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Athlon Sports Ranks College Basketball Coaches


I didn’t realize this before writing for KSR, but apparently the only thing sports journalists like to do in the off-season is make lists. Lists on lists on lists. And here’s a new one from the folks over at Athlon Sports, ranking college basketball’s top coaches. According to their criteria, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is the best coach in college basketball.


Golf clap, golf clap.


Before you start shooting your shotgun at the computer, take a look at what Athlon used to define success at the college basketball level: “sustained success during the regular season against a high level of competition, advancing in the NCAA Tournament, recruiting players to fit his system, ability to teach and develop his roster.” Later in their method descriptions, the authors state that “Michigan State often puts up equal or better results compared to programs churning through NBA lottery picks on a yearly basis.” They make a special point of noting that only two MSU players in the past ten years have declared early for the draft, seemingly using that to make Izzo’s success seem purer or more hard-earned than Calipari’s.


I happen to disagree. In today’s game and with the one-and-done rule, success is no longer measured by simply taking decent players and turning them into perennial Sweet 16-worthy teams. The point of the college game is to play a high level of basketball and prepare players for the pros, and no one has been more successful at than that John Vincent Calipari. Cal is without a doubt the hottest coach in college basketball, and Athlon’s measures for defining the “best coach” seem outdated compared to the level of success Kentucky has enjoyed under Calipari. The authors of this list talk about how Izzo is the best player developer in the country, yet Cal trounces him when it comes to developing players for the NBA. At the very least, consistently producing lottery picks should have been a criterion for choosing the top college coach.



I guess I can’t complain too much, because Calipari landed a bronze medal on the list (obligatory Olympics reference). Here’s what Athlon had to say about John C:


Kentucky and John Calipari was the perfect marriage even before the 2012 national championship. Before then, the question was if Calipari would win a title at Kentucky with cycling through a roster of one-and-done players. With a team featuring six NBA draft picks, including the top two selections, Calipari answered. Now, the question seems to be how many titles Calipari could win at Kentucky — provided he doesn’t dip is toe into the NBA again. Senior Night may be a bygone tradition for Calipari teams, but he’s suffered minimal drop-off from year to year. His 173 wins over the last five seasons at Kentucky and Memphis are more than any other coach in the country. Kansas’ Bill Self is No. 2 at 154.


What do you think? Did the authors ignore the importance of the NBA in their list, or were they simply focusing on the “college” part of college basketball coach?


For the full list, click here.



Article written by Kristen Geil

21 Comments for Athlon Sports Ranks College Basketball Coaches

  1. Mark
    9:06 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    Cal has been to 3 final fours ,2 national title games, and won 1 of them in the last 5 years to go along with those 173 wins in that time period.

  2. WhatSheOrder?FishFilet?
    9:14 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    kinda surprised self was 2. figured izzo and k would be 1-2.

  3. Bob Sugar
    9:15 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    Nice try with the “college” comment.. But of course we know Cal is the best coach in college basketball. The evidence is incontrovertible. To deny that he is the best in the game would be tantamount to denying America is the greatest country in the world!

  4. Love
    9:23 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    @2- Coach K is number 2. Self is 4

  5. priorities
    9:25 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    “The point of the college game is to play a high level of basketball and prepare players for the pros”

    Clearly you haven’t seen the numbers or commercials. Over 3500 college basketball players and only 60 of us will be drafted next year. I would say the point of the NBA D league is to prepare players for the pros. The college game is to make money for the university in exchange for an opportunity at a free education

  6. Duke Sucks
    9:27 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    We know Cal is the best, however Izzo does make a good case. So I have no problem with that .

  7. Snoopaloop
    9:27 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    Tom Crean is going to need these rankings to be done by the campus newspaper and not a neutral party. Thanks.

  8. Shampoo
    9:27 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    Surprised in a list of the 30 best coaches Tubby Smith isn’t on there anywhere. Along with Izzo I have always considered Tubby one the most knowledgeable X’s and O’s guys in the game not to mention he has a national title to his credit.

  9. SexnNursinHomes
    9:29 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    How many times did Izzo make it to the final four and how many times did he win it? Izzo is like a bad realtor. He’ll show homes to 6 different buyers(FFs) and he’ll only walk away with 1 sale(1 NCAA).

    All it took was Cal getting with UK. On the pace he is going and if he stays to see his son grad. from UK, you better bet Cal will be #1. Suck that.

  10. Snoopaloop
    9:32 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    The justification for Mike Montgomery being ranked #11 is the same argument you could make for him to not be ranked at all. Additionally, the Pac-12 is horrendous.

  11. L1C4
    9:37 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    Does Cal get credit for the UMass and Memphis Final Fours when they really never should have happened? Yeah, Cal has 2011 and 2012, but that’s it. Our Coach should be rated higher than him.

  12. wesmorgan1
    9:40 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    Note how carefully they set this up:

    1) They specified “advancing in the NCAA tournament” instead of “challenging for an NCAA title.”

    2) Not only did they toss in the gratuitous slam about “NBA lottery picks”, but their criteria didn’t include developing NBA prospects at all. That was good for Izzo, because Michigan State has only seen two players drafted into the NBA in the last four years; they had a 2nd-rounder in 2009, and Draymond Green went in the 2nd round in 2012.

    3) After all the talk about how amazing it was that Calipari could take this year’s lineup of 20+ ppg scorers and get them to subordinate their individual games to the team system and tenacious defense, how does he not rate highly on “ability to teach” and “get players who fit his system”?

    4) As far as academics are concerned, MSU enjoyed an APR of 995, while UK’s APR was 974. It’s a 1000-point scale, so you’re looking at 99.5% vs. 97.4% – both programs are A+ in that department.

    It seems that they REALLY didn’t want to have Calipari #1, so they tweaked the formula to get the results they wanted.

  13. thenamerobdigity
    10:03 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    1 Coach K
    2 Jim Calhoun
    3 Izzo

  14. BoomKentucky
    10:03 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    #5 I was getting ready to state the same thing. The point of college basketball is a lot of things ahead of prepare people for the pros. Coach Cal is picking a select few students who have a special gift and they will go pro but for the majority of people they will not. Cal has found a balance between having great teams, preparing kids for the pros and helping them do well in school.

  15. truth
    10:04 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    Matt Would suck this writer off if it meant cal would be number 1.

  16. Duke Sucks
    11:44 pm August 1, 2012 Permalink

    #11 Too bad your coach won his only title at our school. He has struggled to have the same success since he left. Maybe UK done more for him then he did for it ( and that’s giving him a lot of credit for the job he did here.)

  17. cracka
    12:26 am August 2, 2012 Permalink

    izzo is pretty good, he’s been to 6 final fours in the past 14 seasons, that’s success for a long time … problem is, he only made it to the finals twice and only won once

    and his guys don’t go pro at all, kind of odd … before draymond green was picked in the last draft, he’d only had 1 guy drafted over the past 5 years (goran suton, whoever the hell that is – was picked 50th and never played a game)

  18. Henry
    12:53 am August 2, 2012 Permalink

    I can see putting Coach K ahead of Cal. If we are talking about the best coach, he currently has no equal in the game. But Tom Izzo??? Really?!? At some point it counts against you if you have made that many Final Four’s and only won once. John Calipari is a strong number two, and if we are talking about more recent success, it is a toss up between him and Coach K. But, of all of them, that wasn’t the worst one I thought. How did Rick Pitino beat out Roy Williams and Jim Calhoun? He beat out two guys, both with more titles than him, one with two more. How does Athlon justify that? As they say on Jersey Shore: muffcabbage!!!

  19. Vac8
    5:46 am August 2, 2012 Permalink


  20. Seriously?
    8:15 am August 2, 2012 Permalink

    “Did the authors ignore the importance of the NBA in their list, or were they simply focusing on the “college” part of college basketball coach?”

    And before Calipari was the coach did you realize the “importance” of the the NBA for a college coach? What a joke! I’m happy that Cal is the coach but the whole “NBA draft night is the biggest night of the year for UK” thing is crap. You guys will follow along with anything you’re told, that’s why you loved Billy G so much when he was in Lexington, too, and look how that turned out.

  21. lets do it again
    8:59 am August 2, 2012 Permalink

    There is no need to fret about where Coach Cal fits into this discussion in my opinion. The reason is that his approach and goals are totally different than what the current yardstick measures. No college coach has ever had his approach to my knowledge, so the guidelines haven’t changed. The question is, will Coach Cals methods change the rules, or will he stand in a class by himself through the future history of college basketball?