While it’s true that no head coach can either shoot, pass or rebound for their respective teams and must have at least a few quality players in order to experience any sort of success, it’s also quite true that elite head coaches that make all the right moves give their ballclubs a better chance of winning – and cashing in against the spread every time their team takes the floor.
With the 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament quickly approaching, now is as good a time as any to take a look at five veteran head coaches that could propel their respective teams to this year’s March Madness championship.
Larry Brown (2,338-1,327)
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1940, the now 73-year-old Larry Brown has not only resurfaced at SMU following a two decade-plus run in the NBA, but the legendary Hall of Fame leader has put SMU hoops back in the national spotlight after just one rebuilding season a year ago.
While Brown has often been labeled as a guy that’s tough to get along with, (it’s true) lest anyone forget, Brown is also the only head coach in basketball history to win and NBA championship (Detroit, 2004) and NCAA title (Kansas, 1988).
Brown’s teams have always put a huge focus on defense and this year’s SMU team follows that career-long model. The Mustangs may not have gotten the national publicity of several other March Madness title contenders, but I certainly wouldn’t put anything past any Larry Brown team.
Mike Krzyzewski (973-303)
Good ‘ol Coach K has led the Duke Blue Devils to a whopping 12 regular season ACC conference titles and 13 conference tourney titles while reaching the Final Four a mind-numbing 11 times and winning four national championships (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010).
While the Blue Devils aren’t nearly as overpowering as they were when they featured guys like Grant Hill and Christian Laettner, they do have arguably the best collegiate player in the country today in superstar forward Jabari Parker (19.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and a competent cast of surrounding players that could very well help Krzyzewski win his fifth national championship.
Billy Donovan (475-188)
Now in his 18th season at the University of Florida , head coach Billy Donovan has led the Gators to 13 NCAA Tournament appearances while making three Final Four appearances and two consecutive NCAA championships (2006-07). The Gators have won at least 26 games in each of the last four seasons and appear to be as capable as any team in this year’s big dance.
Tom Izzo (461-184)
In 19 seasons at Michigan State , the respected Tom Izzo has won seven regular season conference crowns and three conference tournament championships while making 16 NCAA Tournament appearances. Izzo has guided the Spartans to six Final Four appearances while winning one national title (2000). The Spartans may not have the big name superstar that some other schools may have, but they play fantastic team basketball at both ends of the floor and seemingly always have a chance to make a deep run come March Madness time.
Steve Fisher (489-255)
Fisher may be most known as the architect of Michigan ‘s now infamous Fab Five, featuring future NBA stars Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose, but the fact of the matter is that Fisher led the Wolverines to the national championship in 1989 with just one star player (Rumeal Robinson). Not only that, but Fisher has turned San Diego State’s hoops program into a perennial national title contender in recent seasons following a two-year break after leaving Michigan in 1997. The Aztecs have won at least 23 games in each of the past six seasons and play a brand of defense that could not only keep them in every tourney game they play this year, but actually put them over the top.
While I left numerous elite head coaches off of this short list (Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, Bill Self, Roy Williams), I fully expect all five of these head coaches to play integral roles in their team’s NCAA March Madness tournament quests.