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If College Basketball Coaches Were Godfather Characters


The Madness is upon us. March is here and the NCAA tournament is less than a week away from tipping off. And with the Oscar’s recently concluding, I thought I would have a little bit of fun at some basketball coach’s expense.

Elite college basketball coaches often look the part of modern day mobsters. Expensive perfectly tailored suits, demonstrative sideline behavior, rockstar status in the community and, at times, questionable business practices (yes, I said it, basketball recruiting is dirty).

Obviously I am not suggesting that Bo Ryan likes to knock off banks in his spare time or that John Beilein is a drug dealer on the side. No, I am simply taking two of my all-time favorite things — the NCAA Tournament and The Godfather Trilogy — and putting them together (ideally) for your enjoyment.

So this is my editorial disclaimer: This is for fun. It’s entertainment. Not journalism. No coach’s egos were harmed in the making of this piece so please enjoy as such.

Rick Pitino, Louisville: Vito Corleone

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 and possibly more successful role in Act II – whether that is beating Michigan in one of the most memorable championship games in history or making Charles Barkley look foolish on CBS’ television set. He is a champion of the highest caliber and doesn't let a little geographical rivalry get the better of him. With seven Final Four showings and two national titles at three different schools, it's hard to argue that Pitino isn't the Godfather of college hoops. Additionally, Vito taught his prized pupil how to operate, recruit, coach, fund-raise and dress – as both a player and coach.

Billy Donovan, Florida: Michael Corleone

After heading off to war to hone his craft (in the MAC), "Mikey" could not help but return to his father’s former arena of business (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 and with eyes on a distinguished and . 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.

Bill Self, Kansas: Tom Hagen

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). Through all of the family’s turmoil, however, Hagan perseveres and continues to come out on top… for 10 straight years.

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke: Hyman Roth

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 (Durham) and abroad (USA Basketball). 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. It's not called "Krzyzewski Court" is it? And if need be, he can call on thousands of Crazies to come to his back.

Bo Ryan, Wisconsin: Captain McCluskey

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 happened because he isn't scared to club a few knees to win games. He is an elite success in his realm but when faced with the talent and upside of the Corleone family, he generally comes out on the losing end.

John Calapari, Kentucky: Fredo Corleone

Coach Cal has proven that he will do whatever is humanly possible to win. And, until Anthony Davis came along, he had come so very close only to have all he worked for snatched from within his fingertips (in one case, by Tom Hagen's senior point guard). 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 and, unlike Fredo, returned it to the top of the college basketball mountain (as long as he continues to watch his tongue).

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Bob Huggins, West Virginia: Sonny Corleone

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 overall wherewithal 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.

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State: Sal Tessio 

The smarter, savvier and more ruthless capo works a solid beat and makes himself quite a fortune in the upper mid-major 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 clandestine rendezvous with the rival families. After rolling off 34 straight wins, Marshall will most certainly get courted and offered other jobs at other programs. This won't make an already abrasive guy any easier to be friends with and he may have to learn the hard way about swimming in the deep waters of high major basketball.

Frank Martin, South Carolina: Carlo Rizzi

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 a living. Eventually, Rizzi's temper gets the better of him.

Jim Larranaga, Miami: Peter Clemenza

Clemenza is the jollier, well-respected caporegime who sort of skates through his entire career largely untouched and generally unknown to outsiders. But with one drive into the city - or to the Final Four with George Mason - the Don's general made the most of his one shining moment: “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”

Rick Barnes, Texas: Moe Greene

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.

Steve Alford, UCLA: Jack Woltz

The supposed King of Hollywood, Woltz worked his way to the top of his profession. He lives a posh, lavish lifestyle in the city of lights with all of the benefits that come along with one of the best jobs in the world. However, when the brutal East Coast comes calling, the Bruins have generally crumbled in key situation.

Jay Wright, Villanova: Johnny Fontane

This one is a lay-up. The best-dressed man in the business makes ladies swoon with his sweet singing voice and signature slicked back hair style. He never really plays a prominent role in any of the most critical scenes but his appearances are normally extremely memorable and always popular. Because, frankly, everyone seems to love this guy.

Tom Izzo, Michigan State: Philip Tattaglia

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.)