Top Men’s College Basketball Coaches of the Decade, No. 5-1
Yesterday, we uncovered the first 10 in the top 15 Division I men’s college coaches from the 2010s. Today, we round out the top five to finish off the list and crown a top boss for the entire decade.
I devised a point system to measure in as objective a fashion as possible, placing emphasis on deep postseason runs while still rewarding conference dominance. Here is the key for the scoring:
National Championship – 100 points
National Runners Up – 50 points
Final Four – 25 points
Elite Eight – 10 points
Sweet 16 – 5 points
NCAA Tournament Appearance – 1 point
Regular Season Conference Championship – 5 points
Conference Tournament Championship – 3 points
All coaches who coached Division I men’s college basketball for even one season between the 2009-10 and 2018-19 seasons were eligible. There is no weight system for how many years you coached; it is purely the raw results.
Another note: Rick Pitino would have comfortably finished in the top 10 and contended for one of the top coaches of the decade, but alas, everything of consequence he accomplished has been rescinded. As such, he was not included in this exercise.
Now, let’s dive into the top half of the top 10 to complete the list:
5. Bill Self (Kansas, 2009-19)
Top Achievements: 1 National Runner Up, 2 Final Fours, 5 Elite Eights
Best Years: 2012 (National Runner Up, Big 12 Regular Season Championship, 32-7 record); 2018 (Final Four, Big 12 Regular Season Championship, Big 12 Tournament Championship, 31-8 record); 2011 (Elite Eight, Big 12 Regular Season Championship, Big 12 Tournament Championship, 35-3 record)
Bill Self’s Kansas won 14-straight Big 12 regular season titles, starting before the 2010s, until finishing third in 2019. Still, the success he sustained at the top of his conference for so long is remarkable, and it certainly helped him in these rankings. The only other coach to get 45 points from regular season conference championship was Gonzaga’s Mark Few, who competes against much easier competition in the WCC, albeit without the resources in Lawrence. The next-most earned by the same means by any coach in the top 15 was 25, and those extra 20 points gives Self a much more comfortable advantage over John Beilein for a spot in the first five.
Self comes in as the highest-ranked coach without a national championship this decade, and other than the Big 12 dominance, his five Elite Eight runs made the difference. Only one other coach took his team to more final rounds of the second weekend, and while his Jayhawks teams have solicited some shtick for getting stopped just short of the Final Four a few times, getting so far so often is incredible no matter what program you are. These rankings justifiably reflect that.
4. Roy Williams (North Carolina, 2009-19)
Top Achievements: 1 National Championship, 1 National Runner Up, 2 Final Fours
Best Years: 2017 (National Championship, ACC Regular Season Championship, 33-7 record); 2016 (National Runner Up, ACC Regular Season Championship, ACC Tournament Championship, 33-7 record); 2012 (Elite Eight, ACC Regular Season Championship, 32-6 record)
Roy Williams has won three national titles in his 16 seasons at the helm in Chapel Hill, with one falling in the 2010s. That, plus a second-place national finish and a host of second-weekend runs, has him well ahead of Self for the fourth spot in the rankings.
It’s a favorite complaint from critics that Williams notoriously does not like to call his timeouts, but you can’t argue against the results. Outside of an NIT appearance to start the decade, he won at least one NCAA Tournament game every year this decade and had UNC in the Sweet 16 six out of 10 opportunities. He won half of the ACC regular season crowns from the 2010s, and outside of the anomaly that was 2010, didn’t win fewer than 11 conference games in any given campaign. His teams are always fast, pushing the tempo and forcing opposition to run with them. And when you get in a track meet with a Roy Williams team, well daggumit, you better be quick, or you will be left behind.
3. Jay Wright (Villanova, 2009-19)
Top Achievements: 2 National Championships, 2 Final Fours, 5 Regular Season Conference Championships
Best Years: 2016 (National Championship, Big East Regular Season Championship, 35-5 record); 2018 (National Championship, Big East Tournament Championship, 36-4 record); 2015 (NCAA Second Round, Big East Regular Season Championship, Big East Tournament Championship, 33-3 record)
If you were to only look at the first half of his decade, you would not think Jay Wright would find himself anywhere near this list. That’s not to say he wasn’t a great coach before he led Villanova to its first national championship since 1985, but five Big Dance appearances and a couple runs to the second round won’t put you on this level. You know what will, though? Achieving the ultimate goal twice and putting a stranglehold on your conference.
That’s precisely what Wright did in the second part of the 2010s, earning the national crown in 2016 and 2018 and having his Wildcats in the top spot in the Big East five of the decade’s last six seasons, including four of the final five conference tournaments. He is one of two coaches in the decade to triumph twice over all of college basketball, and it’s the reason he’s so high on this list. Other than those two title runs, none of his 2010s teams advanced beyond the Round of 32 in March, multiple times in major disappointments. But that’s not what matters here. Winning a national championship is extremely difficult, and that’s a major understatement. To do it once is unbelievable. To do it twice makes you one of the best three coaches of the decade.
2. Mike Krzyzewski (Duke, 2009-19)
Top Achievements: 2 National Championships, 2 Final Fours, 5 Elite Eights
Best Years: 2010 (National Championship, ACC Regular Season Championship, ACC Tournament Championship, 35-5 record); 2015 (National Championship, 35-4 record); 2019 (Elite Eight, ACC Tournament Championship, 32-6 record)
Among college basketball fans, Coach K can be a divisive figure, but you can’t deny his greatest. Easily one of the best coaches of all time, Krzyzewski had yet another wildly successful decade in the 2010s. He was the other coach to win two national titles, then add in three more Elite Eight appearances, a couple Sweet 16s and a sprinkling of ACC Tournament successes, and it makes sense why he’s comfortably second on this list.
This decade showed a major shift in Coach K’s philosophy, though. In his first title in 2010, he was still sporting a roster compromised of wily upperclassmen who got by on experience and team cohesion, plus tons of talent, of course. That had been what Duke and its coach had been known for, but by the second title in 2015, Krzyzewski had moved on to an underclassman-focus, centering his team around some of the most highly-touted freshmen, with upperclassmen serving more of the role positions. Both systems have netted the coach a championship, and it is refreshing to see an old coach adapt to the changing landscape around him rather than try to fit a square peg in a round hole. College basketball evolved, and Coach K evolved with it, placing him as the second-best coach of the 2010s.
1. John Calipari (Kentucky, 2009-19)
Top Achievements: 1 National Championship, 4 Final Fours, 7 Elite Eights
Best Years: 2012 (National Championship, SEC Regular Season Championship, 38-2 record); 2015 (Final Four, SEC Regular Season Championship, SEC Tournament Championship, 38-1 record); 2014 (National Runner Up, 29-11 record)
Despite only winning one national championship, which feels like a very strange thing to write, John Calipari was the greatest coach of the decade, and it wasn’t particularly close. Surpassing Coach K by 50 points, Calipari’s seven Elite Eights, eight Sweet 16s and four Final Fours easily put him at the top of this list and more than make up for the lack of a second title.
This decade, Calipari compiled some of the best teams of the era, including some of the most dominant teams of all time, title or not. The 2012 team will go down in history, with the national title as validation of its greatness, and the 2015 iteration of Calipari’s Wildcats could be argued as one of the top teams to ever grace college basketball despite failing to secure the ultimate prize. Numerous of the 2010s best players went through Lexington, and the amount of players Calipari has put in the NBA this decade is seemingly limitless. It’s so very hard to win that final game of the season. The best you can reasonably ask of a coach is to have his team in the conversation every year, and that’s precisely what Calipari has done. His teams might not always come out on top of the single-elimination crapshoot that is the NCAA Tournament, but they were one of the last eight teams remaining seven out of 10 campaigns in the decade, and consistency like that is why Calipari is the greatest Division I men’s college basketball coach of the 2010s.