The 15 Best College Basketball Coaches of All Time

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Throughout the annals of basketball history, many of the best coaches of all time didn't necessarily coach the pros. While coaches like Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich get showered with praise, there's an argument to be made that the best college basketball coaches of all time are more well-rounded managers of athletes. The college game is more fundamental, more based on coaching than the isolation-dominant modern professional game. With that in mind, we're taking a look at the very best college basketball coaches of all time.

RELATED: The 12 Best College Basketball Players of All-Time, Ranked

1. John Wooden

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  • Teams Coached For: Indiana State, UCLA
  • Years as a College Coach: 1946-1975
  • NCAA Championships: 1964, 1965, 1967-1973, 1975

John Wooden led the UCLA men's basketball team from 1948 to 1975, which was a period in which the program saw great success. Under his guidance, UCLA won a whopping ten NCAA Championships, which included a streak of seven consecutive titles from 1967 to 1973. Wooden's coaching style was coined as the “Pyramid of Success". Under this philosophy, teamwork, discipline, and character were prioritized as the most important values. 

Like many of the best coaches, Wooden emphasized fundamentals and had his team well conditioned to set the tone in games. Wooden was a great mentor for his players who went on to have great success in their own careers, guided by his leadership.

2. Mike Krzyzewski

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  • Teams Coached For: Army, Duke University
  • Years as a College Coach: 1974-2022
  • NCAA Championships: 1991, 1992, 2001, 2012, 2015

Up until his final season in 2022, Mike Krzyzewski was the Head Coach of Duke University men's basketball team, which he built into a dynasty that has changed the college basketball world. “Coach K” lead Duke to 13 NCAA FInal Four appearances and five NCAA Championships. 

Given his legacy, many young players have longed to play for Duke. Krzyzewski has recruited top-tier talent and developed them into elite players. Coach K has a high basketball IQ which made him an exceptional leader and mentor. Krzyzewski has a contagious winning mentality that transformed the Duke basketball program. Coach K was given the honor of being the head coach of the United States men's national basketball team in 2008, 2012, and 2016, leading them to three Olympic gold medals. Coach K is synonymous with college basketball and was a treasure to the Duke program for his entire tenure there.

3. Pat Summitt

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  • Teams Coached For: University of Tennessee 
  • Years as a College Coach: 1974-2012
  • NCAA Championships:  1987, 1989, 1991, 1996-1998, 2007, 2008

As the head coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers basketball team from 1974 to 2012, Pat Summitt became a true icon of college basketball. Summitt’s success includes eight NCAA Championships and 1,098 career wins, making her the coach with the most wins in NCAA basketball history. 

Summitt's impact on her players extends beyond the basketball court; she is a mentor for the young women she has coached, instilling in them a sense of resilience and drive. She’s known for her competitiveness and commitment to her players' personal and academic growth. Summitt is a trailblazer for women's sports and her dedication to excellence will forever be remembered.

4. Dean Smith

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  • Teams Coached For: University of North Carolina
  • Years as a College Coach: 1953-1997
  • NCAA Championships: 1982, 1993

After serving as an assistant coach at UNC for several years, Dean Smith took over as Head Coach in 1958. Smith led the Tar Heels to eleven Final Four appearances and two NCAA Championships during his tenure. Smith was known for his innovative offensive strategies which made his team very difficult to defend. He was also a great recruiter (see: Michael Jordan).

Beyond his success as a coach, Smith was known for his progressive views in a still very segregated world. Smith recruited the first African-American scholarship athlete to the ACC and was an advocate for racial equality. Smith took his players’ personal and academic development very seriously.

5. Jay Wright

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  • Teams Coached For: Hofstra University, Villanova University 
  • Years as a College Coach: 1984-2022
  • NCAA Championships: 2016, 2018

Jay Wright is an exceptional leader and who has brought the Villanova Men’s Basketball program to many seasons of success. Since he took over as the head coach of Villanova in 2001, Wright has transformed the basketball program. Under Wright, Villanova has won two NCAA Championships and has reached the Final Four two additional times. 

Wright is known for his calm demeanor and how well he knows the game of basketball. 

Beyond the championship wins and winning seasons, Wright is highly respected for his integrity and his commitment to his players' personal and academic growth. In somewhat of a shock to the basketball world, Wright announced that the 2022 season would be his last season coaching the Wildcats leaving many wondering what his next move will be.

6. Roy Williams

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  • Teams Coached For: University of Kansas, University of North Carolina
  • Years as a College Coach: 1978-2021
  • NCAA Championships: 2005, 2009, 2017

After a successful tenure at the University of Kansas, Roy Williams became the head coach at the University of North Carolina in 2003, where he took the program to big heights. Williams guided UNC to three NCAA Championships in 2005, 2009, and 2017. 

Williams’s coaching style is based on fundamentals and aggressive offense. During his four decade long career as a college coach, Williams brought his teams to nine Final Four appearances. In 2019, Williams was named USA Today Sports National Coach of the Year for both his coaching excellence and mentorship off the court.

7. Tom Izzo

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  • Team Coached For: Michigan State University
  • Years as a College Coach: 1979-Present
  • NCAA Championships: 2000

Tom Izzo has served as the head coach of the Michigan State Spartans since 1995. Izzo has consistently led his team to successful seasons, leading the Spartans to numerous NCAA Tournament appearances, including eight Final Four appearances and a national championship in 2000. He is known for his intense coaching style and particularly his push to be the best defense in the NCAA. When the Spartan’s have appeared in the NCAA Tournament, Izzo’s squad is always prepared for postseason success. 

His ability to recruit and develop young players has helped lead to consistent Michigan State success. Tom Izzo’s career as a head college coach is marked by great leadership and dedication.

8. Geno Auriemma

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  • Teams Coached For: University of Connecticut 
  • Years as a College Coach: 1978-Present
  • NCAA Championships: 1995, 2000, 2002-2004, 2009, 2010, 2013-2016

Geno Auriemma took over as the head coach of the University of Connecticut (UConn) women's basketball team in 1985. Since then, Auriemma has transformed the program into a dominant powerhouse. Auriemma has lead UConn to 11 NCAA Championships, including four consecutive titles from 2013 to 2016. 

Part of Auriemma’s success is due to his ability to recruit highly desired talent. Under Auriemma’s leadership, UConn has set numerous records, the most impressive of which is the longest winning streak in college basketball history with 111 consecutive victories. Auriemma is such a renowned coach, not only due to his coaching on the court, but also for how he treats his players and helps them grow as humans.

9. Denny Crum

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  • Teams Coached For: Los Angeles Pierce College, University of Louisville
  • Years as a College Coach: 1959-2001 
  • NCAA Championships: 1980, 1986

Denny Crum helped to reshape the University of Louisville basketball program into its current form, which has had highly competitive seasons in recent years. Crum’s ability to adapt his team year after year is what made him such a phenomenal coach.

When he took over at Louisville in 1971, Crum brought a fresh perspective and a highly intelligent knowledge of basketball. He brought the Cardinals to 23 total NCAA tournaments in which they won twice, in 1980 and 1986. Crum passed away this past May, but remains an important part of the Louisville basketball mentality as his legacy has forever impacted the sport.

10. Bill Self

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  • Teams Coached For: Oral Roberts, University of Tulsa, University of Illinois, University of Kansas
  • Years as a College Coach: 1985-Present
  • NCAA Championships:  2008, 2022

Bill Self first proved himself as a phenomenal basketball coach when he lead the University of Tulsa to the Elite Eight in 1997, which was just his second season as a head coach of any program. He then went on to coach at the University of Illinois, where he further solidified himself as a knowledgeable and impactful coach and leader. In 2005, he led Illinois on an incredible run to the Final Four, which was an exciting moment for the program. 

In 2003, Self took over as the Head Coach of the University of Kansas, where he made a quick impact. In 2008, Self led Kansas to an NCAA championship, and they have remained a consistently top-tier team since then. Kansas were the reigning NCAA champions this past season after winning the tournament in 2022, which was another dominant year under Self’s leadership.

11. Jim Calhoun

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  • Teams Coached For: Northeastern University, University of Connecticut, Saint Joseph’s College (of Connecticut)
  • Years as a College Coach: 1972-2021
  • NCAA Championships: 1999, 2004, 2011

Jim Calhoun became the Head Coach of the University of Connecticut men's basketball program in 1986 and quickly led them to become a powerhouse program. Under Calhoun, the Huskies won three NCAA championships, in 1999, 2004, and 2011.

Calhoun coached many players on UCoon who went on to have successful careers in the NBA. Though he retired from the UConn program in 2012, his presence is still massive to the Huskies, who are the reigning NCAA champions.

12. Tony Bennett

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  • Teams Coached For: Washington State, University of Virginia 
  • Years as a College Coach: 2006-Present
  • NCAA Championships: 2019

Tony Bennett has been the coach of the University of Virginia men's basketball since 2009. Upon taking over,, Bennett transformed the Cavaliers into a team that is very difficult to score on due to their aggressive defense. Under his leadership, 

In 2019, Bennett led the Cavalier’s to their first NCAA championship victory, which was a very exciting moment for the University. His coaching legacy has left an big mark on the University of Virginia and the sport of college basketball.

13. Tara VanDerveer

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  • Teams Coached For: University of Idaho, Ohio State University, Stanford University
  • Years as a College Coach: 1978-Present
  • NCAA Championships: 1990, 1992, 2021

Tara VanDerveer's career has left a massive impact on women's basketball as a whole. She took over as the  Head Coach of Stanford’s women's basketball team in 1985, and quickly instilled a great work ethic that has led the team to becoming a successful program. She has led Stanford to multiple conference championships and NCAA tournament appearances that led to NCAA victories in 1990 and 1992, and 2021. VanDerveer was the first coach of a women’s team to lead her team to consecutive NCAA titles, cementing her status as one of the best coaches in women's college basketball history.

VanDerveer’s impact on her team goes far beyond the court, as she has pushed them to be the best academics and trailblazing women possible. Due to her legacy as a college coach, VanDerveer was asked to be the USA Women’s National Team coach in 1995. VanDerveer is an icon not only for college basketball, but for women’s sports as a whole.

14. Larry Brown

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  • Teams Coached For: University of California at Los Angeles, Kansas University, Southern Methodist University 
  • Years as a College Coach: 1979-1981, 1983-1988, 2012-2016
  • NCAA Championships: 1988

Larry Brown coached at multiple college programs, including stints at UCLA, Kansas, and SMU and also coached at various NBA organizations. Brown led the Kansas Jayhawks to an NCAA Championship in 1988, and he took the UCLA Bruins to the NCAA Tournament twice during his brief tenure. 

Brown’s coaching style emphasized strong defense, which made his team so tough to play against. Brown’s guidance as a coach and mentor led his team to great success and also helped pave the way for many of his players to have successful careers in the NBA after college.

15. Bob Knight

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  • Teams Coached For: Army, Indiana University, Texas Tech
  • Years as a College Coach: 1962-2008
  • NCAA Championships: 1976, 1981, 1987, 1992

Bob Knight’s most well-known years of his career were spent at Indiana University, but he also had a decade of success at Army before his time at Indiana. He led the Hoosiers to three NCAA Championships in 1976, 1981, and 1987. 

Knight’s players are historically disciplined under his leadership due to his focus on fundamentals and conditioning. Knight's career was also marked by a series of controversial incidents and clashes with players, media, and university officials, which ultimately led to his dismissal from Indiana University in 2000. Despite controversy, Knight's legacy is significant to the Hoosiers program and the sport of basketball.

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