We pay so much attention to the regular-season records and the star players that make up the best teams. We often overlook the brains behind the success.
Head coaches are just as big of a factor as an elite player or experienced roster. If a team isn’t well-coached, chances are they will be heading home early. Who is leading the team is definitely something I consider when making my bracket predictions.
This article takes a closer look at the impact a head coach can have on a team in the NCAA Tournament.
Most Active NCAA Tournament Wins
The list below shows the coaches who have posted at least a 60% win percentage in all games. It’s no surprise many of these guys are the highest paid in the sport.
Only 14 of the 45 have been able to carry over that 60% or better success rate into the tournament.
The cream of the crop is none other than Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewksi. In 31 appearances, Krzyzewski has compiled an 88-26 record for a 77.2% win rate. His 88 wins are the most all-time.
|Coach||Team(s)||Appear.||Wins||Losses||Win %||Final Fours||Titles|
|Roy Williams||Kansas, North Carolina||25||65||23||73.86%||7||2|
|Rick Pitino||Boston, Providence, Kentucky, Louisville||20||53||18||74.65%||7||2|
|John Calipari||UMass, Memphis, Kentucky||16||47||15||75.81%||6||1|
|Tom Izzo||Michigan State||18||46||17||73.02%||7||1|
|Bill Self||Tulsa, Illinois, Kansas||17||37||16||69.81%||2||1|
|Tubby Smith||Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Texas Tech*||17||30||16||65.22%||1||1|
|Bob Huggins||Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State, West Virginia||21||29||21||58.00%||2||0|
|Steve Fisher||Michigan, San Diego State||15||26||14||65.00%||3||1|
|Thad Matta||Bultler, Xavier, Ohio State||13||24||13||64.86%||2||0|
|Rick Barnes||Providence, Clemson, Texas, Tennessee*||22||21||22||48.84%||1||0|
|Larry Brown||UCLA, Kansas, SMU||8||19||7||73.08%||3||1|
|Ben Howland||Northern Arizona, Pittsburgh, UCLA, Mississippi State*||10||19||10||65.52%||3||0|
|Sean Miller||Xavier, Arizona||8||17||8||68.00%||0||0|
|John Beilein||Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia, Michigan||9||16||9||64.00%||1||0|
|Lon Kruger||Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV, Oklahoma||16||16||16||50.00%||1||0|
|Jay Wright||Hofstra, Villanova||12||14||12||53.85%||1||0|
|Kelvin Sampson||Washignton State, Oklahoma, Indiana, Houston*||14||12||14||46.15%||1||0|
|Bruce Weber||Southern Illinois, Illinois, Kansas State||10||11||10||52.38%||1||0|
|Bruce Pearl||Tennessee, Auburn*||8||10||8||55.56%||0||0|
|Mark Gottfried||Murray State, Alabama, NC State||11||10||11||47.62%||0||0|
|Mike Brey||Delaware, Notre Dame||12||9||12||42.86%||0||0|
|John Thompson III||Princeton, Georgetown||10||9||10||47.37%||1||0|
|Steve Alford||Missouri State, Iowa, New Mexico, UCLA||9||9||9||50.00%||0||0|
|Tom Crean||Marquette, Indiana||8||9||8||52.94%||1||0|
|Gregg Marshall||Winthrop, Wichita State||11||8||11||42.11%||1||0|
|Matt Painter||Southern Illinois, Purdue||8||8||8||50.00%||0||0|
|Mike Anderson||UAB, Missouri, Arkansas||7||8||7||53.33%||0||0|
|Tim Floyd||New Orleans, Iowa Sate, USC, UTEP*||8||7||8||46.67%||0||0|
|Tony Bennett||Washington State, Virginia||5||6||5||54.55%||0||0|
|Dana Altman||Kansas State, Creighton, Oregon||11||6||11||35.29%||0||0|
|Mark Turgeon||Wichita State, Texas A&M, Maryland||6||6||6||50.00%||0||0|
|Mick Cronin||Murray State, Cincinnati||7||4||7||36.36%||0||0|
|Randy Bennett||Saint Mary’s||5||3||5||37.50%||0||0|
|Ben Jacobson||Northern Iowa||3||3||3||50.00%||0||0|
|Fran Dunphy||Pennsylvania, Temple||15||3||15||16.67%||0||0|
|Mark Fox||Nevada, Georgia||5||2||5||28.57%||0||0|
|Andy Kennedy||Ole Miss||2||2||2||50.00%||0||0|
|Randy Rahe||Weber State||2||0||2||0.00%||0||0|
|Keith Dambrot||Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State, West Virginia||3||0||3||0.00%||0||0|
* – school where he is current head coach, but has not led that specific team to the tournament
Top 10 Wins All-Time
1. Mike Kryzewski 88 Wins (Duke)
2. Dean Smith 65 Wins (North Carolina)
3. Roy Williams 65 Wins (Kansas, North Carolina)
4. Jim Boeheim 53 Wins (Syracuse)
5. Rick Pitino 53 Wins (Providence, Kentucky, Louisville)
6. Jim Calhoun 49 Wins (Connecticut)
7. John Wooden 47 Wins (UCLA)
8. Lute Olson 46 Wins (Iowa, Arizona)
9. Tom Izzo 46 Wins (Michigan State)
10. Bob Knight 45 Wins (Indiana, Texas Tech)
NCAA Tourney Coaches – Wins Lost or Gained
I looked at the current coaches who have appeared in five or more NCAA Tournaments since 1985.
Using their seed at the beginning of each tournament, I calculated their projected wins. (for example, a #2 seed would be expected to win three games and reach the Elite Eight).
Comparing the number to the actual wins each team had. I was able to come up with +/- wins number you see in the far right column.
These are the average wins each coach has earned above or below their seeding to this point in their career.
|Team||Coach||Appearances||Average Seed||+/- Wins|
|Michigan State||Tom Izzo||18||5||0.777|
|North Carolina||Roy Williams||11||3||0.090|
|San Diego State||Steve Fisher||8||8||-0.250|
|Ohio State||Thad Matta||8||4||-0.444|
*Data only includes coaching appearances with the team listed.
Coach Calapari comes in at the top of the list. This only includes his tenure at Kentucky, but keep in mind that his numbers are only over five seasons.
The Wildcats making the championship game as an 8 seed in 2014 skews his expectations quite a bit.
My takeaway from this is that Tom Izzo has been the best Big Dance coach in modern history. His teams consistently out-perform their seeding.
Some of the coaches on this list have suffered from having high expectations. Guys like Thad Matta and Bill Self have struggled, while Coach K and Roy Williams have done just fine.
If you are interested in more information about seeding, check out our tournament winners by seed article.
Top 5 Active Head Coaches
Mike Krzyzewski (Duke)
This is an obvious choice. Coach K’s 88 career tourney wins are the most all-time. A ridiculous 23 more than runner-up Dean Smith (65).
It comes as no surprise really with Krzyzewski coming from the Bob Knight school of coaching. Not only did he play for Knight at Army, he coached along side him at Indiana.
Coach K picked up a bunch of NCAA tourney wins from 1988-1992. He led the Blue Devils to five consecutive Final Fours. Winning back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992.
Krzyzewski has since added three more championships (2001, 2010, 2015) . His 12 Final Four appearances are tied for the most all-time with the great John Wooden.
Tom Izzo (Michigan State)
I already stated my case that I think Izzo is the best head coach of our generation.
You can say all you want about him only winning one National Championship.
There’s simply no one better at getting his team to exceed expectations year after year.
He’s guided the Spartans to seven Final Four appearances and was the runner-up in 2009.
Quite a resume for someone who has been named the National Coach of the Year on four separate occasions.
Roy Williams (North Carolina)
Roy Williams comes from the Dean Smith school of coaching and has made quite a name for himself.
Williams started out at Kansas back in 1988. He left as the school’s second winningest coach in program history.
Despite all kinds off success at Kansas, Williams was never able to win it all with the Jayhawks. His fortune quickly changed after he arrived in Chapel Hill.
He replaced Matt Dougherty in 2003 and had the Tar Heels cutting down the nets in 2005. He would add another title to his resume in 2009.
Williams is currently tied for 2nd all-time in NCAA Tournament wins with 65. He’s tied for fourth with most Final Four appearances at 7.
He had a streak of 20 consecutive seasons where he led his team to the NCAA Tournament. His team won at least one game in all 20 appearances.
Rick Pitino (Louisville)
Pitino was the first coach in history to win titles at two different schools. The first coming in 1996 with Kentucky and the second in 2013 with Louisville.
He’s also one of just two coaches all-time to take three different teams to the Final Four. The other being Providence back in 1987.
Pitino has made 7 trips to the Final Four. Tied with Williams and Izzo for the second most all-time among active coaches.
His 43 wins is tied for fifth all-time.
John Calipari (Kentucky)
John Calipari has solidified himself as one of the top coaches in the game today.
He’s the only other coach besides Pitino to have taken three different teams to the Final Four. Doing so with Massachusetts, Memphis and most recently Kentucky.
Calipari won his first and only Championship in 2012 with the Wildcats. He also took Kentucky to back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2011 and 2012.
Best ATS Tournament Coaches
If you are entering bracket contests then you want to find winners. But, if you are making up a small portion of the $2.5 billion dollars bet on March Madness you want to know who cashes at the pay window.
|Jeff Capel III||4||2||29.6%||+178|
|John Thompson III||7||10||-19.6%||-334|
*Data only includes coaches with five ATS results.