Rick Pitino made a bit of history Monday night. Not only did he become the first coach to lead THREE different schools to the Final Four, he became the first coach to win national titles at TWO schools.
You know what that leaves us: figuring out where Pitino’s place is among the coaching legends of college basketball.
When determining greatness in sports, titles mean everything – especially in coaching. Some coaches who deserve to be mentioned among the best in their profession do not make the cut simply because they haven’t won enough, or any, titles. That means the Lenny Wilkins, the Bill Fitches, Hubie Browns, Guy Lewises, Don Nelsons and Digger Phelps of the coaching world will never get the love they feel they deserve.
Now the knock on Pitino is that he is too much of a journeyman to be even considered in the discussion. Keep in mind that he was coaching in the NBA after two previous stints in major college basketball: he left Providence to coach my beloved New York Knicks from 1987-1989 and he coached the Boston Celtics from 1997-2001 a year after leading Kentucky to a national title.
To me, that’s the beauty of Pitino. He was able to pick up where he left off TWICE (at Kentucky and Louisville) and not miss a beat.
And speaking of which, how gangster does one have to be to willingly go to a hated rival of your previous employer and revive its basketball program – let alone win a national championship. That was what Pitino did when he went to Louisville not long (four years to be exact) after after coaching and winning a title at Kentucky. That is like Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski leaving his school to coach and win a title at UNC.
Simply put, Pitino is the man.
Now as far as where I would put Pitino in my all-time greatest coaches rankings, here is where I would place him…
- John Wooden (he went to 12 Final Fours and won 10 national titles, ’nuff said)
- Mike Krzyzewski (he went to 11 Final Fours and won four national titles, considered a modern day Wooden)
- Dean Smith (he may have won only two national titles, but he went to 11 Final Fours – can’t beat that with a police stick)
- Adolph Rupp (this well-known bigot won four titles and went to six Final Fours)
- Bobby Knight (he went to six Final Fours and won three national titles, also one of my favorite hotheads in coaching)
- Jim Calhoun (he won three titles in only four Final Fours and built a behemoth of a program at Connecticut; doesn’t get the credit he deserves)
- Rick Pitino
- Roy Williams (won two national titles at UNC and probably will win more before he is done with coaching)
- Denny Crum (went to six Final Fours and won two national titles at Louisville; also built the Louisville basketball program)
- Tom Izzo (he may have only one national title, but he has taken Michigan State to six Final Fours, and STILL has them as a competitive threat year in and year out)
Honorable mentions: John Thompson, Jerry Tarkanian, Henry Iba, Ed Jucker, Phog Allen, Lute Olsen and Billy Donovan.
Let the debate/hate-fest begin…