As you know by now, long-time North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball coach Roy Williams will be retiring at 70 years old. For a long time, Syracuse fans were most familiar with Roy from afar, and that time he lost to the Orangemen in the National Championship Game. But since we joined the ACC, we see Williams at least once per year — and sometimes more like when the Heels beat us in the Final Four, or we obliterate UNC in the ACC Tournament.
Now, even if it seems like Williams is retiring to be a message board crank, he’s still a Hall of Famer. Jim Boeheim even said he’s one of the great coaches of all-time, something he’s certainly said of other peers like Coach K and Rick Pitino (among others), but that doesn’t make it any less true. The guy’s won three titles at Carolina, after all. That counts for a lot.
Plenty of others have waxed poetic about Williams, and I won’t do that here, much to the chagrin of those that still believe I’m a Tar Heel plant. Instead, we’re using his departure to talk about the top coaching jobs in the country — which UNC is certainly among, if not at the top of the list.
Roy’s the first of a collection of Hall of Fame coaches who will certainly leave their posts in the coming decade. Boeheim’s one of them, as is K. And Tom Izzo too, potentially. It’s a changing of the guard for the sport at a coaching level. And it also happens to coincide with what looks like a changing of the guard program-wise atop men’s basketball.
So with all of that in mind, and knowing that plenty of these jobs aren’t open and won’t be open for some time, here’s how I’d group the top jobs in men’s college basketball:
Tier 1: This is the best job in the country
- Programs: North Carolina
Honestly, it’s not even close and it’ll be interesting to see the effect that has on Carolina’s search. In the past, we’ve seen them strike out, sure. But Roy wasn’t that and despite the ability to crater unlike Boeheim or K, his ceiling was incredibly high. UNC fan support is rabid but not unreasonable. They have a national brand, infinite cred from Jordan, and a footprint that is well outside the confines of Chapel Hill or even the state of North Carolina.
UNC has a ton of famous and not-so-famous alums, and real status as an elite public school. There’s history, tradition and money here, in a growing state to boot. This is clearly the best situation in college basketball, from a resources, support and expectations standpoint.
Tier 2: These jobs are almost as good, but have a factor or two complicating matters
- Programs: Duke, Michigan State, Michigan, Kansas, Kentucky
They’re all here for different reasons, which is probably the most interesting part of this collection.
Michigan has the benefit of getting cover from the football team’s usual run of misfortune (relative to expectations, anyway) while sneakily putting together a pretty solid run this last decade. The main problem is that they’ll never be the main focus for alums and boosters.
Duke is Duke, and I think they have the resources and national profile to succeed beyond Coach K. Michigan State isn’t just Izzo, and that program’s history is enough to keep it afloat at or above the level Izzo has had them at in recent years.
For Kansas, they probably have the most compelling case to be on the same tier as UNC, but we haven’t really see that fan base deal with something difficult. What happens then?
Kentucky’s issue is the fan base, and its lack of rationality relative to... most things. Also, going back to being a “normal” program once Calipari leaves and/or the NBA gets rid of the one-and-done rule would seem to be a daunting task.
Tier 3: These jobs carry expectations that don’t always align with reality, but have a lot of history and resources
- Programs: Louisville, UCLA, Indiana
So all of these programs have some form of the problem Kentucky has, just without the same level of rabidness or the same level of consistent, recent success.
Louisville potentially has the best chance to jump out of this tier since they seemingly have endless resources, showed an ability to make a good hire after Pitino’s departure, and continue to grow as a school. Yet, Chris Mack’s also had them around the bubble and really, this has not been a consistent program over the last 30 years (though some of that comes from not being in a power conference for a long stretch).
UCLA’s in the Final Four right now, so given some more time, perhaps Mick Cronin coaxes them back up to tier two. But UCLA fans are quick to turn on coaches and seem all too wiling to coast on past success. I’ve been to Pauley Pavilion. That place can be a mausoleum, with an aging and nonplussed crowd in attendance.
Indiana’s recent coaching search (ending with alum and NBA assistant Mike Woodson) showed this is their ceiling for the time being. Not much positive has happened in Bloomington for the last two decades, and various coaches have tried to fix that. If Woodson can’t fix things quickly, he’ll just be another placeholder hire as this program falls further from grace.
Tier 4: These jobs have been elevated by the current coach and we don’t know where they’ll be afterward
- Programs: Syracuse, Villanova, Gonzaga, Virginia
“When do we get to Syracuse?” you’ve been saying to yourself. Well, here we are.
Boeheim’s an enormous part of why the program’s gotten to the level it has, and also plays a role in why the program’s fallen short of expectations in recent seasons. Still, despite a shrinking local population, tough weather to recruit against and a smaller alumni base, he still has the Dome and the program’s history that he played a large role in building — things that will be around well after he leaves.
Virginia has the biggest chance to move up, but there’s also a major opportunity to move down should Tony Bennett eventually depart before the program’s accomplished more than what we’ve seen thus far. Still, well-regarded public school with a lot of alums and resources, excitement around the program and a growing fleet of NBA players? There’s plenty of upside here.
Villanova was an established program before Jay Wright, but his recent run since the Catholic schools split off to form the new Big East has turned them into a completely different animal. They’re clearly better off for him being there, and three titles on their resume helps them stay relevant beyond Wright. Those are also enormous expectations to follow, though, as is the case with everyone in this tier.
I was iffy on including Gonzaga here, but assuming the Zags take home their first title next week, it’s hard to argue with what they’ve accomplished under Few despite what should be resource limitations and a lack of power conference affiliation. But they’ve staked out a spot as the West Coast’s premier program, which is a valuable title to own.
Tier 5: Various others who’ve spent time atop the sport but not consistently of late
- Programs: Florida, UConn, Arizona, Wisconsin
It’s increasingly clear that Billy Donovan was the biggest reason why Florida got to the heights it did, but those titles are why they should be able to sell players and boosters on a better future.
UConn’s seemingly turning things around after some time in the wilderness. Arizona’s lost in said wilderness at the moment, and it’s tough to say if they make it out. Wisconsin has spent a couple decades being consistently relevant and even competing at a championship level at times. Also: B1G money.
Tier 6: You should be good
Getting this out of the way, Georgetown should be good, even if we don’t want them to be.
Ohio State’s been able to attract talent lately, but can’t get over the hump consistently. NC State’s mired in mediocrity for far too long, but is conceivably a great job given conference, location, history.
The Big 12 contingent here — OK State, Oklahoma, Texas — are the weird ones. State’s history is solid, but also has question marks. OU and Texas are loaded from a resources standpoint, but will always be second to football and haven’t found consistency. At least the Longhorns have taken some big swings to try and figure things out. The latest, hiring Chris Beard away from Texas Tech, should connect.
Hate this list? Feel like it’s fine? Have your own list that’s “definitely better?” Share your own thoughts below.