7 Classic Coaches to Know

Thursday, Syracuse defeated Indiana 61-50 behind Coach Jim Boeheim, who has led the Orange since 1976. The prostate cancer survivor is second in all-time men’s Division I wins (to Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski), has a national title (2003), and is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Bobby Knight

I would use a real photo of Coach Knight, but I don’t think he’d like it, sooo….

And he’s in good company. Of these six other famous men’s coaches, some are active, some retired, some not with us anymore, and some…well, not your usual legends. But they are all names you’ll hear in this tournament and for many years to come.

Indiana has had better outcomes than 2013. Bobby Knight began his coaching career at West Point in 1965, but spent nearly 30 years at IU, where he earned three NCAA titles, an NIT title, and National Coach of the Year four times. He is third on the NCAA all-time wins list (902), coached the U.S. Olympic team to gold, and was acclaimed for graduating players and running a clean program. Personally, though, Knight was part of numerous alleged controversies involving violence, his comments–or both. Still, he is beloved by most Indiana fans and since his 2008 retirement, works as a commercial spokesman and on-air commentator.

John Wooden is considered the greatest men’s college basketball coach of all time. As head coach at UCLA in the 60s and 70s, he won 10 national titles in 12 years (seven consecutively) and was named coach of the year six times. He is one of the only men enshrined in the Hall of Fame both as a player (Purdue) and a coach. Still, the larger legacy the visionary Wooden left was in emphasizing hard work. His “Pyramid of Success” principles philosophized on how to win at sports and in life, including the foremost aphorism: Perform at your best when your best is required. Your best is required each day. He died at age 99 in 2010.

The current all-time men’s wins leader Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski actually began his career as a player—under Bobby Knight at West Point. Coach K began his reign at Duke in 1980, achieving four national titles and numerous Final Fours as well as leading Team USA to Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012. Having turned 60 on February 13, Coach K is also renowned for a clean program and graduating players who are both NBA stars and business successes. See Krzyzewski and his Duke Blue Devils tonight at 9:45 ET on CBS.

John Thompson III’s second-seeded Georgetown Hoyas made a surprising early exit from the tournament this year to current darling Florida Gulf Coast University. But you still may see his dad, 6-10 John Thompson Jr., offering tournament television commentary. The first African-American head coach to win a major championship (1984), Thompson was both triumphant (he threatened, without repercussion, a DC drug kingpin known to associate with Hoya players) and controversial (media and authorities heavily scrutinized his recruiting reach to underprivileged black payers for an otherwise “white” academic university). Regardless, both he and “JT3” look to be long loved.

Though he retired in 1997, Dean Smith’s 36-year tenure and 879 victories at the University of North Carolina still loom large. He has one of the highest winning percentages of all time (78%), won two NCAA championships and went to 11 Final Fours. Smith, too, reportedly kept the rules and saw some 96% of his players received their degrees. He also recruited UNC’s first African-American scholarship player, Charlie Scott, in 1967. Scott won a gold medal on the 1968 Olympic team.

With his “Survive and Advance” team motto, Jim “Jimmy V” Valvano led NC State to an improbable 1983 national title over a Houston team with a 26-game win streak. You’ll often see highlight reels and commercials with the coach running around the court stunned and seeking someone to hug. Sadly, his larger fame came when he was diagnosed with bone cancer—yet launched the V Foundation for Cancer Research in 1993, demanding people “don’t give up, don’t ever give up” He died two months later, but each year numerous basketball events support the foundation’s work.

Finally, despite all these men’s fine achievements, there is a women’s tournament going on as well, led by magnificent female coaches. Just this year both UNC’s Sylvia Hatchell and Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer reached their 900-win marks. Texas’ Jody Conradt is also a club member and of course the winningest NCAA basketball coach of all time—men or women—Tennessee’s Pat Summitt.


2 thoughts on “7 Classic Coaches to Know

  1. John Wooden is my favorite – always a gentleman and what a coach! I remember a story about one of his players asking Wooden why he didn’t play him more – the player said “you know I’m the best player on the team.” Wooden agreed that he was the best player, but that he wasn’t a team player. (going by memory…..) This tells me what Wooden valued – team work.

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