A light-hearted look at college basketball coaches as characters in The Godfather.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Editorial Disclaimer: This is for fun. This is entertainment. This is not journalism. No coaches' egos were harmed in the making of this piece. Please enjoy as such...
Vito Corleone – Rick Pitino, Louisville
Pitino has been to the top of the mountain and felt the warm glow of a championship wash over him like the Tuscan sun. Yet, he didn’t stick around too long in Act I as the game began to pass him by. He disappeared for a while but returned to play a prominent role in Act II – whether that is under the lights of Madison Square Garden in the Big East Championship or making Charles Barkley look foolish on CBS’ television set. Most importantly, Vito taught his prized pupil how to operate, recruit, coach, fund-raise and dress – as both a player and coach.
Michael Corleone – Billy Donovan, Florida
After heading off to war to hone his craft (in the MAC), "Mikey" could not help but return to his father’s arena (the SEC). When the son of the legend took over, he exceeded all expectations, but this time in a new zip code. After learning on the job the hard way, Michael grew the empire to levels Vito could not achieve – winning twice as many championships as his mentor. Even beyond all expectations, Mikey exists now in a dangerous what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of guerilla war-cruiting. He is constantly looking over his shoulder – and possibly losing hair for it – but a fourth trip to the championship game would keep him on top of the family business. Plus, his name is Donovan.
Fredo Corleone – John Calapari, Kentucky
Coach Cal has proven that he will do whatever is humanly possible to win. And he has come so very close, only to have all he worked for snatched from within his fingertips (in this case, by Tom Hagen, but more on that in a minute). Fredo’s inability to maintain institutional control over his immediate family forced Michael to strip his brother of any trust he may have. So he aligned himself with Johnny Ola, a shady, backroom character with deep roots in the seedy, worldwide underbelly, and one casual slip of the tongue cost him everything. He was given a tradition-laden, historic family name only to soil it with desperation and treachery.
Sonny Corleone – Bob Huggins, West Virginia
Talented, charismatic, hard-working and loyal. But, at times, a total buffoon who allows his temper to get the better of him. Sonny has been successful at every stop along the way - partly because his rage translates well on the defensive side of the ball. But he lacks the wisdom and maturity to be truly great, so he will likely end up sitting in line at the toll plaza listening to the big game on the radio.
Tom Hagen – Bill Self, Kansas
He walks, talks, acts, dresses and recruits like his Italian brethren, but has had to prove himself doubly due to his status as an “outsider.” After finally earning his chance with many years of loyal hard work - and a Mario Chalmers three-pointer - Hagen is named acting Don instead of Corelenone’s actual brother, Fredo. Yet, no matter how much he does for the family, he will likely never get the full credit - mostly because he does his livestock decapitation routine west of the Mississippi (looking at you Austin, Texas).
Hyman Roth – Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
Roth is the biggest of the big fish who everyone loves to hate. Yet, you never hear too much about the inner-workings of his business dealings. He has been wildly successful across many generations and is a key player in many of the family’s enterprises – domestic and abroad. Yet, somehow he manages to keep his quiet little home nice and tidy. He is untouchable and the primary antagonist for…everyone in the country that doesn’t love Duke. Originally named Hyman Suchowsky, Don Coreleone pseudo-orders him to simplify his name. So he becomes Hyman Roth – a scene that was originally removed from the theatrical release.
Peter Clemenza – Rick Majerus (Utah)
Clemenza is the fatter, jollier and not quite as smart caporegime who sort of skates through his entire career largely untouched and generally unimportant. But with one drive into the city - or to the championship game with the Utes - the Don's general made the most of his one shining moment: “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”
Luca Brasi – Bruce Pearl, Tennessee
Despite the obvious masculine comparison, Pearl uses brute force to elbow his way into the business with energy, attitude and enthusiasm. This is a guy you definitely do not want to be alone with in a dark alley. It played well, and was very successful for a short period of time, but the act eventually wore thin. And as we have all recently learned: “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.” (Too soon?)
Carlo Rizzi – Frank Martin, Kansas State
Rizzi has somehow, someway befriended someone somewhere to earn the right to sit at the family table. Apparently, that person is Sonny Coreleone, whose coat-tails he rides all the way into the family business. He doesn’t exactly know what is happening out there on the court, but he has a great view of the action and is making quite the living. Eventually, Rizzi's greed and temper get the better of him.
Sal Tessio – Kelvin Sampson (Indiana)
The smarter, savvier and more ruthless capo works a solid beat and makes himself quite a fortune in the upper-middle ranks of the family. And after a lifetime of hard work and loyalty, he thought he deserved the big seat when Vito passed away. So in an effort to land his dream job, he makes more than a few, say 550 or so, clandestine rendezvous with the rival families. This seals his fate in the Coreleone family and he ends up the dead capo.
Captain McCluskey – Jim Calhoun, UConn
The aged and grizzled veteran of the game didn’t get where he got because of lack of brains. He is savvy leader who has accomplished much in his time. McCluskey’s rise to Captain of the police force likely came with some twisting of protocol – and egos – of the world around him. He would most certainly take a swing at everyone on this list, including the Donovan of the whole family.
Jack Woltz (Hollywood producer) – Ben Howland, UCLA
Is a major West Coast player in the Hollywood world of glitz and glamour. In his world, he is the epicenter of activity. He is little known to the heavy hitters of the East Coast, and when he runs up against them in final confrontation, he wilts under a stampede of Gators and Tigers. (Could also be Rick Barnes, who clearly caves to Tom Hagen’s demands every chance he gets.)
Moe Greene – Rick Barnes, Texas
He believes he is building the empire out west - and he has plenty of talent and natural resources to do so. He has climbed the ladder and has himself a very cushy job. Yet, he has never really accomplished much of anything and always finds himself with an early ticket home when he messes with the wrong people.
Philip Tattaglia – Tom Izzo, Michigan State
Is the head of the one of the top programs in the nation and has built a vast empire of wealth and fame. He is always the first to act and is downright ruthless in crunch time. (A bit of a stretch but Izzo had to make the list.)
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)