A rare commodity in college sports is for an athletic department to possess an elite coach in basketball and football. Although infrequent, great coaching duos are worth reviewing and celebrating.
Here’s a look at the greatest pairs of all-time. We should note that this list only includes basketball and football coaches. The years the two coaches’ tenures overlapped are in parenthesis for your convenience:
Les Miles and Bill Self
Kansas (November 19, 2018-present)
With as much success as Bill Self has had at Kansas, isn’t it ironic that his new football counterpart is even more famous? Self, who has won eight Big 12 conference tournament championships, 14 Big 12 regular-season titles, and one national title (2008) recently welcomed the “Mad Hatter” to Lawrence. Les Miles brings a national title (2007), two Southeastern Conference (SEC) championships, and his white hat to his second stint in the Big 12 Conference (the first was with Oklahoma State). Overall, Self is 459-98 at Kansas, while Miles will be looking to pick up his first win as Jayhawks coach on August 31, 2019, when the Indiana State Sycamores march into town.
Hugh Durham and Vince Dooley
No era is more iconic in Georgia sports history than the decade of the 1980s, when Herschel Walker, Dominique Wilkins, Vince Dooley, and Hugh Durham roamed campus. Dooley kicked off the decade with a national championship for the football team in 1980, and Durham, not to be undone, led the Bulldogs to the national semifinal game of the NCAA tournament in 1983. Had Georgia beaten N.C. State, it might have been Durham, and not Jim Valvano, frenetically running around the court after downing Houston for the national title. While at Georgia, Durham was 298-216 with two SEC tournament titles and one regular-season championship while Dooley was 201-77-10 with six conference titles and the aforementioned national championship.
Lou Holtz and Eddie Sutton
The state of Arkansas has always been a hotbed of coaches, and in no era was there a stronger 1-2 punch in Fayetteville than from 1977 to 1983. Sure, Frank Broyles had occupied the football coach’s seat from 1958-76, but the basketball program was mostly just average while the footballers romped to glory. Holtz, Broyles’ successor, was 60-21-2 and won three bowl games, including a 31-6 walloping of Oklahoma in the 1978 Orange Bowl, during his short stint in Arkansas. The same year, basketball coach Eddie Sutton led the Razorbacks to the Final Four, losing to eventual national champion Kentucky. Sutton was 260-75 at Arkansas before becoming the head coach at Kentucky in 1985.
Mike Leach and Bobby Knight
Texas Tech (2001-08)
The lawyer and the general. Even if you throw out the stats, this duo ought to be on the list for personality alone. One has to wonder if, while working one day, Leach slipped over to Knight’s office to discuss his fascination with pirates, and in turn Knight told Leach stories about fishing with Ted Williams. Either way, it must have been an interesting time in Lubbock. While Knight didn’t enjoy the glory years he’d had at Indiana, he did post a respectable 138-82 record while at Texas Tech. In 2004-05, he led the Red Raiders to a Sweet 16 berth, but could not advance the team farther. He retired from coaching in 2008. Leach, who has a law degree from Pepperdine, was 84-43 at Texas Tech and took the team to 10 straight bowl games.
Barry Switzer and Billy Tubbs
One cannot fathom college sports in the 1980s without mentioning the Oklahoma Sooners. There was the rise and fall of Marcus Dupree, there was the Final Four run in 1987-88 with Mookie Blaylock, Harvey Grant, and Stacey King, there was the 1985 national title under head football coach Barry Switzer, and there was the phenomenon known simply as “The Boz.” Yes, Athletic Director Wade Walker and later Donnie Duncan, who oversaw the Sooner program throughout those years, must have worn a perpetual smile. Switzer had four 10-win seasons and four bowl victories in the 1980s, while Tubbs won four Big 8 Conference titles and posted three 30-win seasons.
Bobby Bowden and Hugh Durham
Before Robert Cleckler Bowden arrived on campus in Tallahassee in 1976, Florida State had actually made more noise in basketball than in football. The reason for that was the aforementioned Durham, who led Florida State to the Final Four in 1972. That year, the Seminoles lost to champion UCLA, who boasted the trio of Bill Walton, Henry Bibby, and Jamaal Wilkes. Durham was 230-95 at FSU while Bowden was 304-97-4.
Lou Holtz and Digger Phelps
Notre Dame (1986-91)
Few individuals on the planet bleed Irish green and gold like Holtz and Digger Phelps. The two future ESPN commentators were anchored together in South Bend for five seasons, and while Holtz probably gets more recognition than his hoops colleague, Phelps turned in a remarkable record in his own right. From 1983-89, Phelps posted six straight 20-win seasons. Overall, he won 393 games as the Notre Dame head basketball coach. Holtz led the Irish to back-to-back 12-win seasons in 1988 and ’89, capturing the national title in ’88 and losing to eventual national champion Miami (Florida) the next season.
John Wooden and Dick Vermeil
The paths of two great coaches crossed in Los Angeles in 1974 and ’75. One was in the twilight of his career while the other was in the dawn of his. John Wooden, who’d already brought nine national titles to Westwood, shook hands with the new 35-year old head coach of the Bruins football program who’d just arrived from across town. Dick Vermeil, who’d been an assistant under Chuck Knox with the L.A. Rams, was hired after the departure of Bruin head coach Pepper Rodgers. Across two seasons, Vermeil guided UCLA to a 15-5-3 record and a Rose Bowl victory over Ohio State before taking the head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles. Wooden, being Wooden, led the basketball team to his 10th and final championship in 1974-75. He hung up his whistle for good later that year. Vermeil would make greater hay as a head coach in the NFL, leading the Eagles to Super Bowl XV (losing to the Oakland Raiders) after the 1980 season and the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl XXXIV victory in 2000.
Ara Parseghian and Digger Phelps
Notre Dame (1971-74)
Widely considered one of the greatest coaches in Notre Dame history, Ara Parseghian began his tenure in South Bend in 1964 after coaching Northwestern for eight seasons. Parseghian quickly revived a program that had been struggling under head coaches Terry Brennan, Joe Kuharich, and Hugh Devore, who had lasted only one season, posting a 2-7 record in 1963. Over 11 seasons, Parseghian won two national titles and three bowl games. His nemesis, however, was the USC Trojans and coach John McKay, who claimed a 6-3-2 edge over Parseghian during his time at Notre Dame. Phelps was hired at Notre Dame after only one season at Fordham, where he coached future Seton Hall and NBA head coach P.J. Carlesimo.
Mack Brown and Dean Smith
North Carolina (1988-97)
Ol’ Mack recently decided he couldn’t get enough of Carolina blue when he returned to North Carolina in 2018 as the head football coach. A Cookeville, Tennessee, native, Brown first arrived in Chapel Hill in 1988 after coaching the Tulane Green Wave for three seasons from 1985-87. Melancholy defined Brown’s first two years as the Tar Heels head coach, as he posted back-to-back 1-win seasons and won only one ACC game. But he reversed his fortunes the next year, going 6-4-1, and he would claim three 10-win seasons over the next eight years. Football in Chapel Hill was alive again under Brown’s direction. Basketball was an entirely different subject. Dean Smith brought two national titles to Chapel Hill, recruited Michael Jordan, and won 879 games.
Billy Donovan and Urban Meyer
Back when Tommy Bartlett was going 11-15 in 1970, perhaps few Florida Gators fans could envision that its basketball program would later win back-to-back national titles with both its head coach and its best player originally from New York City. New York CIT-EE? Such was the case, however, as Billy Donovan, a former player at Providence and assistant under Rick Pitino, guided the Gators to tournament crowns in 2006 and 2007. Forasmuch success as Donovan was having on the court, Urban Meyer was having just as much on the gridiron. After Donovan captured the title in ’06, Meyer raised the ante by raising the crystal football that fall. Meyer followed with another national championship in 2008, the same year quarterback Tim Tebow gave his famous guarantee. Donovan won 467 games in 19 years as the Florida head coach, while Meyer won 65 in six seasons.
Billy Donovan and Steve Spurrier
Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley had reason to be excited. It was 1996, and he’d just hired the young, energetic coach from Marshall to man his hardwood squad. Meanwhile, his football team was marching through the SEC, chomping at everything in its path, en route to four SEC championships and a national title under the “head ball coach,” Steve Spurrier. Spurrier was 122-27-1 at the helm in Gainesville, winning six bowl games while establishing Florida as a permanent force in the SEC East.
Steve Spurrier and Mike Krzyzewski
In 1980, two young coaches descended on Durham, North Carolina. Steve Spurrier was hired to be the offensive coordinator for Duke University under head coach Red Wilson, while Mike Krzyzewski had recently been hired as the head men’s basketball coach of the Blue Devils. After only two seasons, Spurrier departed to take the job as head coach of the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL. That lasted only two seasons, and suddenly Spurrier was without a job. He took the 1986 season off and was hired as the head coach at Duke in 1987. That same year, Krzyzewski was directing Duke to its first Final Four. Spurrier stayed only three seasons before going back to Florida, this time as the head coach of the SEC’s Gators. Coach K would stay in Durham and bring five national championship trophies home with him.
“Bear” Bryant and Adolph Rupp
There were times in which the athletic department in Lexington probably got awfully stuffy during those seven years. Imagine being a fly on the wall at the University of Kentucky in the early 1950s when “Bear” Bryant and Adolph Rupp crossed one another in the hallway.
“Coach,” nods Bryant.
“Paul,” replies Rupp.
Or imagine Bryant eavesdropping on Rupp’s conversations, as he frequently did. Bryant wrote about it in his autobiography with John Underwood entitled, Bear. “Our offices were right next to each other in the old athletic building for a while, and I could hear him interviewing players. Funniest thing in the world,” Bryant said. “He called the door to his office the ‘pearly gates’ and he would announce to a kid in that Kansas twang, ‘By gad, you just walked into the pearly gates of basketball!’ And he’d give them the darndest talks you ever heard, all about how good he and his program were. All the truth, too.”
One has to wonder how the fate of college football would have swung had Rupp hung up his whistle a bit earlier, or if Bryant and Rupp would not have let ego get in the way. Together, they could have built the greatest athletic program the world has ever seen. But that was not to be.
“If Rupp had retired as a basketball coach when they said he was going to, I would probably still be at Kentucky,” Bryant continued. “The trouble was we were too much alike, and he wanted basketball number 1 and I wanted football number 1. In an environment like that one or the other has to go.”
Bear went. He made a pit stop in College Station, Texas, before parking his family permanently in Tuscaloosa. In all, Bryant and Rupp combined for 10 championships.
They both have stadiums named in their honor, and they comprise the greatest duo on our list.
Jackie Sherrill and Richard Williams (Mississippi State), Urban Meyer and Thad Matta (Ohio State), Bobby Ross and Bobby Cremins (Georgia Tech), “Bear” Bryant and Wimp Sanderson (Alabama), “Bear” Bryant and C.M. Newton (Alabama), Butch Davis and Roy Williams (North Carolina), John Wooden and Tommy Prothro (UCLA). H&A
Should any others have made our list? Tell us on our Facebook page @hallandarena.
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