What will be mostly remembered about the current March Madness, as with any edition of the men’s NCAA tournament, will be the players and the plays, not the “suits.” But coaches in their Brooks Brothers threads and the extra antiperspirant obviously play a huge role in getting their teams to the Sweet 16.
To think otherwise is to ignore how highly their contributions are valued by their employers. Consider, for a moment, that Tennessee, which just fired Bruce Pearl because of mounting NCAA-related troubles, reportedly will receive severance worth $948,728 in salary and benefits. That hints at what the school was willing to pay a coach who could take the Vols to the NCAA tournament in each of his six seasons. So you can only imagine what Duke’s squeaky clean Mike Krzyzewski must make as the winner of four national championships, including last season’s.
As glittering as Coach K’s situation may be now, however, he has paid his dues – as have all the other Sweet 16 coaches, to varying degrees. For no one starts out at the top. And many began either as high school coaches or lowly college graduate assistants.
Krzyzewski’s rise began humbly enough according to a 14-page bio found on Duke’s basketball website. After playing under Bob Knight at the US Military Academy at West Point, he guided service teams while in the Army from 1969 to 1974. He followed that up with two years as head coach at West Point’s prep school in Belvoir, Va., a short stint as a graduate assistant at Indiana University under Knight, and five years as West Point’s coach. All this occurred before Duke signed him in 1980. The fit, obviously, has been perfect.
The coaching lifers often spend their early, formative years hop-scotching around until they settle into one job. That’s the case for Chris Mooney, a Princeton grad who has taken the University of Richmond Spiders to the Sweet 16. He put in his time with high school and college jobs in Pennsylvania and Colorado (at the Air Force Academy) before landing with Richmond. And even when his growing reputation made him a hot prospect for various coaching vacancies, Mooney elected to sign a seven-year contract extension through the 2016-17 season - this well before Richmond’s current tournament run. He likes the fact, as he puts it, that “we are building our program.”
Coaches understand that once a program is successfully built, the momentum often continues, making the job of attracting top recruits and producing winning teams more sustainable, if not necessarily easier. In a sense, a coach can achieve a form of basketball tenure (i.e. job security), which can translate into a happier, more stable home life for his family.
The average time on the job for this year’s Sweet 16 coaches, at their current schools, is a little more than nine years. By contrast, the average for 30 NBA coaches is 2.85 years. Eleven NBA coaches have yet to complete one year on the job.
Here’s the complete lineup of Sweet 16 coaches:
* = Has high school coaching experience
Ohio State: Thad Matta
Birthplace: Hoopeston, Ill.
Ohio State head coach: 7 years
Previous college head coaching jobs: Butler Xavier (Cincinnati)
Alma mater: Southern Illinois and Butler
Fact: Played at Butler; later became academic coordinator and coach there
Kentucky: John Calipari
Birthplace: Moon Township, Pa.
Kentucky head coach: 2 years
Previous college head coaching jobs: Massachusetts, Memphis
College assistant jobs: Kansas, Pitt
Fact: Previously coached UMass and Memphis to Final Four
Marquette: Buzz Williams
Birthplace: Greenville, Texas
Marquette head coach: 3 years
Previous college head coaching jobs: U. of New Orleans
Alma mater: Oklahoma City University
Fact: Has no listed playing experience
North Carolina: Roy Williams*
Birthplace: Marion, N.C.
North Carolina head coach: 6 years
Previous college head coaching jobs: Kansas
College assistant jobs: North Carolina
Alma mater: North Carolina
Fact: Has led Tar Heels to two NCAA titles; took Kansas to 2003 finals.
Duke: Mike Krzyzewski
Duke head coach: 31 years
Previous college heading coaching jobs: Army
College assistant jobs: Indiana
Alma mater: US Military Academy
Fact: Coached 2008 US Olympic team to the gold; will try for repeat in 2012.
Arizona: Sean Miller
Birthplace: Ellwood City, Pa.
Arizona head coach: 2 years
Previous college head coaching jobs: Xavier (Cincinnati)
Alma mater: Pittsburgh
Fact: As a player, became Pitt’s best-ever 3-point shooter.
Connecticut: Jim Calhoun*
Birthplace: Braintree, Mass.
UConn head coach: 25 years
Previous college head coaching jobs: Northeastern U. (Boston)
College assistant jobs: none
Fact: Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005
Birthplace: Herrin, Ill.
San Diego State head coach:12 years
Previous college head coaching jobs: Michigan
College assistant jobs: Western Michigan, Michigan
Alma mater: Illinois State
Fact: Took Michigan to 1989 NCAA title; also coached Michigan’s Fab Five in back-to-back finals in 1992 and 1993.
Kansas: Bill Self
Birthplace: Edmond, Okla.
Kansas head coach: 8 years
Previous college head coaching jobs: Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Illinois
College assistant jobs: Kansas, Oklahoma State
Alma mater: Oklahoma State
Fact: Led Tulsa and Illinois to NCAA Elite Eight
Richmond: Chris Mooney*
Richmond head coach: 6 years
College assistant jobs: Arcadia, Air Force
Alma mater: Princeton
Fact: A four-year starter at Princeton for Hall of Fame coach Pete Carril
Virginia Commonwealth: Shaka Smart
Birthplace: Madison, Wis.
VCU head coach: 2 years
Previous college head coaching jobs: none
Alma mater: Kenyon College
Fact: Graduated magna cum laude with a history degree
Florida State: Leonard Hamilton
Birthplace: Gaston County, N.C.
Florida State head coach: 9 years
College assistant jobs: Austin Peay, Kentucky
Alma mater: Tennessee-Martin
Fact: Coached the NBA’s Washington Wizards in 2001.
Butler: Brad Stevens
Birthplace: Zionsville, Ind.
Butler head coach: 4 years
Previous college head coaching jobs: none
College assistant jobs: Butler
Fact: Left a career in marketing to try his hand at coaching.
Wisconsin: Bo Ryan*
Birthplace: Chester, Pa.
Wisconsin head coach: 10 years
Previous college head coaching jobs: U. of Wis.-Platteville, UW-Milwaukee
College assistant jobs: Wisconsin
Fact: All 27 years as head coach spent in Wisconsin, at three schools.
BYU head coach: 6 years
Previous college head coaching jobs: Dixie State College of Utah
College assistant jobs: Dixie State, BYU
Alma mater: University of Houston
Fact: Was co-captain of U. of Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma team of the 1980s.
Florida: Billy Donovan
Birthplace: Rockville Centre, N.Y.
Florida head coach: 13 years
College assistant jobs: Kentucky
Fact: Led Gators to rare back-to-back NCAA championships in 2006 and 2007