by Conor GeregFollow @CTGereg
When Rose Kennedy said, “Life is not a matter of milestones, but moments” she most certainly never attempted to assess the merits of college basketball coaches. The coaching profession is measured in numbers: games won, NCAA tournament appearances, NBA draft picks produced, and on it goes.
With the NCAA putting both a floor and a cap on games played this season, 13 and 27, respectively, there won’t be nearly as many opportunities for coaches to climb the most important category of all: total victories.
There will of course be headline names that are sure to break through to the next milestone; names like Gonzaga’s Mark Few will most assuredly join the 600 win club (599 wins currently) and Villanova’s Jay Wright will also join with his 593, but today we’ll profile many of the coaching milestones that may sneak under the radar this winter.
Ben Howland – Mississippi State
This year’s Mississippi State group might struggle to climb out of the SEC’s lower tier but odds are that Howland will pick up the lone win he needs to join the 500 win club. It’s been an interesting journey for the Bulldogs’ coach who owns winning records at each of his head coaching stops which have spanned Northern Arizona, Pittsburgh, UCLA, and his current home in Starkville. There’s an argument that Howland’s body of work has been largely under-appreciated during his career considering he owns the 2002 Naismith National Coach of the Year Award in addition to being named both Big East (2002) and Pac 10 (2006) Coach of the Year.
At 63, Howland should have more opportunities to climb the wins ladder though earning 20+ wins at Mississippi State for the 4th consecutive year seems farfetched considering the strength of the SEC and a reduced season schedule. Regardless of geography–East Coast, West Coast, mid-west, Deep South–all this guy does is win.
Bob Huggins – West Virginia
Huggy Bear will need to make good on lofty pre-season predictions in order to cross the 900 win threshold. This year Huggins enters 2020 with a career 881-372 record and a top-25 team. The Mountaineers will play 20 league games as well as out of conference opportunities against Gonzaga and a matchup in the Big 12/Big East challenge.
The path toward 900 wins has been an especially interesting one for Huggins who cut his teeth as Head Coach at Akron from 1984-1989, earning prestige as Ohio Valley regular season and tournament champions in 1986. Huggins remained in the Buckeye state for 16 more years while at the helm in Cincinnati before being slapped with an ultimatum by then President Nancy L. Zimpher citing a variety of transgressions before Huggins took the Kansas State job in 2006. In Manhattan (KS) Huggins showed up his recruiting prowess, landing highly coveted prospects like Bill Walker and Michael Beasley for the Wildcats but a short stay saw him leave just a year later in 2007 to return home to his alma mater in Morgantown, a marriage that’s the quintessential forever spot for the coach.
During his 38-year ride Huggins has coached in leagues across the country, including leagues that no longer exist today–thank you for your service Metro Conference and Great Midwest Conference–but through it all Huggins has been a daunting force on the sideline and his teams have reflected that same physical presence. Win number 900 will come and with it perhaps an answer to a question that’s increasingly more relevant: why isn’t this guy in the Hall of Fame already?
Chris Mooney – Richmond
The groundswell of those calling for Mooney’s job have quieted–and for good reason. Mooney leads an über talented Spiders team into a formidable Atlantic 10; his star-studded group will most certainly win the 8 games he needs to eclipse 300 career victories (292 entering this season) and his 274 wins at the school ranks as 1st in program history. Mooney was just 33 when he took the job following five years at Air Force, one of those years serving as Head Coach.
It’s been exactly ten years since Mooney took the Spiders to the NCAA Tournament, and anything short of a return to the Field of 68 would be a disappointment. Mooney passed Dick Tarrant (1981-1993) and his 239 career wins though Tarrant’s 5 NCAA Tournament appearances are a school record. Should Mooney’s future teams model the talent of this year’s group, he should one day catch Tarrant’s NCAA appearance mark.
Cliff Ellis – Coastal Carolina
Ellis enters year 14 in Myrtle Beach where the Chanticleers hoops program will look to mimic the school’s success on the football field. Ellis has quietly accumulated a gaudy 782 career NCAA wins, good for 15th all time, and will look to capture win 250 at Coastal Carolina this season (Ellis currently sits at 246-181). Win 250 would rank as the school’s 2nd all-time, trailing Russ Bergman (1975-1994; 306 career wins), cementing Ellis’ stature as one of the Big South’s top coaches.
Ellis has made NCAA Tournament appearances with four different schools, a mark that’s only been achieved by four other coaches in history. Ellis has accumulated an impressive collection of coaching accolades during his 45-year tenure, the 1999 Coach of the Year prize while at Auburn may headline this list, but another run in the Big Dance may be atop the wish list for the 74 year old.
Mick Cronin – UCLA
While Cronin wasn’t the first choice for the job in Westwood, Bruins fans are encouraged by what’s happening under Cronin’s watch. Defensive efficiency numbers took off by the middle of last season, fitting the mold of a typical Cronin team, and in turn, UCLA climbed the PAC 12 standings. Losing Daisheen Nix to the G-League hurts, but there’s enough talent here to most assuredly allow Cronin to at least approach the 400 win plateau (enters with 384 career wins).
The road to 400 wins was an unconventional one for the 49 year old, beginning with a five-year stint at the high school level before transitioning to a pair of assistant roles at both Louisville and Cincinnati. Cronin’s first three years as the lead man of a program took place at Murray State (2003-2006) where the Racers won a pair of Ohio Valley Tournament titles. Cronin came back home in the spring of 2006 to coach his alma mater in Cincinnati before jettisoning west in the summer of 2019 for the UCLA post.
Throughout this ride Cronin has brought a winning blueprint that hinges on tough, physical defense and a deliberate offensive approach designed to wear down opponents on the glass. Ben Howland’s ten year stay in Westwood (2003-2013) is the longest any Bruins coach has held the job since John Wooden left in 1975. Entering just his second year at the helm it would be premature to envision–or even speculate on–Cronin’s tenure spanning beyond a decade.
Mike Anderson – St. John’s
Much like Cronin wasn’t the top choice at UCLA, Anderson certainly wasn’t the lead man when St. John’s brass came looking for a Chris Mullin replacement. Despite this, Anderson continues his impressive streak as a coach who has never led a team to a losing record. That footnote may be especially difficult to preserve this year since the lack of buy games will trim the fat from a season schedule that’s historically allowed the Red Storm to fill up on early season victories prior to the Big East gauntlet. That being said, Anderson enters with 386 wins and a climb toward 400 may prove difficult but this benchmark seems fitting for a coach who has won everywhere he’s been: UAB, Missouri, Arkansas, and now, St. John’s. There’s still plenty of talent on this roster despite some expected–and unexpected–departures, though Anderson will need every ounce of his 18 years of Head Coaching experience to keep the Red Storm afloat.
Archie Miller – Indiana
This is year four for Miller in Bloomington and there’s never been any doubt in regard to Miller’s coaching chops but the results haven’t materialized just yet, finishing 6th, 9th, and 10th in the Big Ten hierarchy during his tenure. Miller will need just six more wins to earn his 200th career win (194-106), and he’ll most certainly get it, but how much success will he need to keep his seat comfortable?
Miller has been successful at every stop; he’s climbed the theoretical coaching ladder throughout his career, including his post at Dayton where he was named 2017 A10 Coach of the Year and his role as his brother’s top assistant at Arizona (2009-2011) following other assistant coaching stops at Ohio State, Arizona State, NC State, and Western Kentucky. This year’s Big Ten is better than ever (that’s saying a lot following last year) so Miller will once again be tested–and most certainly face some degree of reproach from Hoosier fans.
Brian Gregory – South Florida
Brian Gregory has the requisite coaching acumen to win at nearly any level and this year’s South Florida Bulls will allow the 53 year to earn career win 300 in 2020-2021. Gregory will enter the year with 296 wins and the return of injured Alexis Yetna will make USF an immediate factor in the muddled AAC picture. Gregory’s 40-42 record at USF leaves him miles ahead of his predecessor Orlando Antigua who managed a meager 23-55 record over three seasons.
Frank Haith – Tulsa
Haith’s 116 career wins at Tulsa paces him within reach of the program’s all-time leaders. Clarence Iba (1949-1960) tallied 137 wins in 11 seasons, good for second most in program history, trailing Doug Wojcik (2005-2012) and his 140 wins. A pandemic shortened 2020-2021 will undoubtedly keep Haith from passing these thresholds this winter but his talented Golden Hurricane team is well-equipped to finish in the top third of the AAC and in turn allow Haith to sniff the program’s all-time best.
Bob McKillop – Davidson
McKillop enters year 32 at Davidson and will bring his 594 career wins into a talent-laden Atlantic 10 this year. The epitome of stability, McKillop has guided these Wildcats through the labyrinth of conference realignment, calling four different conferences home throughout his multi-decade tenure. Davidson will likely be a top-half team in the conference this season though if his senior star Kellan Grady produces as many have expected, McKillop could secure much more than win 600.
Leon Rice – Boise State
The Mountain West has seen Leon Rice’s Bison steadily climb over the course of his tenure and this winter Rice will approach his 200th career win—all of which have come in Boise. Rice will enter with 179 wins and will eye the program’s all-time winningest coach, Bobby Dye (1983-1995), and his 212 career wins. There most likely won’t be a changing of the guard this year but Rice is closing in on program supremacy.
Roy Williams – UNC
Coming off a forgettable 2019-2020 season, Williams’ Tar Heels appear poised to return atop the ACC’s heap of tournament-worthy teams. A successful campaign this year will most assuredly allow Williams to eclipse the prestigious 900 win plateau, joining the 11 NCAA coaches who have ever entered into this rarified strata considering that Williams owns 885 wins already. Williams is the 4th winningest among active coaches, trailing Coach K (1,157), Jim Boeheim (964), and Jim Calhoun (915—another successful year at DIII St. Joseph has helped Calhoun pad this total). Williams returns the ACC’s top scorer in Garrison Brooks and will outmuscle opponents with one of the game’s most daunting frontcourts en route to win 900.