Community Shootaround: Can College Coaches Win In The NBA?

In John Beilein’s case, the doubters turned out to be right.

After four decades in the college game, the 67-year-old coach wasn’t able to handle the adjustment to the NBA. The lifestyle, the personalities and the expectations of his players were all foreign to Beilein, who built his reputation guiding athletes between the ages of 18 and 22.

While he had his share of those with the rebuilding project in Cleveland, the atmosphere is different in the NBA. The coaches have all the power in college, but in the pro ranks the balance shifts to the players, who weren’t receptive to long practices and intense film sessions in the midst of an already-grueling 82-game schedule. Beilein seemed out of place both on and off the court as he tried to adapt to the game strategies and player management techniques of a league that was totally new to him.

Beilein resigned today in a move that everyone knew was coming. His 14-40 record and a growing litany of player complaints made the parting inevitable.

He becomes the latest successful NCAA coach to crash and burn in the NBA, joining a large group that includes John Calipari (72-112 with the Nets), Rick Pitino (192-220 with the Knicks and Celtics), Tim Floyd (90-231 with the Bulls and Hornets) and Jerry Tarkanian (9-11 in a brief 20-game stay with the Spurs).

But regardless of the results, some NBA teams believe the solution to their problems can be found on a college campus. The Knicks, for example, reportedly expressed interest in both Calipari and Villanova’s Jay Wright to take over the team next year.

The Celtics’ Brad Stevens, one of the few to successfully transition from college to the NBA, met with Beilein in the summer of 2018 while he was considering an opportunity with the Pistons. Stevens, who reached the NCAA title game twice at Butler, talked to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com in October about how to he was able to make the transition work.

“I think one of the great things about being here (in Boston) is that we have unbelievable leadership in our front office and ownership and they don’t ride the highs and lows — a game, a week, a month, they just kind of stay the course,” Stevens said. “I really appreciate that. You feel empowered to work in that environment. … If you’re looking at it coming from a college situation where you have a lot of job security I think the question you want to know is, ‘there will be ups and downs and is it going to be something they recognize they can’t overreact to one bad week or bad month?’”

We want to get your opinion. Is it a mistake for NBA teams to look to the college ranks for head coaches? Or are there a lot more potential success stories out there like Stevens just waiting for an opportunity? Please leave your responses in the space below.

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18 thoughts on “Community Shootaround: Can College Coaches Win In The NBA?

  1. hiflew

    In fairness, Rick Pitino did much better with the Knicks than he did with the Celtics.

    • Was going to say he certainly deserved a mention. Altho you could certainly make the argument that his earlier Thunder squads didnt play up to the talent of the roster. But this season has without a doubt proven donovans worth and ability to stay in the NBA. Plus i really didnt feel like in those prior years i got a good look at donovansl actual coaching abilities. I think being a college guy and coming in and joining a squad with established stars who have an established style of play is a tall order for a newbie. Glad to see him excel when getting a team he can really mold.

  2. Seems like there are more Mike Montgomerys than Larry Browns. Billy Donovan might be ok…

  3. jone zee

    Popovic actually started his coaching career as a college coach. Pomona-Pitzer. Never heard of it.

  4. amk3510

    They can if they don’t treat it like college. Screaming and running dribble drills is how you lose a locker room 2 months into a 5 year deal.

  5. x%sure

    Stevens was said to have a problem with the playoff environment early in Boston. He was young though, and exceptional– Butler was not a basketball hotbed (though the state is).

    Donovan has a similar history, with Florida and the NBA playoffs. Claims of doom for OKC this year were exaggerated under the assumption that Presti would sell off, but he didn’t. There was talent left and Shai & Gallo were added.

    These two do not ruin the theory but were young enough to change course.
    Stevens preached toughness and defense relentlessly in college. This does not work as well in the offensive NBA but in college, that is what gets a team all the way despite what espn is trying to sell for their broadcasts. Postseason magic or destiny can help, but this last decade especially has been about having a shutdown mentality. Butler vs UConn under a football dome said it all.

  6. Most of those college coaches mentioned all joined trash teams and have now settled back into the college system.
    They get paid well and get to coach the best teams and get the respect they want.
    NBA is such a player and success driven league and coaches obvious want the success but they also want respect and to be paid.
    They get all that coaching college kids hence why they are happy to stay.

    If you swap Brett Brown with John Calipari, Rick Pitino or Jay Wright I don’t think the Sixers would be worse, if anything I think they get better.
    That’s because your talking about a good coach going to a good team built for success.
    I’d love for Wright to lead the Sixers

  7. Black Ace57

    The argument people always make is “look how many college coaches failed compared to how many succeeded.” You can literally say this about anyone whether they started in the G League or as assistants. The majority of coaches fail and successes are rare.

    • Buckman

      Agree. It’s a dumb question, as well. I would ask a question that related to pros/cons of each route to coaching (college vs pro assistant). I think college coaches are at a disadvantage due to the nature of the NBA vs. college. The biggest advantage that college coaches have is that they can build a reputation via wins and losses, tournament appearances, etc. Pro assistants can’t.

      In either case, winning in the NBA is as much about soft skills as it is Xs and Os.

  8. Black Ace57

    Also, it always looks like a bigger failure when college coaches fail vs assistants, but that is a mistake in perception. People rarely know who most assistant coaches are while names like Calipari and known by millions. If unknown assistant coach A fails they fade into obscurity and you forget them. If Calipari fails everyone remembers making it seem like college coaches are worse.

    • x%sure

      Stats should say. Even a dynastic new-coach situation, which would make ACs look better statistically, can be accounted for.

  9. dirtbagfreitas

    I think they’re always going to be few and far between and less and less as time goes on. Kids are more and more entitled every day and you’re dropping immature entitled kids into an adult world with all kinds of money. It’s not a good combination for listening to a coach.

  10. MartianNBA

    Let’s be real….is failure in Cleveland an indictment of the college coach or the team? Tye Lue was out in 6 games last year, Larry wanted out at the All Star Break. This just seems like more of the same…..

  11. tomselleck

    Hoiberg would’ve been okay with a better team. Both he and Floyd were set up to fail.

  12. illowa

    Shout out to Quinn Snyder. Nobody mentioned him at all. Great coach for the Tigers and with Jazz.

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