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Wednesday, March 20, 2002
Readers' List: Big-game coaches

Page 2 staff

It's a tough question: If you had one college basketball game that you absolutely had to win, which coach would you want on the bench?

Page 2 weighed in with its top 10 choices, and now our readers have had their say. Check out the readers' list below and then vote in the poll at right to crown the top big-game coach in college hoops history.

1. Mike Krzyzewski (136 letters)

Mike Krzyzewski
Mike Krzyzewski has taken Duke to nine Final Fours ... and counting.
All you have to do is look at his record in the NCAA Tournament. Or look at the program he's built at Duke. Or the team -- dynasties -- he's built. Look at the players he's developed. Look at the men he's developed -- both players and coaches. Then look at where those players and former assistants are today -- both on and off the court.

Duke is the standard of excellence which all other college basketball programs aspire to be, and Coach K is the cornerstone of the dynasty.

There are several specific instances of in-game coaching decisions and tactics I could point out to demonstrate his ability to win the big game. The most compelling would be the ESPN Classic victory over Kentucky. Going into the timeout the first thing he told the kids is "we're going to win this game." They did.

Barry Jaynes
Durham, N.C.


I'm a UNC alum, so it pains me to say this, but Coach K is the best motivator in the game.

He's Dean Smith with enthusiasm, and Rick Pitino with integrity.

Joe Pellegrino
Richmond, Ky.


As a Maryland fan, I hate the Duke Blue Devils with every fiber of my being, and so it pains me to choose coach K. But bottom line, the guy can flat-out coach.

Mike Brennan
Glen Arm, Md.


2. John Wooden (131 letters)

John Wooden, period. The best combination of teacher and coach there is, ever was or ever will be.

John Wooden
John Wooden's 10 NCAA titles will probably never be matched.
If you ever want to see how the game should be played, check out the old UCLA tapes. It didn't matter what the talent was, you knew the offense would move without the ball, the defense would zone trap. The center could be an all-time great or Steve Patterson, and it wouldn't matter.

Don't give me this stuff about the athleticism of today's players. Sure, they can jump or hoist the 3, but they don't know where to go without the ball. Athleticism isn't savvy. Simple fundamentals executed properly within the team concept will find a way to win every time.

Keith Hansen
Seattle


Although the college game has changed significantly since UCLA was in the midst of its incredible championship run, the fact remains that John Wooden won 10 championships. His ability to motivate and to get the most out of his players is unmatched.

Throughout the '80s and '90s, North Carolina had two overall No. 1 picks (James Worthy and Brad Daugherty) as well as a slew of other NBA stars (Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse, Jeff McInnis, Vince Carter, and Antawn Jamison, just to name a few). Dean Smith arguably had more pure talent than John Wooden's UCLA squads yet managed to win only two national titles.

In addition, those titles were only ensured following two of the most well-known gaffes in the history of college basketball. If John Wooden had coached at North Carolina in the '80s and '90s with all of the same players, the "Wizard of Chapel Hill" almost certainly would have won more than two titles.

Hideaki
Gaithersburg, Md.


The list begins and ends with a single name: John Wooden. Sitting calmly with his rolled-up program, the man emitted confidence and class. His teams always played to their full potential and he did it without throwing chairs or humiliating anyone, ever. Simply the best. Coach K is a worthy successor for his generation.

Wayne Buck
Seattle


3. Bobby Knight (101 letters)

You asked if Knight has ever won not having the best team? How about 1984 when Dan Dakich and company beat Michael Jordan and the great Dean Smith?

Bobby Knight
Bob Knight won three NCAA titles at Indiana and had a pefect season in 1976.
How about 1987 when his team of role players knocked off a team featuring Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly and Sherman Douglas (all of whom had at least decent NBA careers) to win his third title.

Bob Knight has only had one player play in an NBA All-Star game (Isiah Thomas), how many has Dean Smith had or Coach K? A better question would be, has Knight ever even had the better team?

Jeff Graham
Frankton, Ind.


Add it up: Three NCAA titles, an Olympic gold medal, a Pan-American Games championship and an NIT championship. Bob Knight has won big games in more settings than any collegiate coach in history.

If, as you claim, he won the NCAAs only because he had the best teams, we must ask ourselves: Who made those teams great?

Chris Morfas
Sacramento, Calif.


4. Tom Izzo (95 letters)

Tom Izzo
Tom Izzo guided Michigan State to three consecutive Final Fours.
Three consecutive Final Fours, one national championship. For most coaches, that's a career. For Izzo, its only the beginning. He coaches good tough basketball, he runs a solid clean program, and he brought the magic back to MSU.

Brian Satwicz
East Lansing, Mich.


I'd take someone who can rebuild a team after stars leave, someone who has a great grasp on what works today, a coach who always gets better results out of his players than they thought they could produce. That man? Tom Izzo.

Derek Wallbank
East Lansing, Mich.


5. Lute Olson (63 letters)

Lute Olson
Lute Olson has won nine Pac-10 titles and one national championship.
Lute Olson knows how to win, and in an age when it is tough to dominate, he has done just that. Olson is the only coach to participate in every NCAA tourney since the field was expanded to 64 teams. That's 18 straight times. A national championship, five Final Fours, nine Pac-10 championships and four Pac-10 tourney championships, out of a possible five. Arizona's winning percentage over the last 14 years (.813) is the best in the country. Finally, Arizona has more players in the NBA right now than any other school. Give it up for Lute.

Will
Tucson, Ariz.


Lute Olson is the man. He might only have one NCAA championship with Arizona, but he's a permanent fixture in the NCAA Tournament. Year in and year out, no matter who he has on the court, 'Zona is competitive. Not to mention how many other schools name their court after their current coach as opposed to a past coach?

Nathan E.
Clarksville, Ind.


6. Dean Smith (41 letters)

It's hard to argue with any of the choices on this list. But Dean Smith stands out because most of those 879 wins were hard-earned.

You know all the records -- some of which will probably never be even threatened. But what is really remarkable is that Dean pulled it off year in, year out, in the toughest conference in college basketball. And he still had enough left in the tank to put together some of the best teams the game has ever seen. Adolph Rupp, in contrast, racked up most of his wins in a time when Kentucky was the only SEC school that took basketball seriously.

Dean Smith
No coach in history has won more games than Dean Smith.
And Dean did it the right way -- the NCAA couldn't find Chapel Hill if it tried. So when all is said and done, Dean Smith will stand as the greatest big-game coach in history.

Darrell Lucus
Charlotte, N.C.


Dean Smith was calm and cool under pressure. Plus, he kicked Coach K's butt for more than a decade.

Charlie Pringle
Chapel Hill, N.C.


7. Jim Calhoun (34 letters)

I think your list is missing one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball: Jim Calhoun. Calhoun did more with less then any coach for a long time at Northeastern and UConn. He built UConn into the national power that it is today. He also beat your No. 2 coach in one of the best national championship games of all-time.

Calhoun completely outclassed Coach K on that day, and that was the biggest game on the biggest stage. Calhoun has more than 600 D1 wins and has won the Big East championship six out of the last nine years, and seven out of the last 13. UConn has also never lost a first-round NCAA tournament game, going 21-7 in the Tournament. If that isn't the résumé of a big game coach, what is?

Jim Calhoun
UConn's Jim Calhoun got the best of Coach K in the 1999 NCAA title game.
David Beaulieu
Boston


Come on now, no love for Jim Calhoun? The man has single-handedly built the UConn program from a nothing team in the cow pastures of rural Connecticut to one of the powerhouses of the NCAA. Who else do you think could have recruited Ray Allen and Caron Butler to a school that is close to only one city, and that city is Hartford (which couldn't even keep the Whalers in town). Add to that a 1999 national championship over one of the best Duke teams ever, and you've got my vote.

Sean Burns
West Hartford, Conn.


8. Al McGuire (29 letters)

"I've never blown a whistle, looked at a film, worked at a blackboard or organized a practice in my life." This coming from a coach who got more out of his players than anybody could imagine.

McGuire brought a pack of raw basketball talent (often recruiting in inner-cities where some coaches refused to go) together and brought them to win as a team and lose as a team, never sacrificing a "team-first" attitude in exchange for individual accolades. McGuire put Marquette basketball on the map with a bang, and set the standard for getting more out of his players than any coach before him.

A great coach? Yes. But his coaching was secondary to his motivational skills both on and off the court. I'll take Al as my coach in a big game any day.

Travis Lavin
San Jose, Calif.


9. Rick Pitino (24 letters)

Rick is able to get more out of young players than any other coach I have ever watched. He has amazing charisma and game-time coaching cool ... a combination that always strikes fear in me whenever I am pulling for any team he's coaching against. The bigger the game the more significant his personal inpact.

Wayne Stretch
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada


10. Denny Crum (18 letters)

Since I'm too young to have witnessed John Wooden's coaching acumen, I have to go with his protegé -- Denny Crum.

Denny Crum
Denny Crum reached six Final Fours and won two national titles.
I've watched college basketball religiously for nearly 20 years now, and I have yet to see a coach remain cool, calm and collected during stressful game situations, while at the same time make brilliant late-game decisions. No one used late-game timeouts better than Crum. No one drew up late-game situation plays any better than Crum. His best coaching performance? The 1986 championship game in which he flat outcoached Coach K of Duke.

Unfortunately, Crum's later teams did not have the talent he needed to do the things he wanted, but he was still able to get a lot out of his players. In 1997, for instance, he made the Elite 8 with a small, unheralded lineup. But, his record from 1972 to 1986 is remarkable: Six Final Fours, two national championships, numerous conference titles. Other than Wooden or Coach K, there is hardly any better 15-year run.

Crum always conducted himself with class and dignity. His lack of self-promotion and controversy hurt him in the national media's eyes, but in this college basketball fan's eyes, there was often none better.

Tom Pace
Cincinnati


Others receiving five or more votes

Pat Summitt, Jim Boeheim, Jerry Tarkanian, Jim Valvano, John Chaney, Gene Keady, John Thompson, Steve Fisher, Rick Majerus, Rolly Massimino, Don Haskins, Pete Newell, Tubby Smith, Larry Brown.