It’s March. It’s the first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament. This really is is the most wonderful time of the year because greatest sports tournament in the world has started. A lot of fun stuff this year, but amid all of the talk of Dan D’antoni leading Marshall to the Tourney for the 1st time in 30+ years (which I think is really cool by the way), I got particularly curious about coaches coaching at their alma maters in this Tourney. There were of course 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament (now 64). 11 of them (or 16.2%) have head coaches coaching at their undergraduate alma maters. Thanks to Sports-reference.com for the majority of data.
LaVall Jordan, Butler. (Finishing his 1st Season at Butler) Jordan graduated from Butler in 2001, and came back in 2003 as an assistant. He had a pretty mediocre year last season in his only season at the helm at UW-Milwaukee. Even so, it was easy for Butler to hire Jordan considering his Butler pedigree. He is a Bulldog legend — and went to 3 tournaments as a player between 1998–2001, including breaking a 39-year tournament win drought for the Bulldogs in 2001.
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati. (12) In 2006, when recently ousted Bob Huggins underling Andy Kennedy bolted the Bearcats for his home-state team, Ole Miss, Mick stepped up for his alma mater. Boy howdy are the Cincinnati faithful happy he did. This is the 7th Consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance for Cincinnati, who has had Mick lead them to 266 wins . Coach Cronin will likely catch up to West Virginia alum Bob Huggins (398 wins at Cincinnati) before he’s done.
Dan D’antoni, Marshall. (4) In his first head coaching job, national treasure and older brother Dan D’antoni has led the Thundering Herd to the Dance for the first time in more than 30 years. Dan, brother of fellow Herd alum and current Houston Rockets head coach Mike, has his teams play a speedy ‘7 seconds or less’ style similar to his bro’s. Watch out, (Wichita State coach Gregg) Marshall, Marshall is (are?) Marshall. D’antoni was no slouch as a player for the Herd either; he is in the Marshall Athletics Hall of Fame.
Travis Decuire, Montana. (4) Decuire didn’t play much, but he did learn a lot as a student-athlete for Montana under coach Blaine Taylor. A few years after graduating with a degree in Marketing, he rejoined Coach Taylor as an assistant at Old Dominion and contributed to the Monarchs making two NCAA Tournaments. Now in his 4th year as the head man at Montana, Decuire’s got the Grizz in the tourney for the first time during his tenure. Watch out for the Grizzlies, as Montana is poised to have an even better year in 2018–2019. They only have one Senior on the current team and all-Big Sky standout Ahmaad Rorie will be ready to go for Big Sky POY next year. Decuire could treat Montana like a stepping stone job like previous alums and head coaches Wayne Tinkle and Larry Kristkowiak, as he should have a shot at a bigger job soon. I think he’ll stay, though, as he reportedly took himself out of the running for the Cal job last year.
LeVelle Moton, UNC-Central. (9) NC Central’s Athletics Website describes coach Moton as “arguably one of the greatest players in school history” and when he’s done with the Eagles, he’ll be described that way as a coach too. They joined D-I in 2011 under Moton, and this was their 3rd NCAA Tournament appearance since then representing the MEAC. They weren’t able to pull off their first Division I NCAA Tournament win Wednesday against Mike Davis’ Texas Southern team. I liked his UNC-Central to beat em, I was wrong.
Roy Williams, North Carolina. (15) Roy was notoriously recruited by his alma mater while at Kansas many times, and resisted each time. But he decided in 2003 to take over — after Matt Doherty’s Heels missed the tournament two years in a row — and will certainly retire as the Heels’ head ball coach. Roy has 423 wins at North Carolina. All he has to do is double it to get within 33 wins of Dean Smith’s 879. No problem, it took Roy 15 seasons to get there, so after 15 more, he’ll be 82 years old. Piece of cake.
Matt Painter, Purdue. (13) Matt Painter was a player and former assistant under Purdue legend Gene Keady and got the job in 2005 after Keady’s retirement. Painter was chosen over his former Boilermaker teammate and fellow assistant coach, Cuonzo Martin. Martin is the former head coach of Tennessee and Cal, and is currently coaching in this NCAA Tournament as the head coach of Mizzou.
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse. (42) Jim Boeheim is coaching in his 42nd season at his alma mater, and won his 58th Tournament game for the Orange on Wednesday night. He was a solid player, starting all 28 games and finishing the season with 14.6 ppg as a senior for the 1965–66 Orangemen. Despite his sometimes acerbic and contemptuous demeanor with the media, Boeheim is unquestionably a coaching legend, trailing only Coach K for all-time wins as a college basketball head coach.
Jamie Dixon, TCU. (2) Holy crap, how happy are the TCU faithful that Pitt completely blew it with Dixon and forced him out to his alma mater. In just his second year in the Metroplex, Dixon has the Horned Frogs in the NCAA Tournament for the 1st time in 20 years. (Remember Lee Nailon former WACtion fans!?) Dixon was no slouch as a player, either. He led the ol’ SWC in assists his senior year and led TCU to the NCAA Tournament that year. Interestingly, Alabama coach Avery Johnson led the nation in assists that ’86–’87 season.
Bob Huggins, West Virginia. (11) Both of West Virginia’s D-I schools are in the tournament, and both of them feature coaches coaching for their alma maters. Huggy Bear was a solid player for the Mountaineers, averaging 13+ points and almost 4 assists in his senior year of ’77. In fact, Huggy was an academic marvel while at WVU. He was an academic all-American who graduated magna cum laude with dual degrees in Education and Physical Therapy. He stayed in Morgantown for a year as an assistant and to complete his Masters in Health Administration. I would be shocked if Huggy Bear’s 5th landing spot as a head coach isn’t his last.
Arizona State. If you don’t know where Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley went to college, you aren’t a college basketball fan. Period. End of Discussion. Needless to say, the committee put them in the Omaha bracket with another certain team for a reason. Moving on.
*Arkansas. Mike Anderson graduated from my alma mater, the University of Tulsa. He coached under Nolan Richardson there, and then moved on with him to Arkansas. He has described Arkansas as his “dream job”.
Creighton. Greg McDermott left the head coaching job at his alma mater Northern Iowa University for Iowa State in 2006, and then left in 2010 for Creighton. (Bookview: I’m taking Kansas State against them in their 1st Round Matchup Friday. He has never won an NCAA Tournament game without his kid. Dougie McBuckets).
Duke. Coach K of course went to Army, which was also his first head coaching job . He got the Army job in 1975, succeeding the man who was his college head coach and mentor, one Robert Knight. Coach K got the Army job at 28 years old.
*Gonzaga. Mark Few did his undergraduate study at Oregon, but has an Masters from Gonzaga that he received as an assistant coach. For those that don’t know, Mark Few is a a future Basketball Hall of Famer, and likely the most underrated college basketball coach of all time.
Kentucky. John Calipari has no link to Kentucky or Memphis or UMass or anything. He is from Moon Township, PA, which is in the district where they had the special election yesterday.
LIU Brooklyn. Derrick Kellogg lost to Radford yesterday, as @Wronglines predicted. While he lost, he accomplished the exact same as what he did in 9 Years coaching at his alma matter, UMass — making the NCAA Tournament once.
Missouri. See Purdue, Matt Painter. The only way that Mizzou and Purdue would meet in the tournament would be in the Championship game. So if that 75000/1 probability thing happens, be aware of the “Cuonzo Martin and Matt Painter were coached and played together at Purdue” narrative on TBS.
Oklahoma. OU coach Lon Kruger has bounced around the coaching profession for sure. OU is his 6th stop on the college basketball coaching carousel. From 1986–1990, he helmed his alma mater Kansas State. Krugs had some moves too, he was the 2-time Big-8 Player of the Year and went 5–2 vs. OU as a player.
*Providence. Ed “Towel Pants” Cooley didn’t attend Providence as a college student. But he is Providence through and through. He was born and raised in Providence, RI and was the Rhode Island High School player of the year twice. When he was introduced at Providence, he described it as his “dream job”. And by the way no, he didn’t go to Cooley High.
Rhode Island. Bobby’s brother, Dan Hurley is the hot name in coaching circles, and is likely in his last season at Rhode Island. But watch out for a surprise name in the coaching carousel for him. His alma mater, Seton Hall. The Seton Hall job isn’t open you say?! Keep reading.
Seton Hall. Kevin Willard’s job isn’t in jeopardy at all. He is in the midst of back-to-back-to-back tourney appearances for the Pirates, the only time that has happened since the P.J. Carlesimo era. Here’s my thing. Kevin Willard went to Pitt a desperate ACC cellar dweller with a proud basketball history. And according to a 2017 USA Today Database, he makes 1.5 Million a year with Seton Hall. If Pitt was smart they would make a run at him for 4 million a year. Selling point: it’s in a better conference, plus they are having to pay Kevin 0 wins Stallings his FULL 9+MILLION BUYOUT. Might as well keep the money train rollin. (Obviously this won’t happen, as it will take a miracle for Pitt to come out of the ACC cellar, and Kevin Willard likes his job security I’d imagine.)
*Texas Tech. Chris Beard actually is a Texas Longhorn, but was Bob Knight’s associate head coach in Lubbock for 10 years. When he accepted the job at UNLV, just to spurn them days later for Texas Tech, he described Tech as his “dream job”. I’m sure his 25 year reunion in Austin in 2020 won’t be awkward at all.
UCLA. If you don’t know where UCLA coach and opening round loser Steve Alford went to college- and why it’s ironic that he is the head coach at Reggie Miller’s alma mater, go ahead and watch this clip or if you’re feeling lazy, this one.
Breaking it down, the data — for the most part — reflects what we have seen from D’antoni. Passion and commitment. So too for the * guys that are not technically coaching at their alma maters but have strong ties to the schools. Every single one of the coaches coaching for their alma maters has an uncommon longevity at the school (or in the case of Jordan, Dixon, and Decuire — the ability to program- build and have longevity).
Obviously, this is a small sample size and is picking from a pool of coaches that all made the NCAA Tournament this year. Hiring coaches purely because they went to school there is a terrible reason to bring them in. It doesn’t always work out, and as with anything, winning solves all problems and losing magnifies them. Just look at Decuire’s predecessors— who left for greener pastures. Or more recently Kevin Ollie at UConn – recently “fired for just cause”. It was only six years ago that Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun hand-picked Ollie to be his successor. And only four years ago that his Kemba Walker-led team hoisted the National Championship Trophy. Again, he was terminated on Saturday and will likely enter a long legal battle with UConn regarding his buyout compensation. So again, it doesn’t always work out with alums coaching.
It’s cool to look at though, and more interesting than I expected. The average tenure of these coaches is longer than most of the others in DI— even among their coaching colleagues in the NCAA Tournament- and we’ll see how many of these guys go far (Note: As of this publishing, the 11 are 1–1.) I’ll repeat it because it’s so fun to say and cool that it’s true. It’s March. It’s the first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament. This really is the most wonderful time of the year.