College / Oct 14, 2009 / 2:15 pm

Top 5 College Coaches of All-Time

John Wooden

It’s hard to believe that John Wooden turns 99 today. The former UCLA coach is legendary for leading the Bruins to an amazing 10 NCAA championships in 12 years during the ’60s and ’70s. The Wizard of Westwood, who still attends UCLA games, plans to make it to 100.

“I recently asked how (Wooden) was doing and he said, ‘I’m 98 and I’ve made a decision. I’m going to live to be a 100.’ So I asked, ‘How did you make that coach?’ He said, ‘I looked at my driver’s license and I have two years left, I’m not going to let that money go to waste,'” said former LSU coach Dale Brown in a SI.com article last year.

In honor of this milestone, I decided to rank the top 5 college basketball coaches of all-time. Clearly, Wooden is the best, but there’s room for debate for the remaining four spots.

1. John Wooden: In 27 seasons in Westwood, Wooden won 664 games and 10 NCAA championships. No other coach has even come close to those accomplishments. At one point between 1967 and 1973, he won seven straight titles. He also coached Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton. It should be against the law to say anything negative about the Wizard.

2. Dean Smith: In Chapel Hill, Dean Smith probably gets more love than Michael Jordan. The former North Carolina coach has 879 wins – the second most in the history of college basketball. He’s won two national championships and appeared in 11 Final Fours. Smith turned Carolina into a breeding ground for future NBA players and coaches like MJ, Larry Brown, Rasheed Wallace, James Worthy and Vince Carter.

3. Mike Krzyzewski: The only active coach out of this group, Coach K is one of the most consistent coaches in the game today. He’s won 833 games in 28 years as head coach at Duke University. Krzyzewski has three NCAA titles and 11 ACC championships. On top of his accomplishments on the college level, Coach K also coached the U.S. team to a gold medal at last summer’s Olympics.

4. Adolph Rupp: Before Rick Pitino became the face of Kentucky basketball, Adolph Rupp was the big man in Lexington. In 42 seasons (1930-72) as head coach of the Wildcats, Rupp accumulated 876 victories and four NCAA championships. He would have gone even longer, but the university had a policy that all employees must retire at the age of 70. His career winning percentage of 82.2 percent ranks second best of all-time.

5. Bobby Knight: Most people know Bobby Knight for his animated personality and how he choked that kid at Indiana, but people forget he is the all-time winningest coach in college basketball with 902 victories. Knight has also won three NCAA championships, 11 Big 10 titles and has been the national coach of the year four times. He is one of three basketball coaches to ever win an Olympic gold medal, an NCAA title and an NIT championship. He retired in February 2008 after coaching Texas Tech for the previous seven seasons.

Are there any other modern day coaches that deserve to be in the Top 5 or Top 10?

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  • Cold Crush

    How is Bobby Knight not any higher???

  • AVeezie

    Pat Summit gets no love?

  • That’s whats up

    John Wooden’s got 99 problems but dying ain’t one…

  • nola

    yeah agreed ^^^^ how can you leave out pat summit?

  • nola

    i mean… she’s reached the summit of college coaching.

  • Detroit Dave

    Pat Summit and homegirl that coaches Rutgers. Also give the homie Izzo some love although he isn’t TOP 5 Ever.

  • Detroit Dave

    Jerry Tarkanian!

  • Lizzie

    You should be ashamed of yourselves for not listing Hank Iba. He sparked one of the best coaching trees in the history of the game. Where’s his nod?!

  • http://www.dimemag.com Aron Phillips

    You gotta mention the great Herb Magee’s name.

  • DarthSickness

    i’m gonna set it off…….Lute Olson

  • http://www.nukedasouth.net Chicagorilla

    John Thompson, John Chaney, Bobby Knight, Tom Izzo, Dean Smith, Pat Summit, Geno Auriema, C.Vivian Stringer.

    That’s it. Those are the actual BEST Coaches who actually can coach reguardless of the talent level on the court. They don’t have to have super blue chip recruits, but when they do have super recruits they succeed. these coaches also have made their players better and not wasted talent.

    Wooden is a racist and was in the era were they refused to recruit black players. I can’t respect that. So those chips aren’t even well earned because they didn’t win them against the best competetion anyway, but that’s for another day.

  • http://dimemag.com Austin Burton

    @Chicagorilla — I think you mean Adolph Rupp on that last part. Wooden had lots of Black players, and from my experience Kareem has been nothing but complimentary towards him. I think Wooden was also very supportive of Kareem’s conversion to Islam.

  • http://www.stepintodacipher.blogspot.com Soul Brova 1

    John Thompson should be like a 5A or something; he has an NCAA title (should be 3 as Ewing did not goaltend all four of those shots and Villanova was high), got to the title game three times in four years, yeah he brought home th ebronze but two consecutive player of the years (David Robinson and Danny Manning) should be able to score more than two points between them in any system; was more than just basketball he gave opportunities to many who wouldn’t have gotten them as well as valuable life lessons; was at the forefront in challenging the NCAA regarding Prop 48; and let’s not forget how his teams ruled the Big East Tournament (at one point Georgetown had more titles than all other teams in the conference had combined)

  • John

    Bob Knight was the best coach of all time, period. He invented all of the regular plays that teams do in TODAY game. Dont get me wrong, the others are all excellent coaches, legends, but Bob Knight is head and shoulders above all.

  • JAmes

    i am glad you left Summit off the list- since she coaches girls bball and that doesnt count- you should of put Big House Gaines on the list- the legendary coach at Winston-Salem State Univ. coached Earl the pearl Monroe back in the day


    Dean Smith had 2 National Championships. Coach K has 3, so how is that Tarhole ahead of the greatest coach in history?

  • Celts Fan

    @james – thank you! Women’s ball is COMPLETELY different. Summit and Aureama were just good enough recruiters that every one of the 3 really good women’s HS players wanted to go there. Up until about 5 years ago, there were maybe 4 worthwhile women’s teams. While that’s changing as all the women’s sports initiatives are finally seeing their first life-long beneficiaries excelling due to it, you just can’t compare women’s ball to men’s. I don’t care how many W’s Pat and Geno have. Until we see Tiger ripping up the LPGA or Blake Griffin deciding he’d prefer to dunk it on Lisa Leslie’s head, you can’t compare the 2. They’re completely different.

  • http://uoregon.edu sans

    For real, pat Summit needs to take Adolph Rupp’s spot–whose biggest accomplishment is integrating basketball by not beating a team of black players with his all white squad. However, you cannot fuck with the Blue Chips Tennessee gets–ridiculous.

    I would let Bob Knight choke my kid if it improved his skillset in life and/or basketball. Some people you shouldn’t tell to get the F out your face. I’m not saying, I’m just stating.

  • sh!tfaced

    Rick Pitino would fuck and knock up your kid’s girl and pay him to marry her, just to improve his skillset…

  • Derek

    How does Adolph Rupp, with 4 NCAA championships and 1 NIT championship when it was the premiere national tournament, rank lower than Dean Smith with just 2 championships and the same number of wins?
    And, even though I hate Duke, the same goes for Coach K, who will eventually surpass both in wins, and has more championships than Smith.

  • 12t

    What about Roy Williams? His resume is more impressive than Tom Izzo’s (who’s been mentioned) and he held his own at Kansas & UNC.

  • Bballfan

    Calhoun and his 2 national titles should put him up at number 6 or 7

  • Yoooo

    Rupp was a racist. Eff outta here. Credentials out the window

  • doc

    Rupp won when blacks couldnt play.And when we could,it was over for him.John Wooden won but if he coached today he would be fired for cheating.For those that dont know.He payed for every one of them all world talents.I would call this list the best recriuters.Bobby Knight the only one that can turn sugar to shit on this list.Give these dudes a John Chaney Temple team and they would quit.Give Cheyney a UNC team and he’d never lose.Top 5 coaches my ass.

  • weng santos

    No particular order.

    1. John Thompson- Tough love and then some. He’s like a father to his players, guidance personified. Turns kids into winners in sport and in life.
    2. Pete Carril- Such a great teacher of the game. Of all the guys in Dime’s list, who would’ve won 500 games wothout an athletic scholarship to offer?
    3. Bobby Knight- Old-school taskmaster and disciplinarian will toughen anybody up. Knight will bring out the best in you. If you don’t break first.
    4. Dean Smith- Multiple systems basketball. Such a genious. Built an empire, nay, a church of ball, too.
    5. John Wooden- Winning cures everything. At the end of the day, you gotta love a winner.

    Among active coaches. Again, in no particular order.
    1. Jim Calhoun
    2. Jim Boeheim
    3. Rick Pitino
    4. Roy Williams
    5. Tom Izzo

  • Christopher

    John Wooden’s acceptance speech would go: I would like to thank Sam Gilbert for paying all these players to come to UCLA and I would like to thank the NCAA for looking the other way the whole time.

  • random

    Glory Road was inaccurate you know Rupp would have recruited green kids if they were talented,
    He recruited several black players but with how racist the people were in the south back than it was nearly impossible to get a black player to come to Kentucky.

  • http://www.nukedasouth.net Chicagorilla


    Yes Adoplh Rupp was extremely racist as proven by the movie Glory Road, which is kind of ironic since he did produce Pat Riley who (as Chris Rock once said) led more black man to the promise land than Jessie Jackson.

    But Wooden, with all his power (to illegally recruit!) never attempted to intergrate basketball. He played the good ole boy routine by only playing one or two black players at a time. Of course he allowed Kareem, Jamal Wilkes and Chris(?) Johnson were all beast on Woodens UCLA teams and players of the year, but how many other blacks were on those teams.

    I personally hold little respect for anything accomplished basketball (or even sportswise as a whole) before full intergration (around the mid 70’s). When you are not competeing against the best, then you can not claim to be the best. When guys like Earl Manigult, Sonny Parker, Pee Wee Kirkland, and countless other streetball legends don’t get the same opportunites to succeed as Doug Collins, Pat Riley, John Havelchiek, and Jerry West then to me the NBA was a little incomplete back then.

    side note: Yes I know pee wee was on drugs and actually tried out for the bulls, and Manigult was a dope fiend, but the enviorment was not made for them to succeed so the playing field was not even. And it still isn’t really.

  • http://www.nukedasouth.net Chicagorilla

    @any idiot who thinks “girls” basketball doesn’t count.

    It’s 10X’s harder to coach without having one superb athlete to takeover a game when your plays break down. Patt Summit, Geno, and Stringer have a much harder job. Their plays have to almost work to perfection and they have to develope their players over a four year period, not just deal with 1 and dones. So yes, WOMENS basketball counts you fukin Jagaloons.

  • http://www.nukedasouth.net Chicagorilla

    @Doc, I agree with you 70% of the way.

    Wooden paid guys like Kareem to go ACROOS THE COUNTRY to play for his team back in the days when shit like that never happened. But I would say Dean Smith also TAUGHT his players how to play in a team system and almost all his players left Carolina much better than when they came there. Think about it, P.Ford, W.Davis, B.Mcadoo(1yr), J.Worthy, M.Jordan, S.Perkins, B.Daugherty, K.Smith, Joe Wolf!, JR. Reid, E.Montross, G.Lynch, Sheed,Stackhouse,Jamison, Carter, and Cota. All guys who made dramtic improvements in their game during their time under Dean Smith. So yes, he is a top 5 on the list.

  • Zach

    Not top 5, but I think that you would have to put TOM IZZO in the top 10. If consistency is a factor (as mentioned in the Krzyzewski peice) he should definately be on there. Look at what he’s done in his relatively short career with MSU. He consistently goes to final fours at a cold weather school in the middle of Michigan.

  • http://www.nukedasouth.net Chicagorilla

    How come Ben Howlland doesn’t get any recognition for what he’s done amongst active coachs. Two or three final fours over at UCLA. Countless sweet sixteens at UCLA and PITT, I believe he even coached pretty well at N.Arizona. He also has developed many players over the years who may not have otherwise made it to the NBA…Russell Westbrook, Prince Mbaumute, and Ryan Hollins

  • FactChick

    The myth propogated by Glory Road is shameful. Adolph Rupp coached many black players as a high school coach in Kansas. There was a ban on black athletes in the SEC, even after George Wallace’s infamous speech at the schoolhouse door at the U. of Alabama. Wes Unseld and Oscar Robinson, among others, were heavily recruited by Rupp many years before the Texas Western game but were intimidated by the hostile nature of the SEC. So, why don’t you character assassins educate yourselves before further regurgitating the nonsense spewing out of Hollywood. For anyone interested in learning the truth about Rupp: http://www.amazon.com/Adolph-Rupp-Myth-Legend-Fact/dp/B000E99ZDA

  • Cody

    Bob Knight is number 5????? i do not understand this poll at all pointless and a waste of internet space

  • Natalie

    Coaching is coaching — doesn’t matter if it’s men or women, you sexist buffoons.

    Pat Summitt (Tennessee) C. Vivian Stringer (Rutgers) and Geno Auriemma (Connecticut) deserve consideration, but Pat Summitt should be in the Top 5 considering she has more wins than anyone — MEN or WOMEN — in NCAA basketball history. Wins 1005, Losses 192 (83.95%) She also has 8 national championships with Tennessee.

  • http://www.nukedasouth.net Chicagorilla


    I love the buffoon line


    You have got to be kidding. Just because he recruited two of the top 10 greatest college basketball players of all time does not excuse his racism. that’s like saying “I can’t be a racist, I have a black friend”. There is a reason that Rupp is viewed how he is from the black players in his day and even now. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t know X’s and O’s, it just means he lived in an era where not being a racist wasn’t high on the priority list.

  • http://www.nukedasouth.net Chicagorilla


    I checked out your link…. first thing i noticed is it’s produced by “the Big Blue Network” and coaches/broadcasters from the state of Kentucky.

    2ndly (and most importantly), they actually pointed this out—->Jim Tucker, an African-American from Paris, Kentucky for whom coach Rupp helped arrange a scholarship to Duquesne University in the 1950s——-

    are you fuking joking? Did that just happen? lol. during what should have been the product description, they had to point out that Jim Tucker was black. Not only that, but I didn’t read about how -Dick Gabriel, Larry Conley, Neil Reed were white. Why point out the one black man associtated with the project? Yeahhh so basically the point is Rupp was a fuking Racist.

  • Peter

    Strongly recommend reading any of Wooden’s books, esp. “They Call Me ‘Coach’.” Full of a simple, rock-solid and distinctly American philosophy of life. Excellent accounts of how he managed racial issues at UCLA. In keeping with his character he never complains about the pressure of coaching the highest-profile program and the highest-profile players in the blast-furnace of racial tension that was L.A. in the late 60’s.

    Final thought on that program’s unmatched dominance. At the start of each season the question wasn’t whether UCLA would win the championship, it was whether UCLA would lose a game.

  • jason

    i find it hard to believe that gary williams has not been listed

  • GOOD LIST!!!!

    No one else is REALLY on their level, yet! Obviously JW is the coach every coach strives to be like… or at least SHOULD strive to be like. The other 4 are about even, but that is a pretty accurate list… GOOD LIST!!!

  • http://nowaintthatsomeshit.wordpress.com nicky

    Dean Smith is there because he basically invented the modern game of basketball. The Four Corners? Dean Smith invented that shit. Full-court press? That too. Even that weird ritual of everybody high-fiving the foul shooter after the shot, hit or miss. He invented that too.
    You may think it’s all about wins and losses and numbers in this world. But, you’d be wrong.

  • Billy Dean

    I believe theres this Track coach at Arkansas who has like 42 National Championships. Thats coaching to me.