LOCICERO: Ranking the best Big East men’s basketball coaches

Michael LoCicero

When Connecticut men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun announced his retirement Thursday, it marked the end of one of the most storied coaching careers in Big East and NCAA coaching history.

Calhoun, 70, retires with 873 wins, good for No. 6 all-time, and will be replaced by assistant coach Kevin Ollie, effective immediately.

Calhoun won three national championships, nine Big East regular-season and seven Big East Tournament titles, and he was inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame in 2005.

The Huskies’ leader was at times a polarizing figure who was never afraid to speak his mind. He battled cancer three times during his tenure at Connecticut and recently served a suspension for a recruiting violation that threatened to tear the program apart.

Calhoun is one of the legends of our conference, and his retirement got me thinking about other coaches who have made their mark in the Big East. I present the top five coaches in Big East men’s basketball history:

Editor’s note: Marquette has only been part of the Big East since 2005. The conference has been around since 1979, so relax when you don’t see any Marquette coaches on this list.

#1 – Jim Boeheim, Syracuse

Boeheim has been the head coach of the Orange since 1976 and has compiled an 890-305 record in his 35 years at the helm.

His 890 wins are good for the No. 3 mark all-time, behind only Mike Krzyzewski and Bobby Knight. His 355 Big East conference wins are the best in the conference’s history.

He has won one national championship while appearing in two others. His Orange have also won nine Big East regular season championships and five Big East Tournament titles and made 28 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Boeheim has been named Big East coach of the year four times.

The Orange have also played in either the NCAA Tournament or National Invitation Tournament every year Boeheim has been the head coach.

#2 Calhoun

The stats are at the beginning of the column, but since he began his tenure at Connecticut in 1986, he has turned the Huskies into a national power.

Just two years ago, Connecticut finished ninth in the Big East and went on to win the national championship. The win over Butler made Calhoun, 68 at the time, the oldest coach to win an NCAA Championship.

It also gave Calhoun his third NCAA title, joining the likes of John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Bob Knight and Kryzyzewski as the only coaches to win at least three national championships. Think that’s some good company?

Calhoun spent the first 14 years of his coaching career at Northeastern and in 1999 became the first coach to win at least 240 games at two different Division 1 schools.

#3 John Thompson Jr., Georgetown

Thompson took over the Hoyas in 1972 and became the first African American head coach to win a major collegiate championship when his team won the NCAA title in 1984, beating Houston 84-75.

Thompson retired in 1999 with 596 wins and was inducted into the Hall of Fame that same year. His teams made three Final Four appearances and won five Big East regular season and tournament titles.

Thompson was named Big East coach of the year three times and had 26 of his players drafted in the NBA.

After Georgetown joined the Big East in 1979 as one of its founding members, Thompson led the Hoyas to either the NCAA or NIT Tournament every year until he resigned in 1999.

The Hoyas made 14 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 1979-1992 under Thompson.

#4 Lou Carnesecca, St. John’s

The charismatic Carnesecca took the Redmen (now Red Storm) on quite the ride during his 24 seasons at the helm. He won 526 games in 24 seasons from 1965-1992 and went to the Final Four in 1985.

Carnesecca was also chosen as the National Coach of the Year twice and in 2004 the Red Storm’s on-campus court was renamed Carnesecca Arena.

Carnesecca, a graduate of St. John’s, won six Big East titles in his 24 seasons.

People say Notre Dame playing well is good for college football. Well, St. John’s playing well is good for college basketball, and the Red Storm will be there again soon.

#5 Rick Pitino, Louisville and Providence

Yes, Rick Pitino makes this list because I’m the writer and what I say goes. The Cardinals joined the Big East the same year Marquette did, but can you give me a better option?

Pitino began his coaching career as an assistant at Hawaii in 1974 and has spent an unsuccessful amount of time in the NBA along with an extremely successful amount of time at Louisville and Providence, as well as Kentucky.

Pitino became the head coach of the Friars in 1985 after a stint as an assistant coach with the New York Knicks. In just two years, Pitino took a team that went 11-20 the year before he arrived to the Final Four.

He then left for Kentucky, where he won his only national championship in 1996. The Wildcats then went to the national championship the following season before Pitino moved on to the NBA again.

Louisville named Pitino its coach in 2001, and he led the Cardinals to the Final Four last season.

I’d love to hear about other coaches you thought I left out. Tweet me, maybe? @michaellocicero

  • IthacaMatt

    I believe that Georgetown has an additional Big East title under JT II, and I’m pretty sure Carnesecca made a 2nd Final Four with Malik Sealy in 1991.