Athlon Sports likes a challenge.
Our conference-by-conference basketball coach rankings begin with the ACC, a league dotted by new faces on the bench over the last two seasons.
The top of our rankings don’t bring too many surprises with Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams (right) in the top two. Even our No. 3 coach in the ACC, Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton, was a fairly easy choice. Hamilton, after all, went 4-1 against Duke and North Carolina last season, including back-to-back victories over both to win the ACC Tournament. FSU also finished third in the ACC in each of the last three seasons.
After Krzyzewski, Williams and Hamilton, the ACC coaching pecking order is tricky. Eight coaches in the league will enter their first, second or third seasons with their school in 2012-13.
The churn of new coaches in the league means a handful of successful coaches at previous stops are now trying to turn around one-time ACC powers, such as Tony Bennett at Virginia, Mark Turgeon at Maryland and Mark Gottfried at NC State. Will those three coaches and others be able to challenge Duke and North Carolina’s dominance, as Florida State did last season? That remains to be seen.
Note: Coaches are ranked on a mix of past accomplishments with consideration for career trajectory over the next five seasons or so. Rankings take Xs and Os acumen and recruiting prowess into account along with success in the regular season and postseason.
1. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
Overall record: 927-291 (79-24 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Duke: 854-232 (336-149 ACC)
In 2011-12, Krzyzewski continued to add to his long list of achievements, surpassing mentor Bob Knight’s record of 902 Division I wins. The 65-year-old remains one of the game’s elite coaches despite changing times: He is 152-30 over the last five seasons, including 63-17 in the ACC. In the NCAA Tournament, he’s proven he can still win titles, as Duke did in 2010. Meanwhile, he continues to be the coach a handful of fans like to watch lose, as Duke did to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the 2012 Tournament. As always, Krzyzewski will continue to win his share of games. He remains in striking distance of the men’s collegiate wins record, held by Philadelphia University’s Herb Magee (941 wins and counting) and the all-time collegiate record, held by Tennessee’s Pat Summitt (1,098).
2. Roy Williams, North Carolina
Overall record: 675-169 (61-20 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at North Carolina: 257-68 (105-39 ACC)
Krzyzewski has the overall series lead (15-11 and 12-10 since Williams landed in Chapel Hill), but Williams claimed four the last five outright ACC titles. Already an elite coach at Kansas from 1988-2003, Williams became a champion when he returned to North Carolina by winning the 2005 and 2009 titles. Williams-coached teams have missed the NCAA Tournament only twice in his career, his first year at Kansas and 2010 at North Carolina when the bulk of his title-winning roster went to the NBA. After back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, Williams again must restock after losing Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and John Henson to the NBA.
3. Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
Overall record: 401-337 (6-7 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Florida State: 201-127 (80-80 ACC)
Leading one of the stingiest defensive teams in the country, Hamilton has coached Florida State to one of the best four-year runs at Florida State. For the first time in program history, the Seminoles won at least 20 games and at least 10 ACC games in four consecutive seasons. A one-point loss in overtime to VCU in 2011 prevented the Seminoles from reaching the Elite Eight. Although Florida State failed to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament last year, the Seminoles became only the second team not named Duke or North Carolina to win the ACC Tournament since 1996. Hamilton has proven himself capable of building consistent basketball programs at football schools by leading Miami to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances to wrap up his 10-season tenure with the Hurricanes in 2000.
4. Tony Bennett, Virginia
Overall record: 122-74 (3-3 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Virginia: 53-41 (21-27 ACC)
Virginia isn’t the same program it was in the 1980s and early ‘90s, but the Cavaliers finally might have the right coach. Although not as accomplished as other ACC coaches and he doesn’t provide the most entertaining brand of basketball, Bennett’s results are impressive. The Cavaliers’ overall record and ACC record has improved each season under Bennett, culminating in the Cavs’ first NCAA appearance since 2007. At Washington State, Bennett finished the rebuilding job his father, Dick Bennett, started by leading the Cougars to a 52-17 combined record in 2006-07 and 2007-08, including the Sweet 16 in ’08.
5. Mark Turgeon, Maryland
Overall record: 267-174 (5-5 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Maryland: 17-15 overall (6-10 ACC)
Don’t overreact to Turgeon’s first-season numbers with Maryland. In replacing the retired Gary Williams, Turgeon took over a former power that had sputtered in recent seasons. Considering injuries and lack of depth, winning 17 games was something of an accomplishment. With a top-15 signing class in 2012, help is on the way. Before Maryland, Turgeon picked up where Billy Gillispie left off at Texas A&M, leading the Aggies to 97 wins and four NCAA Tournament appearances in four seasons. An assistant at Kansas for Roy Williams first four seasons in Lawrence, Turgeon is a three-time conference coach of the year, twice at A&M and once at Wichita State. Turgeon put the Shockers back into postseason contention through the course of his seven-year tenure, leading Wichita State to a 26-9 record and the Sweet 16 in 2005-06.
6. Jim Larranaga, Miami
Overall record: 462-322 (5-5 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Miami: 20-13 (9-7 ACC)
Reducing Larranaga’s accomplishments to George Mason’s 2006 Final Four run is a disservice. Since 1993-94, Larranaga, who also coached at Bowling Green, had a losing season in conference just once, his first year at George Mason in 1997-98. The trend continued at Miami, where the Hurricanes had their first winning ACC season since 2001-02. At 62, Larranaga has a chance for a successful run near the end of his career with most of Miami’s key players returning in 2012-13.
7. Brad Brownell, Clemson
Overall record: 205-112 (1-4 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Clemson: 38-27 (17-15 ACC)
Brownell’s teams rarely are outworked. That’s a good trait to have at Clemson, which is far from a consistent ACC power. The Tigers went 22-12 overall and 9-7 in the ACC with a veteran team in Brownell’s first season before slipping to 16-14 and 8-8 in 2011-12. Before Clemson, Brownell led UNC-Wilmington and Wright State to a combined three NCAA Tournaments and six 20-win seasons in eight years.
8. Steve Donahue, Boston College
Overall record: 176-173 (2-3 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Boston College: 30-35 (13-19 ACC)
Donahue built Cornell essentially from scratch -- handy experience since Boston College bottomed out at 9-22 last season. The good news is Donahue’s freshman-laden team will be a sophomore-laden team in 2012-13. Plus, there’s precedent for Donahue rebuilding a program thanks to a core group of players. Donahue went 9-33 in the Ivy League in his first three seasons at Cornell, but he recruited a standout group of 3-point shooters to win three consecutive Ivy titles in his final three seasons with the Big Red.
9. Mark Gottfried, NC State
Overall record: 302-168 (7-8 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at NC State: 24-13 (9-7 ACC)
NC State is starving to be named alongside Duke and North Carolina, and Gottfried gave the Wolfpack a glimmer of home in his first season out of the broadcast booth. NC State reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005 and won 24 games for the first time since 1987-88 under the late Jim Valvano. More could be on the way: Gottfried inherited a talented team last season and adds a top-five signing class for 2012. That said, the final five seasons of Gottfried’s tenure at Alabama was undistinguished before he spent two seasons out of basketball. He’ll have talented players with the Wolfpack. Now it’s time to coach them up.
10. Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech
Overall record: 172-94 (1-2 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Georgia Tech: 11-20 (4-12 ACC)
The hire of Gregory, a former Tom Izzo assistant, to replace Paul Hewitt didn’t make much of a splash, and it’s easy to see why. The signature moments of Gregory’s seven-season tenure at Dayton were either an NCAA first-round win over Kansas in 2009 or the 2010 NIT title over North Carolina. After going 22-10 in the Atlantic 10 in his first two seasons at Dayton, Gregory went 52-48 in the conference over his last six seasons at one of the nation’s better mid-major jobs. Gregory’s 2009-10 team started the season ranked in the polls, but finished seventh in the A-10. Expectations are even higher at Georgia Tech.
11. Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest
Overall record: 132-147 (0-1 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Wake Forest: 21-42 (5-27 ACC)
Bzdelik was a miracle worker in two seasons at Air Force, in which the Falcons won 50 games in two seasons. In five seasons since at Colorado and Wake Forest, Bzdelik has won 57 games. Three times in five seasons, Bzdelik’s teams have finished last in their conference and twice went 1-15. Whatever worked at Air Force has not worked elsewhere for Bzdelik, who has lost 100 games in the last five seasons.
12. James Johnson, Virginia Tech
Overall record: First season
Johnson is a rarity in college basketball on a couple of levels. He’s the rare coach who earned his first head coaching gig at the major-conference level. Moreover, he was an assistant for the head coach who was just fired. After the dismissal of Seth Greenberg, Johnson landed a job on the Clemson staff only to return to the Hokies as head coach weeks later. Despite his youth, the 40-year-old has 19 years of experience as an assistant coach, including time on the George Mason staff that reached the 2006 Final Four under now-Miami coach Jim Larranaga. Johnson is one of only three ACC coaches in the last 20 seasons to get an ACC job without previously being a head coach. The others were Bill Guthridge at North Carolina and Frank Haith at Miami.