The life of a college basketball coach is not as simple as most people think. These individuals face an incredible amount of pressure; the pressure to constantly recruit the country’s top high school prospects, the pressure to sustain long-term success, and most importantly, the pressure to win on a year-to-year basis. Which is why the best coaches in the business are handsomely rewarded for their services.
Yet, the truth is, while it’s obviously important to “win” in the regular season, it’s even more imperative to get the job done in the postseason. For as everyone knows, legends are born in the NCAA tournament. The great ones always find a way to distinguish themselves from the herd. And throughout history, some coaches have managed to do this better than the rest.
Based on the numbers, which include results from the 2017 tournament as well as vacated games, here’s a look at the 10 college coaches with the most victories in NCAA tournament history.
10. Bob Knight
Tournament wins: 45
During his 42-year coaching career, Bob Knight showed that he knew how to take care of business in the NCAA tournament. He led Indiana and Texas Tech to the Big Dance a combined 28 times, making five trips to the Final Four and winning the title three times. His 45 career tournament victories places him at No. 10 on the all-time list.
9. Lute Olson
Tournament wins: 46
It was extremely rare not to see a Lute Olson-coached team in the NCAA tournament. In 34 years on the sidelines — at Long Beach State, Iowa, and most notably, Arizona — Olson went to the Dance 28 times, winning an impressive 46 contests. Thanks to the legacy Olson created, which includes five trips to the Final Four and one national championship, ‘Zona remains one of the premier basketball powerhouses in the nation.
7. (tie) John Wooden
Tournament wins: 47
John Wooden is the standard by which all college basketball coaches are measured. Over a 29-year span — two seasons at Indiana State, 27 seasons at UCLA — the legendary coach didn’t just make 16 trips to the NCAA tournament, he and his teams, which consisted of some of the most dominant players to ever step on the court, blew the competition out of the water. Wooden won 47 games (all with the Bruins), made 12 trips to the Final Four, and won 10 national championships, including seven in a row from 1966–67 to 1972–73.
7. (tie) Tom Izzo
Tournament wins: 47
If there’s one thing we know about Tom Izzo, it’s that he has a way of getting his players to rise to the occasion in the postseason. Under his guidance, Michigan State has been to 20 straight NCAA tournaments, won 47 games (against just 19 losses), and been to the Final Four seven times. Izzo also led the Spartans to a national championship back in 2000.
6. Jim Calhoun
Tournament wins: 49
Jim Calhoun’s coaching success is undeniable. During his 40 years on the bench, Calhoun led teams combined to win 877 regular-season games, 49 tourney games (two wins were vacated from the 1996 tournament), and three national championships. His passion for the game is truly incredible — we should know, we spoke to him about it.
5. Jim Boeheim
Tournament wins: 53
Like Calhoun, Jim Boeheim’s numbers also reflect vacated tournament wins. And yet, as you can see, he still remains one of the top coaches college basketball in the history of the game. During his 41 seasons at Syracuse, the Orange have been to the Dance 32 times and won 53 games. In that same span, ‘Cuse has made five trips to the Final Four. And, thanks to a brilliant performance by Carmelo Anthony, they cut down the nets back in 2003.
4. Rick Pitino
Tournament wins: 54
Rick Pitino’s resume speaks for itself. The man has been to the NCAA tournament 21 times, won 54 games, and led three separate programs — Providence, Kentucky, and Louisville — to the Final Four (he’s been to seven overall). Although the Cardinals got upset to Michigan in the second round of the 2017 tournament, we suspect Pitino will have his team back in the thick of things come next season.
3. Dean Smith
Tournament wins: 65
The North Carolina Tar Heels had one of the greatest coaches in history in Dean Smith. In 36 years with the program, Smith reached the NCAA tournament 27 times, went to 11 Final Fours, and won two national championships. In the process, the legendary coach compiled 65 tournament victories. It’s safe to say that few did it better than the late, great Dean Smith.
2. Roy Williams
Tournament wins: 72
Not only has Roy Williams called the shots at two of the nation’s premier programs (Kansas and North Carolina), he’s had great success at both, missing the NCAA tournament just twice in his 29-year coaching career. For Williams, the accomplishments don’t stop once his teams reach the Big Dance; he’s won 72 games (including 2017), been to eight Finals Fours, and cut down the nets twice (2005 and 2009).
With the way his Tar Heels are currently playing in the 2017 NCAA tournament, it wouldn’t surprise us to see Williams add to his achievements.
1. Mike Krzyzewski
Tournament wins: 91
It’s Mike Krzyzewski’s world, and we’re all just living in it. The winningest coach in college basketball history, who has been on the sidelines for 42 years (five at Army, the rest at Duke), has led his teams to 33 tournaments. Those appearances have resulted in 91 wins, 12 Final Four appearances, and five national championships. The Blue Devils may have fallen short in 2017, but as long as Coach K is on the bench, the program will always be in contention.