K is 70 years old and has had several recent surgeries. He too is signed through 2021; when that contract expires, he will be 74 years old.
- Rick Pitino: He is 64 years old and recently signed a contract extension that would keep him at Louisville through 2026. Given the pending investigations by the NCAA regarding recruits there being supplied with hookers, I think that Pitino is not a mortal lock to see the final days of that contract.
- Roy Williams: He is 67 years old and is signed through 2020. Like Coach K, Williams has had some health issues. Like Rick Pitino, there are NCAA investigations going on all around UNC and some of it focuses on the basketball program.
I am not suggesting that any of these 6 coaches are over the hill or out of touch. In fact, I am convinced that all 6 are still very good at what they do. But Father Time has paid a house call to a couple of these folks and could very well be ready to ring on some of the other doorbells. Much will be made of the college basketball coaching carousel that will unfold over the next 6 weeks or so. I think the much more interesting thing to ponder is this:
- Who will replace these Hall of Fame legends when they turn in their whistles?
Let me just say that following a legend into a job is not a ticket to success and is not something that makes the replacement into a household name. No Googling now:
- Who replaced John Wooden at UCLA?
- Who replaced Bear Bryant at Alabama?
- Who replaced Vince Lombardi in Green Bay?
- (Answers below)
One other college coach who is getting near the end of the line who has enjoyed lots of success but is a rung or two below the six guys above is Bob Huggins. He is 63 years old and has had more than a couple of medical incidents in recent weeks including a time when his implanted defibrillator had to kick in during game. Huggins’ teams have never won the NCAA tournament, but he has averaged 20+ wins per game over a coaching career that started in 1984.
The thing I find interesting about Huggins is his radical departure from his coaching brethren when it comes to sartorial splendor on the sidelines. Most coaches wear suits and ties on the sidelines; Huggins wears a pullover with the school logo on it; no one seems to notice or care to comment. This is the polar opposite of the reaction to Bill Belichick’s “unusual” sideline wardrobe choices – hoodies with cut off sleeves have not become a fashion statement even in Boston. However, folks always comment on “the hoodie” and even refer to Belichick as “Darth Hoodie” at times.
I promised answers above:
- Gene Bartow succeeded John Wooden at UCLA. He lasted 2 years and his record of 52-9 in those 2 years was not satisfactory.
- Ray Perkins replaced Bear Bryant at Alabama. He lasted 3 years and his overall record of 32-15-1 in those 3 years was not satisfactory.
- Phil Bengston succeeded Vince Lombardi in Green Bay. He lasted 3 seasons and his record of 20-21-1 was considered scandalous in Green Bay.
Finally, here is Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times showing his skills as a spin doctor:
“Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins has been ejected 11 times in his NBA career.
“Or as DeMarcus apologists prefer to spin it: Cousins 11 times removed.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………