Yea or nay: Prominent men’s coaches in line to potentially follow Jay Wright into Basketball Hall of Fame

Villanova coach Jay Wright will be part of the 2021 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class. The honor, announced Sunday, became a strong possibility the second Kris Jenkins won the 2016 national title — and then an inevitability when Wright coached VU to its second championship in three years in 2018. 

When his enshrinement becomes official in September, Wright will join Jim Boeheim, John Calipari, Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Bill Self and Jim Calhoun (who’s coaching at Division III Saint Joseph) and become the eighth active Division I men’s basketball coach in the Hall. 

How many more active coaches will we get in the coming few years? Scanning the landscape, there are a couple of no-brainers, and then it seems like we could be waiting a while before another active coach gets a call from the Hall. In 2017 the Hall of Fame amended its criteria of eligibility for coaches. They must either be retired for three full seasons or, if still active, have put in 25 years worth of coaching (as an assistant or a head coach) and be 60 years old. (I was told Wright, 59, was already on the ballot when this rule changed, so he was grandfathered in.)

Who should, or will, be next? I homed in on 12 pragmatic candidates still in the game. (Recently retired Lon Kruger and maybe-retired John Beilein also have interesting arguments.)

Hear more about Jay Wright and the Hall of Fame. Listen to the latest episode of Eye on College Basketball below.

Big win totals, lofty win percentages, national titles and/or Final Four appearances are what get you under consideration. I’m attempting to predict the future here by taking what these coaches have done and combining that with a (unavoidably foggy) forecast of how I think their careers will finish. Here are the active coaches — with the strongest résumés at present — in alphabetical order.

(And if we’re going to use Wright as a recent coach for a baseline comparison, here are his vitals: 612 wins; has won 69% of his games; a 30-14 NCAA Tournament record; 10 regular-season and six conference tournament titles; two-time national coach of the year; and, of course, two national titles and three Final Four appearances.)

Dana Altman

Record: 690-352 | National titles: 0 | Final Fours: 1

Altman is 10 wins away from 700, which is a number that gets Division I coaches at least into the conversation about the Hall of Fame. Altman has been a head coach since 1989. He’s won 66% of his games in a 30-plus-year career, with the majority of those games coming as coach of Creighton and Oregon. Altman’s won nine league tournament titles and seven regular-season championships. The Ducks made the 2017 Final Four, which came a few years after Altman kept his job despite multiple former players being accused of sexual assault. Altman’s been to 14 NCAA Tournaments and holds a decent 15-14 record. His teams have reached at least the Sweet 16 in five of those 14 appearances. 

Prediction — Out: Oregon continues to be a top-three program in the Pac-12, but without a national title or a couple more trips to the Final Four, can’t see him being inducted. 

Rick Barnes

Record: 727-386 | National titles: 0 | Final Fours: 1

Barnes, 66, is the second-winningest coach on the list, having won 65% of his games in a 34-year career that began at George Mason then ascended with stops at Providence, Clemson, Texas and, for the past six seasons, Tennessee. Barnes has been good-not-great in full over the course of his career. One Final Four in 24 NCAA Tournaments and a 24-24 record in the Big Dance. His hit rate for the second weekend is OK: seven Sweet-16-or-better trips in 24 appearances. He has four regular-season titles and just one conference tournament title. 

Prediction — Out: Being that we’re talking about the Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Longevity, it seems like he’ll finish his career proudly, but shy of immortality. 

Tony Bennett

Record: 364-136 | National titles: 1 | Final Fours: 1

Winning a national championship goes a long way toward HOF consideration. Bennett doing it at Virginia, getting the school its first title in men’s basketball, carries even more weight. Bennett has won 73% of his games in his 15 years, the first three coming at Washington State. (He has the best win percentage in Cougars and Wahoos basketball history.) Bennett’s made the Sweet 16 or beyond four times. Most impressive is how Virginia has become the bully of the ACC. Virginia’s won four regular-season titles and two ACC tourney titles under Bennett, who also is a two-time national coach of the year recipient. 

Prediction — In: I don’t know if he’s a coaching lifer, but the 51-year-old’s got at least another decade. At this trajectory it’s easy to see how Bennett’s story ends in Springfield, Massachusetts

Tony Bennett is well on his way to building a solid Hall of Fame case.

Mike Brey

Record: 547-300 | National titles: 0 | Final Fours: 0

The winningest coach in Notre Dame history and someone who’s won a laudable 65% of his games. Brey has three apiece when it comes to conference tournament crowns and regular-season titles. He’s made 14 NCAA Tournaments, with three trips Sweet 16 or beyond. No Final Fours, though, and a slump as of late. 

Prediction — Out: He’s seemingly got a few years left before enjoying retirement, and on the whole Brey’s quality career falls short of Hall-worthy. Question is, does he get to coach up one more really good team before putting the clipboard down?

Scott Drew

Record: 392-226 | National titles: 1 | Final Fours: 1

At 50, he’s the youngest coach on this list. And being eight wins away from 400, Drew has a healthy chance — if he wants to stay in the coaching game for another 15 years — of flirting with 800 wins. He lorded over one of the greatest program rebuilds in history, and that will go a long way. He’s won 63% of his games and has Baylor operating as a top-10 program. Drew’s been to nine NCAA Tournaments and holds a 17-8 record, advancing to the Sweet 16 or beyond five times. Regular-season champs: twice. Bookended, in fact: his first year at Valpo and this past season with BU. 

Prediction — In: Plenty of road to go, but one national title at Baylor is like winning three at UNC. The only way Drew’s case really takes a hit is if he suddenly stops getting his teams to the NCAA Tournament. That seems unlikely, though I’d recommend one more Final Four run just to clinch the case.

Mark Few

Record: 630-124 | National titles: 0 | Final Fours: 2

He’s almost there, but at 58, has two more years before being eligible. Though Few is yet to win a national title, his eventual induction seems inevitable. (As I wrote four years ago, Gonzaga‘s near-championship in 2017 was the last piece of evidence Few needed to cement his credentials.) Few has made the NCAA Tournament every year of his career, which is a record for any men’s Division I coach with at least 10 years of experience. Few’s done it 21 consecutive tournaments, plus made two title games in addition to being a two-time national coach of the year. His .836 winning percentage is No. 1 all time in men’s D-I, and he’s the only coach ever to win at least eight conference titles in a row in separate streaks. 

Prediction — In: In, in, in. What he turned Gonzaga into has no parallel in college athletics. It’s a model every mid-major will aspire to for the next 100 years. Few will be in the Hall by 2025 at the latest. 

Leonard Hamilton

Record: 599-438 | National titles: 0 | Final Fours: 0

Probably the most intriguing case on the list. Hamilton has the lowest winning percentage, having won 58% of the time, but he’s got a chance at 700 wins if he wants to stick around a while more. He’ll be the youngest-looking 73-year-old you’ve ever seen by the start of next season. With four consecutive good years, he can get to 700. That will probably be necessary to boost his case. Hamilton’s been to at least the Sweet 16 five times, but never made a Final Four in 11 trips to the Big Dance. He has two regular-season and (technically) two conference tournament titles. 

Prediction — Out: I’m open and willing to being wrong on this, but projecting it out, I’m inclined to believe Hamilton will not make the Hall on account of not getting to a Final Four. 

Ben Howland

Record: 515-240 | National titles: 0 | Final Fours: 3

He’s 515-240, has won 64% of his games and is in the conversation because he has three Final Fours, which is the most of any active coach not currently in the Hall. All four schools he coached at — Northern Arizona, Pitt, UCLA, Mississippi State — he’s led to the tournament. Eight regular-season titles, four league tournament titles. Howland also won national coach of the year in 2002. He’s mostly been under the radar since going to Mississippi State, but at least 90% of head coaches would trade their résumés for his. 

Prediction — Out: If he won a national title with one of those UCLA teams, he’s probably in … eventually. Winning a championship can go a long way toward induction, and ultimately I think Howland will be symbolic of that actuality.

Bob Huggins

Record: 831-356 | National titles: 0 | Final Fours: 2

He was a finalist again this year, though surprisingly still didn’t break through. Huggins has a 900-382 (.782) overall mark in coaching, with 831 wins at D-I level. He’s the winningest coach not currently in the Hall and sits sixth among all-time men’s coaches in wins at the D-I level. Yet he’s not in? Odd, but again, I account this to him having not won a national title yet. Huggins has two Final Fours (’92, ’10), 11 regular-season titles and nine league tourney titles (though he doesn’t have one since getting to WVU in 2007). Owns a 33-24 record in the Dance. He’ll be 68 by the time next season starts. How many more years does he want to do this? 

Prediction — In: Probably within the next two years. He has the win totals, widespread admiration of many in basketball and almost never has bad teams. I’d expect him to be part of the class of 2022; no need to keep the man waiting.

For many, Bob Huggins is considered long overdue to be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame.

Matt Painter

Record: 380-189 | National titles: 0 | Final Fours: 0

Painter has the steepest hill to climb of any coach on the list, but that’s OK: he’s still just 50. Painter will have a Hall of Fame shot if he continues to win at a 67% clip, the way he’s done through a 17-year career. Purdue has made the NCAAs 75% of the time on Painter’s watch, and the Boilers have made at least the Sweet 16 five times. There’s also four regular-season titles and one Big Ten tournament title mixed in, too. It’s a good start.

Prediction — Out: He’s not yet even on the radar for this, but with his track record of success, I think Painter represents the line of delineation between who’s on which side of the HOF-convo fence. And remember, coaches need to be 60 years old for consideration now, so plenty of time to build a case here. 

Kelvin Sampson

Record: 667-333 | National titles: 0 | Final Fours: 2

Sampson has coached exactly 1,000 games and won 66.7% of the time. Two out of three ain’t bad. He made the Final Four in 2002, at Oklahoma, and 2021 with Houston. Sampson’s won five regular-season titles and four conference tourney titles, plus has won national coach of the year honors twice. He revitalized Houston, which is why he now has a case, though he was put on a three-year show-cause after committing violations at Indiana that led to an in-season ouster 13 years ago. Compelling argument to be had here. He was also respectable at Wazzu.

Prediction — Out: I don’t think Houston gets to another Final Four under Sampson (those are hard to get to!), and at minimum, I think it would take that for him to have a probable shot.

Tubby Smith

Record: 631-355 | National titles: 1 | Final Fours: 1

A better case than you might initially suspect. Smith’s won 64% of his games and has taken five schools to the NCAA Tournament. Only he, Rick Pitino and Lon Kruger have done that. He won the title in ’98 at Kentucky and claims seven regular-season titles to his name, plus five additional conference tournament championships. That’s better than many on this list. Smith has coached in 18 NCAA Tournaments and made at least the Sweet 16 in half those appearances (as many/more than all on this list except Few and Huggins). He was national coach of the year in 2003. Currently 34-53 at High Point, his alma mater, so the end is coming to a whimper of a wind-down. 

Prediction — Out: Smith, fair or not, will probably be knocked for his one national championship and one Final Four for doing it with Rick Pitino’s players. Plus, the first half of his career was much more successful than the second half. 

Addendum: There are two other active coaches whose biggest successes are tied to the college game, though they’re no longer in college coaching. I’m of course referring to Billy Donovan and Brad Stevens. Donovan (502-206 at Florida) is obviously an inevitability; you win two national titles and make four Final Fours, you are guaranteed to get in as soon as you’re eligible. Donovan is 55, so he figures to be part of the Class of 2026. 

Stevens (166-49 at Butler) has a very good chance as well. Some could argue that taking a Horizon League program to back-to-back national championship games — and coming within one shot of winning a title — is good enough to earn Hall status. But he might need NBA longevity or a return to college hoops supremacy to clinch it. Because he left for the NBA before he turned 40, he left a lot of his basketball future (read: his Hall of Fame case) in front of him.

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