Top football-hoops coaching combos

ByChris Low and Adam Rittenberg ESPN logo
Friday, April 3, 2015

While everyone looks forward to what could be a historic Final Four, we did a little research on the best college basketball and football head coaches to ever cross paths at the same school.

As you might imagine, this is a hugely subjective endeavor, but we've ranked the top 10 basketball-football coaching combos of all time and included 10 more that just missed the cut.

We took into account only college accomplishments, including a coach's entire career and not just the time they were together. National championships and conference championships were heavily weighted in both sports, not to mention Final Four appearances and postseason success in basketball. The other key variable was the impact each of the coaches had on his respective sport and his role in either defining a certain period or helping to get a program headed in the right direction.

Here's what we came up with. Enjoy the hoops, and, oh yeah, spring football practice, too.

1. Adolph Rupp and Bear Bryant

School: Kentucky

Overlap: 1946-53

While Rupp was busy building one of the most storied basketball programs in history, Bryant was just getting his start as the most iconic figure in college football history. Talk about the Big Blue version of the Dynamic Duo. Between them, the "Bear" and the "Baron" won 10 national championships, and while all six of Bryant's national titles came at Alabama, he turned Kentucky football into a national power during his eight seasons in Lexington. The Wildcats played in the Orange, Sugar and Cotton bowls from 1949 to 1951 and won 11 games in 1950, capped by a win over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to snap the Sooners' 31-game winning streak. During that same period, Rupp guided Kentucky to three basketball titles (1948, 1949, 1951). Bryant retired as major college football's winningest coach with 323 wins, a record that was broken by Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden. Rupp ranks fourth all time among Division I coaches with 876 wins.

2. Mike Krzyzewski and Steve Spurrier

School: Duke

Overlap: 1987-89

Few coaches have better defined their respective sports in the past three decades than Coach K and the Head Ball Coach. Krzyzewski is already among the greatest college basketball coaches of all time, winning a record 1,016 games, four national championships and 13 ACC tournament championships during 35 seasons at Duke. He has tied John Wooden with 12 Final Four appearances. Spurrier started his college head-coaching career at Duke and won an ACC title in his third year, Duke's first since 1962. He then returned to his alma mater, Florida, where he led the Gators to their first national title in 1996 and six SEC titles in 12 seasons. Spurrier revolutionized offense in the SEC with his Fun 'n' Gun system.

3. Billy Donovan and Urban Meyer

School: Florida

Overlap: 2005-10

Good luck finding a year they remember more fondly at Florida than 2006. Donovan guided the Gators to their first national championship in basketball, which turned out to be the first of two straight national titles. Meyer delivered later that fall with a football crown, the Gators' first in a decade. Donovan joined Bob Knight this season as only the second coach in history to win 500 games before his 50th birthday. He's guided Florida to four Final Fours and seven Elite Eights in 19 seasons. Meyer had the football side of it at Florida covered with a pair of national championships in 2006 and 2008 before taking a year off and then landing at Ohio State. All he's done in Buckeye Land is go 38-3 in three seasons, including the first College Football Playoff national championship this past season. And only two FBS coaches -- Meyer and Nick Saban -- have won national championships at two different schools.

4. Tom Izzo and Nick Saban

School: Michigan State

Overlap: 1995-99

Saban became college football's preeminent coach at a time of unprecedented parity, winning three national titles in four years at Alabama to go with his 2003 championship at LSU. He's the first college football coach to win national titles at two different schools. Izzo, meanwhile, will always be linked to Michigan State, where he started as an assistant in 1983 before succeeding Jud Heathcote. Despite seven regular-season Big Ten titles, Izzo is known for his postseason prowess. He has taken each of his past 18 teams to the NCAA tournament, winning a national title in 2000 and reaching seven Final Fours. Much of Izzo's basketball philosophy is rooted in football, and he remains close with Saban, who in 1999 guided MSU to its best season since 1966.

5. Dean Smith and Mack Brown

School: North Carolina

Overlap: 1988-97

Before Brown returned Texas' football program to national prominence and steered the Longhorns to the 2005 national championship, he spent a decade working alongside one of the most revered basketball coaches in the history of the sport. Smith coached for 36 seasons at North Carolina and retired with 879 victories, which was the NCAA Division I men's basketball record at the time. Smith won national championships in 1982 and 1993 and went to 11 Final Fours. He coached Michael Jordan on the court and fought for racial equality off of it. Albeit in Smith's shadow, Brown turned North Carolina's football fortunes around and then solidified his inclusion into the College Football Hall of Fame with his sterling run at Texas. Brown and Smith both departed their posts at UNC within two months of each other. Smith retired just days before the start of basketball practice in 1997, and Brown left for the Texas job following the final game of the 1997 regular season.

6. Billy Donovan and Steve Spurrier

School: Florida

Overlap: 1996-2001

Donovan and Spurrier each make their second appearance on this list thanks to the six years they spent together in Gainesville. Although Florida had some success in both basketball and football, Donovan and Spurrier elevated the programs to elite status. In 2007, Donovan joined Adolph Rupp as the only SEC coaches to win back-to-back national championships. He has led Florida to four Final Fours, three championship game appearances, six SEC titles and 16 straight 20-win seasons from 1998 to 2014. Spurrier won nine or more games in each of his 12 seasons and dominated the SEC with an 87-12 record. He had nine top-10 finishes at Florida and later added three more as South Carolina's coach. Both are by far the winningest coaches at their respective Florida programs.

7. Fred Taylor and Woody Hayes

School: Ohio State

Overlap: 1958-76

Hayes and Taylor were both institutions in the state of Ohio and in their respective sports. During their 19 years together in Columbus, they each carved out Hall of Fame careers. Hayes won five football national championships in his 28 seasons as coach and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983. Taylor coached Ohio State to its only basketball national championship in school history in 1960, a team that featured Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek and Bob Knight. Ohio State was the national runner-up each of the next two years. Taylor led the Buckeyes to one other Final Four in 1968 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1986. The Buckeyes' only hoops national title in 1960 under Taylor was followed that next year by Hayes' third football national title at Ohio State.

8. John Wooden and Tommy Prothro

School: UCLA

Overlap: 1965-70

The challenge was finding a football counterpart to pair with Wooden, who oversaw the greatest dynasty in college basketball history. His UCLA teams won seven consecutive national titles from 1967 to 1973 and 10 championships in a 12-year period. The Bruins had four 30-0 seasons, 19 conference championships (eight undefeated league records) and won 88 consecutive games from January 1971 to January 1974. A six-time national coach of the year, Wooden went into the National Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach in 1973. Prothro filled the football requirement with a short but solid UCLA career that included a Rose Bowl win and three top-10 finishes. Prothro also guided Oregon State to its two most recent Rose Bowl appearances (1965 and 1957).

9. Denny Crum and Howard Schnellenberger

School: Louisville

Overlap: 1985-94

Crum, with the customary rolled-up program in one hand, remains one of the defining names in college basketball. He was the third-fastest coach in history to reach 600 wins and guided the Cardinals to two national championships and six Final Fours in his 30 seasons as coach. Crum was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994. Schnellenberger, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, was known best for resurrecting dormant programs. He did it at Miami with a national championship in 1983, setting the table for "The U" to win four more by 2001. The Louisville program was in even worse shape when he arrived in 1985 and was playing its home games in a minor league baseball stadium. The Cardinals won 10 games in 1990 and beat Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl, marking only Louisville's second appearance in the final AP poll.

10. Eddie Sutton and Frank Broyles

School: Arkansas

Overlap: 1974-76

Broyles was wrapping up his coaching career in Fayetteville around the time Sutton began a run that ended with more than 800 wins. Under Broyles, Arkansas won seven Southwest Conference championships and its only national title in 1964. He won two Cotton Bowl championships and had nine top-10 finishes. Sutton guided Arkansas to the NCAA tournament in each of his final nine seasons, five consecutive Southwest Conference titles and the Final Four in 1978. He had Elite Eight appearances at three different schools (Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State), three Final Four appearances and eight regular-season league championships. Both men are Hall of Famers in their sports, Broyles entering in 1983 and Sutton in 2011.

And here are 10 more, listed in alphabetical order based on the basketball coach:

Larry Brown and Terry Donahue

School: UCLA

Overlap: 1979-81

Brown won the 1988 national title at Kansas but started his college head-coaching career in Westwood, taking UCLA to the national title game in his first season (later was vacated because of NCAA violations). Donahue led UCLA to five Pac-10 championships and three Rose Bowl titles in a four-year span (1982-85).

Fred Hobdy and Eddie Robinson

School: Grambling State

Overlap: 1956-86

Hobdy discovered Willis Reed and led Grambling to 10 conference championships, the 1961 NAIA title and 567 wins. Robinson was a transformative figure in college football, winning nine HBCU national championships, 17 conference titles and 408 games in a staggering 57 seasons as coach.

Guy V. Lewis and Bill Yeoman

School: Houston

Overlap: 1962-86

Lewis led Houston to five Final Four appearances in 30 seasons, including three straight from 1982 to 84 with the Phi Slama Jama teams, and coached Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Yeoman changed the game with his veer option offense and guided Houston to four top-10 finishes and four Southwest Conference championships.

Lute Olson and Hayden Fry

School: Iowa

Overlap: 1979-83

Olson launched his Hall of Fame career at Iowa with appearances in the Final Four and the Sweet 16 before going on to earn the 1997 national title, four Final Four appearances and 11 Pac-10 titles at Arizona. Fry won three Big Ten titles at Iowa and ranks fourth in Big Ten wins (96) and tied for second in bowl wins by a Big Ten coach (six).

Johnny Orr and Bo Schembechler

School: Michigan

Overlap: 1969-80

Orr led Michigan to the 1976 national title game, falling to undefeated Indiana, and reached two Elite Eights en route to a team-record 209 victories in 12 seasons. Schembechler also holds the Michigan record for wins (194) and ranks second in Big Ten victories (143), tying longtime nemesis Woody Hayes for most Big Ten championships with 13.

Digger Phelps and Ara Parseghian

School: Notre Dame

Overlap: 1971-74

Phelps won 20 games in 14 of his 20 seasons at Notre Dame and guided the Irish to their only Final Four appearance in 1978. Parseghian is credited with bringing Notre Dame football back and restoring the Irish to power. He won national championships in 1966 and 1973.

Rick Pitino and Bobby Petrino

School: Louisville

Overlap: 2003-06

A Hall of Famer, Pitino is one of two coaches to take three different schools to the Final Four. He won national championships at Kentucky in 1996 and Louisville in 2013. Petrino is in his second stint at Louisville after making the Cardinals nationally relevant the first time. He's considered one of the top offensive minds in the game.

Bo Ryan and Barry Alvarez

School: Wisconsin

Overlap: 2001-05

Ryan, a 2015 finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, has the Badgers in the Final Four for the second straight year. He's won 739 games in 31 seasons as a coach for a .765 winning percentage. Alvarez, now Wisconsin's athletic director, is also the school's winningest football coach. In 16 seasons, he won three Rose Bowls and three Big Ten titles.

Norm Sloan and Lou Holtz

School: North Carolina State

Overlap: 1972-75

Sloan's 1974 team at NC State, led by David Thompson, knocked off seven-time defending champ UCLA en route to winning the national championship. Sloan won three ACC championships from 1970 to 1974. Holtz revived the Wolfpack football program during that period and won the 1973 ACC title. He's the only coach to lead six programs to bowl games. His 1988 Notre Dame team went 12-0 and won the national championship.

Billy Tubbs and Barry Switzer

School: Oklahoma

Overlap: 1980-88

Tubbs won more than 100 games at three different schools and took all three -- Lamar, Oklahoma and TCU -- to the NCAA tournament. He had his best team at Oklahoma in 1988, which was Switzer's final season as Oklahoma's football coach. The Sooners were 35-4 that season but lost to Danny Manning and Kansas in the national championship game. Switzer won three national titles in 16 seasons at Oklahoma and finished with a remarkable .826 winning percentage.