Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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Colleges with best football, men’s basketball coach tandems: Kentucky, Kansas, Alabama lead the pack

Football and men’s basketball have historically headlined college athletic departments, but finding success in both sports remains an elusive task for many schools. Hitting on both hires and supporting them successfully has been a challenge for even the most high-profile colleges, but a select few have managed to stand apart. 

The past few years have been a rapid period of change across both sports. At one time, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Alabama’s Nick Saban could swing this list. Now, both are retired. So is North Carolina’s Roy Williams, while Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh is back in the NFL. Other tremendous combos were also recently split up as Mike Elko left Duke for Texas A&M, while Arizona’s Jedd Fisch abandoned Tommy Lloyd for Washington. None of this factors in women’s college basketball — otherwise, LSU with Brian Kelly and Kim Mulkey would make a strong case for the top spot. 

With so much turnover, the coaching landscape is shifting almost daily. Even a strong appearance in the 2024 NCAA Tournament could be enough to shake up the list. But heading into the 2024 NCAA Tournament, let’s have a look at the top 10 college football/men’s basketball coaching combinations in the country. 

1. Kansas: Lance Leipold/Bill Self

The best coaching combo in college athletics resides in … Lawrence, Kansas? Self is the consensus best coach in college basketball with 16 Big 12 regular-season titles, two national titles and an 809-247 career record. Leipold, meanwhile, is the fastest-rising veteran on the football side, transforming woeful Buffalo and now Kansas programs into consistent winners. He’s coming off a 9-4 season in 2023 with this Jayhawks program and back-to-back bowl berths (for Kansas!). 

2. Kentucky: Mark Stoops/John Calipari

The Wildcats have a serious claim to the No. 1 spot, but recent results knock them down slightly. Stoops has losing records in each of the past two SEC campaigns, while Calipari has not reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2019. Still, the overall résumés of these two coaches are stellar. Calipari has a national championship and six Final Fours under his belt. Stoops has led Kentucky to the greatest period of sustained success since the program was led by the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant. His two 10-win seasons match the same amount as every other coach in UK history combined. 

3. Alabama: Kalen DeBoer/Nate Oats

The Crimson Tide were a mainstay at the top of these lists, but Saban’s retirement drops Alabama back into the pack. Still, DeBoer led Washington to a College Football Playoff National Championship appearance last season and boasts a downright silly 104-12 coaching record, including the 25-3 mark at Washington. Oats’ stock has also slipped slightly in the past calendar year, but he boasts two SEC titles and Sweet 16 appearances in the past four seasons. 

4. North Carolina: Mack Brown/Hubert Davis

Contextualizing North Carolina’s two active coaches is difficult. Brown is one of only three active college football coaches with a national championship, but his crown came in 2005. Still, his Texas résumé and five consecutive bowl seasons at UNC are impressive. UNC missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in more than a decade last season under Davis, but he should shoot back up the coaching rankings after leading UNC to its first regular-season ACC title in five years. He also still has a national title game appearance under his belt just two seasons ago. 

5. Michigan State: Jonathan Smith/Tom Izzo

Most of the legendary coaches in college basketball have retired, but Izzo just keeps on trucking. Izzo has eight Final Fours, 10 Big Ten regular-season championships to his name and just qualified for his 26th consecutive March Madness. Smith was a brilliant hire from Oregon State, where he won Co-Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors in 2022. The Beavers went 25-13 in his final three seasons at one of the toughest jobs in the sport, and now he has a fresh slate at Michigan State to lead the program back to prominence. 

6. Oregon: Dan Lanning/Dana Altman

The Ducks have a wonderful mix of talent and experience on the coaching front. Altman fittingly captured his eighth tourney appearance and 16th overall after the Ducks crashed the party after winning the Pac-12 Tournament title, his fourth in 10 years. Altman, meanwhile, has 754 wins across four coaching stops. Lanning is one of the fastest-rising coaches in college football after leading Oregon to a 22-5 record through two seasons, including a Fiesta Bowl victory this past year. The Ducks’ football team will be a popular national title pick in 2024 in the school’s first year as a member of the Big Ten. 

7. Tennessee: Josh Heupel/Rick Barnes

Like Oregon, the Volunteers boast a combination of up-and-comer with a seasoned veteran. After 17 years at Texas, Barnes has transformed Tennessee basketball into a winner. The Vols captured the 2024 SEC regular-season championship and have averaged 24 wins over the past seven years. Heupel won the FWAA First-Year Coach of the Year at both UCF and Tennessee, and he later captured SEC Coach of the Year in 2022 after a breakout 11-2 campaign. He is 27-12 across three seasons in Knoxville. 

8. Houston: Willie Fritz/Kelvin Sampson

Outside of Self, Sampson has a case next to any coach in college basketball after an incredible run with the Cougars. Houston has won six consecutive conference championships between the AAC and Big 12, and it enters 2024 as a No. 1 seed with a strong national title case. Fritz is a newcomer to the power-conference level, but his track record of winning at all levels stands apart. From JUCO to Group of Five, Fritz has won 247 games, seven conference championships and two junior college national titles. He won national coach of the year in 2022 as he led Tulane to a Cotton Bowl win over USC

9. Iowa State: Matt Campbell/TJ Otzelberger

Otzelberger led one of the fastest turnarounds college basketball has ever seen, elevating a team that went 2-22 the previous season to the Sweet 16. Iowa State captured a No. 2 seed in the 2024 NCAA Tournament after winning the Big 12 tourney championship, its best seed in 20 years. Campbell’s stock slipped after a losing season in 2022, but he has six winning seasons in the past seven years. That’s more than the Cyclones had in the 25 previous seasons before his arrival. 

10. Miami: Mario Cristobal/Jim Larrañaga

Cristobal remains a lightning rod after inconsistent early results with Miami, but his stints at Oregon and FIU remain highly impressive. The Ducks won two conference titles under his watch, while the Panthers won their only conference championship since starting as an FBS football program in 2004. The Hurricanes had a down year on the hardwood in 2024, but Larrañaga led Miami to an ACC title and Final Four in 2023. He has won more than 700 games across three stops and guided George Mason to one of the most shocking Final Fours in college basketball history in 2006. 

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