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Statistically Speaking: The Program Changer

game-changer

A couple of weeks ago, a writer at Sports Reference, put together a list of coaches that “changed the culture of a program”. Basically, they looked at the win/loss % before a coach arrived, and then during their tenure and the higher the difference, the bigger the change. (Coaches had to have coached more than 120 games and there had to be at least 120 games in the program’s history before that coach arrived.). A few notable inclusions:

-Four Kentucky coaches are included in the list, but only one for changing Kentucky’s program.Pitino is recognized for his stint at Boston, Calipari for UMASS, and Sutton for Arkansas. Rupp is the only one credited for changing UK.

-A couple coaches are noted for their work at schools other than the one normally associated with them. Examples include: Jim Valvano at Iona, Jim Calhoun at Northeastern, Nolan Richardson at Tulane, and Bruce Pearl at UW-Milwaukee. Throughout the list there is a continuous pattern of coaches changing smaller programs’ cultures and then moving on to bigger ones.

-Twelve coaches still active at their changed schools make the list including Bo Ryan, Jamie Dixon, Mark Few, Coach K, and Billy Donovan.

Notably absent from the list are schools such as North Carolina, Indiana, Kansas, and Louisville.Probably a few reasons for this, including early head coaches and some short-term coaches with good records. Though I didn’t do the math myself, I’d venture to say that Denny Crum and Bob Knight may have just missed the list.

As far as Kentucky goes, Rupp is the obvious choice for game changer. He built a foundation around this program that the subsequent coaches have been able to build on, discounting the two that did their best to sledgehammer it. But after that, which coach changed the program the most? Starting with Rupp (and including Gillispie even though he *thankfully didn’t coach 120 games for us), I’ve calculated the winning percentage change before and during each coach’s tenure.

Coach Years Win % before tenure Win % during tenure % Diff
Adolph Rupp 1930-1972 58.4 82.1 23.7
Joe B. Hall 1972-1985 76.3 74.8 -1.5
Eddie Sutton 1985-1989 76.0 69.3 -6.7
Rick Pitino 1989-1997 75.5 81.4 5.9
Tubby Smith 1997-2007 76.2 76 -0.2
Billy Gillispie 2007-2009 76.2 59.7 -16.5
*John Calipari 2009-?? 75.8 92.1 16.3

It’s always fascinating to me how Kentucky basketball moves in cycles. It’s been said over and over that cycle has basically been:

Game Changer(Rupp/Pitino/Calipari)
Solid former assistant takes over (Hall/Tubby)
Rock Bottom(Sutton/Gillispie)

And then around again, and those winning percentage differences reflect that cycle. Who knows? Maybe in ten years Calipari will make his second appearance on the list if he can keep his winning percentage up above 90. Hey, a girl can dream right?

Article written by Katie Martin