If being a head basketball coach in the ACC were easy – as I’ve mentioned before – anyone could do it.
To date, 84 coaches have tried. That’s not counting Jeff Capel or Chris Mack, who won’t send their teams at Pitt and Louisville into battle until next season. But it does include the six that coached at South Carolina and the six at Maryland before those schools flew the conference coop.
Of those seven dozen coaches hired by ACC programs, a good number are today little more than footnotes in the conference’s backpages. Did you by any chance know that the league’s first Frank Johnson was actually head coach at South Carolina in the Gamecocks’ first five seasons in the league instead of an All-ACC guard who played for Wake Forest from the late 1970s into the 1980s?
And does the name Evan J. Male – the head guy at Virginia for the first four seasons of the conference – ring a bell for anyone other than those steeped most deeply in Cavalier basketball history?
Counting interims Dwane Morrison at South Carolina, Neill McGeachy and Pete Gaudet at Duke and Dave Padgett at Louisville, eight didn’t survive their first season. Five more couldn’t last more than two.
At the risk of repeating myself, again, if being a head coach in the ACC were easy, anyone could do it.
As a history buff who spent his professional career covering ACC basketball, I got to wondering a month or so ago who has done it the very best. Wanting to take as objective of an approach as possible, I devised a formula that I trotted out here March 20, only to revise and post again on April 23.
The improvements in the formula take into account how critical it was to win the ACC Championship in a day when only the champion advanced to the NCAA Tournament, as well as the considerable loss of luster of the NIT once the NCAA Tournament Field expanded to include multiple teams from the same conference in 1975.
The formula I settled on is as follows:
1 point – ACC wins over .500 (including ACC Tournament).
1 point – NIT win (post 1974).
2 points – NIT win (through 1974).
3 points – ACC Coach of the Year.
4 points – NCAA Tournament win.
5 points – Tie for first in ACC regular season.
5 points – NIT Championship (post 1974).
7 points – first in ACC regular season.
7 points – NIT Championship (through 1974).
7 points – National Coach of the Year.
10 points – ACC Championship (post 1974).
12 points – ACC Championship (through 1974).
15 points – Final four (without winning NCAA Championship).
20 points – National Championship.
So with today’s post, to build the suspense, I’ll reveal the final five, their point totals and a synopsis of how they accumulated the 100 points needed to make the cut. Check this space in days to come for the middle five and the first five.
106 points – Dave Odom (Wake Forest, 1989-90 through 2000-01).
For full disclosure, I’ll admit I was relieved and happy to see Dave make my own personal ACC Coaches Hall of Fame. He’s the coach I got to know best during my career, and a person that I, to this day, consider a good friend.
Besides, when I’m lucky I still see Dave and his wife Lynn around Winston, and I wasn’t looking forward to trying to explain how he got left out.
You may have noticed that the baseline, so to speak, for my formula is how the coach fared in ACC play, against the coaches he was hired to beat. So Dave had some ground to make up, given he was 110-97 (or plus-13) in intra-conference games.
But the back-to-back ACC Championships of 1995 and 1996 obviously helped, as did his 10 victories in NCAA Tournament play.
110 points – Lefty Driesell (Maryland, 1969-70 through 1985-86).
A pretty convincing case could be made that the Ol’ Left-Hander, for all his colorful bombast and longevity, was the most over-rated coach in ACC history. What might sound like heresy in some circles could be explained by the fact he won a total of one ACC championship and never really made much noise in the Dance.
But he did win the NIT championship in 1972, back when doing so was quite an accomplishment. And perhaps no coach in conference history was so penalized by the rule that allowed only one team per conference to play in the NCAA Tournament.
His 1973-74 edition featuring Tom McMillen, John Lucas and Len Elmore was hailed as one of the best teams in the country, which it proved by winning 23 of 28 games and extending eventual champion N.C. State into overtime before losing the ACC Championship 103-100.
113 points – Bones McKinney (Wake Forest, 1957-58 through 1964-65).
The ultimate shooting star in my ACC Coaches Hall of Fame. He lit up the sky before burning out eight years into his run from too many late Saturday nights followed hard by too many early Sunday mornings trying to reach a Baptist pulpit to preach his weekly sermon.
So what would Bones McKinley have accomplished if not for the addictions to pills and alcohol that flushed him from the college coaching ranks at the age of 45. We’ll never know, but what was clear was the man could coach.
Wake had never won an ACC Championship before McKinney won two, in 1961 and 1962. And the Deacons never made a Final Four before or since he piloted his 1962 team featuring Len Chappell, Billy Packer and Dave Wiedeman to Louisville’s Freedom Hall, where they lost to Jerry Lucas and Ohio State.
And against ACC competition, McKinney was 81-49 – despite going 8-20 in his first two seasons after succeeding Murray Greason.
114 points – Jim Valvano (N.C. State, 1980-81 through 1989-90).
Could there be an ACC Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame without Jimmy V? Of course not.
Hence the trepidation of what it would mean to my formula when I found that Valvano was 71-69 against the conference in regular-season play and only 9-8 in the ACC Tournament.
But I meant for the formula to be weighted toward the one accomplishment that will be remembered after all the others have been forgotten. So I knew the 20 points he logged for the Wolfpack’s miracle run to the 1983 National Championship would give him a shot.
The ultimate tournament coach, Valvano also followed his ACC title of 1983 – the one he needed to even make the Dance – with another in 1987.
An average at best coach from November through February, Valvano was a grand master in March – compiling a 14-6 record in NCAA Tournament play.
133 points – Bobby Cremins (Georgia Tech, 1981-82 through 1989-90).
Another personal favorite, Cremins had to dig out of what appeared to be a bottomless pit to make my ACC Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. The Yellow Jackets were historically bad when he took over from the hapless Morrison, and proceeded to win seven and lose 21 in Cremins’ first two seasons.
But the Jackets arrived as conference heavyweights with the 1985 conference championship in Atlanta with one of my all-time favorite ACC teams. And Cremins won another ACC title in 1990 and then another in 1993.
So he would have made the cut even without the 15 points picked up for coaching Georgia Tech to the 1990 Final Four. Another example of good things happening to good people.