RTC’s Mount Rushmore – Top Four (And More) Most Significant People in College Basketball History

Posted by EJacoby on February 20th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. 

As we celebrate President’s Day on this Monday, it’s a good time to reflect back on the significant accomplishments of George Washington and the other great leaders of our country’s 236-year history. That got us to thinking: Who are the most significant people in the history of college basketball? The game is not quite as old as the United States of America, but there are many options to choose from in a sport that’s over 100 years old, from prodigious coaches to superstar players. In the end, we determined that no single player, in a maximum of four years of eligibility, has had as much impact on the sport as any of the four coaching legends that we selected. Head coaches are responsible for shaping the lives of hundreds of players during their tenure and thus have a greater opportunity to impact the game than anyone else. Here’s a look at the accomplishments of four of the all-time great coaches in college basketball history that compose our RTC Mount Rushmore (these are in no particular order):

Mike Krzyzewski – You may not be able to spell or pronounce his full last name, but ‘Coach K’ is one of the first names that comes to mind when discussing the greatest coaches in basketball history. Krzyzewski became the all-time winningest Division I men’s basketball coach when he recorded his 903rd victory to surpass his former coach at Army, Bobby Knight, earlier this season. Coach K has been at Duke since 1980 and has led the Blue Devils to four National Championships, 11 Final Fours, and 12 ACC regular season titles. He also coached the USA Olympic ‘Redeem Team’ in 2008 to a gold medal. Mike Krzyzewski was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, still remains the head coach of one of the top contenders in the country every year, and doesn’t appear to be calling it quits anytime soon.

Adolph Rupp - A man known for his obsession with winning, Adolph Rupp is perhaps the single most successful head coach in NCAA history, statistically speaking. Rupp is fifth on the all-time men’s coaching wins list (876 victories), and he did it with the second-best winning percentage of all time, at 82.2%. Rupp spent his entire 41-year coaching career at Kentucky, where he guided the Wildcats to six Final Fours and four National Championships. His tournament records could have been even more impressive if it wasn’t for his team’s two-year hiatus from the postseason in the 1952-53 and 1953-54 seasons. Rupp also led UK to 27 SEC regular season titles in 41 years and was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame while still coaching in 1969. Shortly after he retired, Big Blue Nation named their home court after him, and Rupp Arena remains one of the historic landmarks in college basketball today.

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Thoughts On The Sporting News’ Top 50 Coaches List…

Posted by jstevrtc on July 31st, 2009

By now you’ve probably seen the list published earlier this week by The Sporting News naming their Fifty Greatest Coaches of All Time, across all sports.  And most likely you’ve at least seen that the legendary John Wooden tops that list, a selection about which this blogger has not heard one single detractor, not even one with a bad argument.  What’s interesting to me is the names from the college basketball world that follow Wooden on that list.  Here they are; I added two coaches at the end who did not make the TSN list (though one would think they might) just for the discussion:

TSN all-time coaches

The first thing that strikes me is where John Wooden ranks on the all-time Division 1 wins list.  21st??!?  It’s always been obvious that in these lofty heights number of wins has never been a great indicator of coaching ability, since teams just didn’t play as many games until the 80s when that number really took off.  That would seem to make winning percentage a more important statistic.  But not on this list, it appears.  If that statistic mattered here, you wouldn’t expect Dean Smith to be quite as high, and you’d expect Adolph Rupp to be higher; you would certainly expect Roy Williams to at least make the list.  Final fours?  Nope.  Dean Smith would be appropriately stationed, but Mike Krzyzewski would be higher along with Rupp, and again you’d think Williams would get on.   And so on.  No single major statistic appears to have guided the thinking, here.

The question is, does this reduce the validity or credibility of the list?  According to TSN, their panel consisted of “seven World Series-winning managers, four Super Bowl champion coaches, and the winningest coaches in the NBA, NHL, and college basketball.”  I’m not saying they necessarily got anything wrong — who better to ask about coaches than players and other coaches?  It is at least obvious that there’s only one thing the panel considered, at least in terms of how the best coaches in college basketball fell on the list — reputation.

No contest.   (credit: scout.com)

No contest. (credit: scout.com)

The selection of Wooden at the top cannot be argued because he’s got the reputation, the aura, and too much of the overall look of the statistics on his side.  After that it’s a crapshoot depending on what you think is the most important determiner of coaching greatness.  To the TSN panel, it’s something akin to curb appeal that influenced them.  Would Bob Knight not have been higher than 16th on an all-time coaches list were it not for his acerbic nature?  Would Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith have been closer together were it not for Rupp’s reputation (whether you think he deserves it or not) as a bigot, and/or Smith having an image bordering on — dare I say it — holy?  Is Roy Williams still being punished for his inability to win the big one while at Kansas?  And what of Pat Summitt?  She’s the only one who could even challenge Wooden in terms of college basketball coaches; her numbers are barely conceivable, and then you throw in her 1oo% graduation rate (yes, that’s right, every Tennessee player on her watch who has completed their eligibility there has also graduated).  Should she be higher than 11th on the whole thing?  And if you want to talk about the effect of reputation on this list, there probably isn’t a better example than the appearance of the late great Pete Newell.  Only 357 games coached, a single title, only two Final Fours, and the lowest winning percentage on the coaches on the above list.  But he goes and forms the Big Man Camp — and eventually what he would call the Tall Women’s Basketball Camp (I guess “Big Woman’s Camp” wasn’t an appealing name for such a place) — and finds a way to coach players in a way that didn’t directly show up as wins and losses, and here he is, on the overall list ahead of people like Joe Torre, Tom Osborne, Toe Blake, and Chuck Daly.  In addition, if you ask any coach, they’ll tell you that, before he died, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a better coach and man than Mr. Newell.  Does he belong on the list?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know one thing — the list generates great discussion (especially in the summer lull), so come on…let’s hear from the Duke fans who think Coach K got screwed, let’s hear from the UNC fans who think Smith-Williams should be 1-2.  Let’s hear from the UK fans who think Rupp is too great to be even considered on such a list.  Knowing the passion of college hoop fans and the readers of this site, it should be good.

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