In the 2010 summer already, many college coaches have been linked to NBA jobs, including Tom Izzo in Cleveland, John Calipari in Chicago, and Coach K in New Jersey. I’m surprised by this trend, because their is little evidence for a coach to succeed at both levels. The games don’t translate, and the skill set of a coach is not the same. Yet every year it seems an NBA team makes a major pitch for a college coach. Sure, Larry Brown won a title at both levels, but he is much more the exception. Here’s a look at some notable NCAA coaches who have made the leap to the NBA.
Pitino is an NCAA legend, taking 3 different schools to the Final Four and winning a national title at Kentucky in 1996. He currently has restored Louisville to the nation’s elite. But Pitino has twice failed in the NBA. His first stint was with the Knicks in the late 1980’s. He made some progress there, winning 52 games his second year. But that was it for Pitino in New York. He returned to the NBA to run the Celtics, where he lasted 3 and a half seasons without posting a winning record. He isolated Boston fans by reminding them that ‘Larry Bird is not walking through that door’ (ESPN)
After leading UMass to a great era in the 1990’s, and before doing the same at Memphis and now Kentucky, Coach Cal wound up coaching the New Jersey Nets. Coach Cal posted a .391 winning percentage in the Meadowlands. He did make the playoffs once, but the Nets were swept. He was fired 20 games in to his 3rd season following a 3-17 start.
Floyd had a good run at Iowa State, but he also flopped twice in the NBA. He took over for the Bulls in 1998, and to be fair that was the summer after the Bulls ripped apart their 3 time defending championship roster. But Floyd did nothing to help the team. His records in Chicago were 13-37, 17-65, 15-67, and 4-21 before being fired. He returned to the NBA in the 2003-2004 season to coach the Hornets, where he went 41-41 and made the playoffs, but was fired after that. He wound up with a .280 winning percentage in the NBA
Tark was a legend for leading UNLV to one of the most impressive runs in NCAA history in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. After that he landed with the San Antonio Spurs, where his NBA career lasted only 20 games before being fired. A few years later he returned to the NCAA, never to be an NBA thought again.
Montgomery presided over a powerhouse at Stanford from 1986 through 2004, including leading the Cardinal to 10 straight NCAA tournaments. Montgomery made the leap to the NBA to coach the Golden State Warriors, whereh e posted consecutive 34-48 seasons before being fired. He is now the head coach at California.
NBA teams should be weary before hiring a star NCAA coach. It seems the best NBA coaches come from either modest NCAA roots (like Chuck Daly) or from other roles in the NBA, rather it be assistants or former players. The Larry Brown move is rare. With all the money being tossed around with Tom Izzo or Calipari, the buyer better beware.