Best football colleges, men’s basketball coaching tandems: Kentucky, Kansas, Alabama lead the pack

Best football colleges, men’s basketball coaching tandems: Kentucky, Kansas, Alabama lead the pack

Football and men’s basketball have historically led college athletic departments, but finding success in both sports remains an elusive task for many schools. Finding both employees and supporting them successfully has been a challenge for even the most prominent colleges, but a select few have been able to stand out.

The last few years have been a period of rapid change in both sports. At one time, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Alabama’s Nick Saban could change that list. They are both retired now. So is North Carolina’s Roy Williams, while Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh is back in the NFL. Other great combos have also been split recently, as Mike Elko left Duke for Texas A&M, while Arizona’s Jed Fish left Tommy Lloyd for Washington. None of these factors factor 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 changes almost daily. Even a strong showing in the 2024 NCAA Tournament could be enough to shake up the roster. But heading into the 2024 NCAA Tournament, let’s take 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 combination in college athletics is located 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 in football, turning woeful programs at Buffalo, and now Kansas, into consistent winners. He is 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 serious claims for the top spot, but recent results have knocked them down a bit. Stoops has a losing streak in each of the last two SEC campaigns, while Calipari hasn’t reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2019. However, the overall resumes of these two coaches are stellar. Calipari has a national championship and six Final Fours under his belt. Stoops led Kentucky to its greatest stretch of sustained success since the program was led by the legendary Paul “The Bear” Bryant. His two 10-win seasons match the same total as any other coach in UK history combined.

3. Alabama: Kalen DeBoer/Nate Oates

The Crimson Tide were a mainstay at the top of those lists, but Saban’s retirement puts Alabama back in the fold. Still, DeBoer led Washington to an appearance in the College Football National Championship last season and boasts a downright silly coaching record of 104-12, including 25-3 at Washington. Oats’ stock also dipped slightly this past calendar year, but he boasts two SEC titles and Sweet 16 appearances over 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 resume at Texas 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 his way back up the coaching ranks after leading UNC to its first ACC regular season title in five years. He also still has a national title game under his belt from just two seasons ago.

Most of the legendary coaches in college basketball have retired, but Izzo just keeps trucking. Izzo has eight Final Fours, 10 Big Ten regular season championships and just qualified for his 26th straight 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 last three seasons at one of the toughest jobs in sports, and now he has a new roster in Michigan State to bring the program back to prominence.

6. Oregon: Dan Lanning/Dena Altman

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

7. Tennessee: Josh Hopple/Rick Barnes

Like Oregon, the Volunteers boast a mix of rookies and seasoned veterans. After 17 years at Texas, Barnes turned Tennessee basketball into a winner. The Vols won the SEC regular season championship in 2024 and have averaged 24 wins over the last seven years. Heupel won FWAA Coach of the Year honors as a freshman at both UCF and Tennessee, and later captured SEC Coach of the Year in 2022 after a breakout 11-2 campaign. He is 27-12 in three seasons in Knoxville.

8. Houston: Willie Fritz/Calvin Sampson

Outside of Self, Sampson has a case for every coach in college basketball after an incredible game with the Cougars. Houston has won six straight AAC-Big 12 conference championships and enters 2024 as the No. 1 seed with a strong shot at a national title. Fritz is a newcomer to the power conference level, but his track record of winning at all levels is special. From JUCO to the 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 victory over USC.

9. Iowa State: Matt Campbell/TJ Otzelberger

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

10. Miami: Mario Cristobal/Jim Larranaga

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

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