After leading the Butler Bulldogs to one of the most successful six-year runs in recent NCAA basketball history (lack of a championship notwithstanding), Brad Stevens has decided to leave the Midwest for greener pastures in the NBA.
The move will be dissected ad nauseum over the next few days, as analysts wonder yet again whether or not a professional team made the right move in hiring a college wunderkind. Stevens is undoubtedly a basketball mastermind, but how will he cope in the NBA, especially in the middle of such a monumental rebuilding effort with the Boston Celtics? In reality, we won’t know for several years. However, the move got me wondering. Stevens seemingly had it good at a small school in a state that loves basketball more than anything else, and yet, he still jetted for Boston.
Is coaching the Boston Celtics really a better job than what he had at Butler?
Just how good is the Boston coaching job anyway?
And of course, what are the best possible basketball jobs in America, regardless of level?
As with all Top 10s, the list is entirely dependent upon the set of criteria one uses. For this, I wanted to be as inclusive, but simple as possible. Therefore, I graded each job in the following categories:
- Level of Difficulty – Easy: How hard is it to win at this gig?
- Winning Tradition – Pretty simple: The organization carries an established pattern of success and a mindset that winning is its most important goal.
- Fan Base – Slightly more complex: 50 percent loyalty, 45 percent expectations, and five percent creativity. Basically, your dream job would be to coach for a team whose fans are unflinchingly loyal, regardless of the amount of success that you are experiencing, while also keeping things fun and energized.
- Prestige – How much does a championship really mean, not only to the organization, but to basketball fans in general? Fair or not, the 1973 New York Knicks will always be held high up on a pedestal, for example.
One thing that didn’t factor into play was the players involved. Obviously, no coaching job in America is probably as attractive as the Miami Heat job right now, even factoring in the unbelievable expectations that come with it. Who wouldn’t want to coach LeBron James? Still, players change from year to year, especially at the college level. Kansas and Kentucky are undoubtedly more attractive locations this year because of their fantastic recruiting classes, but are the actual jobs really better than others?
Let’s also ignore money for the time being. No coach will wind up poor at any of the following 10 organizations, so let’s not quibble over $4.5 million compared to $5 million.
One final note. Fans of the seventh place team will undoubtedly be furious that their squad isn’t ranked higher up. Just remember that this list is meant to praise each of the following organizations, not nitpick between third and fourth. Although I will happily place Indiana as low as I possibly can, just because I cheer for the Boilermakers. Again, this list has everything to do with a job’s attractiveness to a potential coach and less to do with the actual quality of the job in general.
Let’s break down each of the previous categories in order to grade our Top 10.
- 10 – Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, UCLA
- 9 – Kentucky
- 8 – North Carolina
- 7 – Indiana University
- 6 – Duke
- 4 -Kansas, Louisville, New York Knicks
Each team carries with it a long-lasting tradition of winning. Every single squad, with the exception of the New York Knicks, has won titles at least 19 years apart, meaning that it is unlikely any of the jobs will become duds in the near future.
The Celtics, Lakers and UCLA wind up on top due to the sheer volume of championships that each team has. Even though North Carolina and Indiana have the same number of titles, UNC barely edges out the Hoosiers due to IU’s 26-year drought and the fact that over the past 20 years, it hasn’t even been the most successful program in its own state (shots fired). To the surprise of some, Louisville has just as many titles as Kansas, tying the Jayhawks with three. The Knicks and both of their titles wind up tied with the two Midwestern schools at the bottom.
Level of Difficulty
- 10 – Los Angeles Lakers
- 8 – UCLA, Kentucky, Kansas, Indiana
- 7 – UNC
- 6 – Duke
- 4 – Boston Celtics, New York Knicks
- 2 – Louisville
For this one, a low level of difficulty results in a high score. As it stands, no other organization is able to chase championships as easily as the Lakers. Since 2000, the Lakers have five titles, more than doubling the efforts of any other organization. The combination of the Southern California weather, Hollywood’s celebrities and the organization’s willingness to pay the luxury tax gives the Lakers advantages that the rest of these teams can only dream of.
UCLA, Kentucky, Kansas and Indiana all carry unique advantages that make them a cut above Duke and UNC – namely that each school absolutely owns its region and is generally the clear-cut choice of youngsters that grow up near the school. Duke and UNC have to constantly compete not only with each other, but also with N.C. State, Wake Forest, Maryland and other nearby institutions. Duke falls a step below UNC because of its stricter academic requirements as well.
The fact that Rick Pitino has kept Louisville competitive is a tribute to his coaching ability. Louisville truly is the “little brother” in Kentucky, and constantly has to fight for respect in its own state.
- 10 – Kansas, Indiana
- 9 – Louisville
- 7 – Kentucky
- 6 – UNC, Duke, Boston Celtics
- 5 – UCLA, New York Knicks
- 3 – Los Angeles Lakers
Kansas possesses the best home-court advantage in America, in large part because of their fans. Jayhawks fans are fiercely loyal to their school, but also seem to have tempered expectations in terms of national success. Even though the Jayhawks have a history of choking, their fans rarely turn on them the way they do in Kentucky or Los Angeles. The Hoosiers are tied with Kansas at the top due in part to the sheer obsession that the state of Indiana has with the sport of basketball in general. Most Indiana fans don’t even realize their school has other sports – and that’s great news for the basketball coach. The level of understanding amongst Hoosier fans is also admirable. Even in the middle of a six-win season, Indiana fans supported their school.
Louisville fans constantly have to battle it out with Kentucky fans, and because of that, are among the most loyal fans in America. If you live in Kentucky and cheer for the Cardinals, you are in no way a fair-weather fan. Because of the Wildcats around the corner, Louisville fans also carry realistic expectations for their squad. A Sweet 16 birth would not be cause for a riot in the streets the way it would be in Lexington.
Of course Duke and UNC’s fan bases are fantastic, but the close proximity of the two schools adds a tension to the environment that can make things more difficult for the coach. Coaches in Boston and New York don’t have to compete with a rival school, but instead have to fight the Red Sox, Yankees, Giants and Patriots for attention constantly. As for UCLA, their fans are great, but apparently, Final Four births just aren’t enough to appease them.
Lakers fans are among the most spoiled and whiny fans in all of sports – let’s just move on.
- 10 – New York Knicks
- 9 – Indiana, UCLA
- 8 – Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics
- 7 – Kentucky and Kansas
- 6 – UNC, Duke, Louisville
As difficult and impressive it is to win a single championship, for one reason or another, not all championships are created equal. As mentioned before, the early 1970s Knicks are discussed in almost reverential tones. The same can be said about the undefeated 1976 Hoosiers, or John Wooden’s legendary Bruins. Any coach that once again leads one of those squads to the promised land will be treated as royalty.
10) Louisville (21 points)
By any metric, Louisville is a fantastic job and should be highly sought-after in a few years when Rick Pitino retires. Louisville sits in the middle of a region that is crazy about basketball, and even though it’s not necessarily the “Big Dog” in town, any coach outside of Lexington would be thrilled to land there.
9) New York Knicks (23 points)
To be honest, there’s not really a whole lot to love about this job. The basketball fans in New York are knowledgeable and know when wins are being left on the table because of subpar coaching. At the same time, they are incredibly passionate, and the appeal to a man’s pride in and of itself will be enough to keep luring in coaches to Madison Square Garden for the next 30 years.
8) Duke (24 points)
One thing that has to be mentioned about this job – whoever follows Coach K will have some Ronald McDonald-sized shoes to fill. Still, the tradition, fan base, and recruiting advantages will make the Duke job a desirable position for the foreseeable future.
7) North Carolina (27 points)
Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Dean Smith and Nike. Need I say more?
6) Boston Celtics (28 points)
The more I think about it, this Celtics job was probably too good for Stevens to pass up. Obviously, the team will be in rebuilding mode for the next few years, but if Stevens can weather the storm, luck into a few good draft picks, and gain his players’ trust, the possibilities for greatness are endless in Boston.
5) Kansas (29 points)
There is a reason Andrew Wiggins chose Kansas – and it has nothing to do with Canadians being a little different. There’s simply a lot to love in Lawrence. Allen Fieldhouse and its fans will continue to rule the center of this country for years to come.
4) UCLA (30 points)
This job is probably a little less appealing after Ben Howland did seemingly everything that was asked of him (add discipline to the program while also advancing deep in the tournament) and still got fired. The legend of John Wooden will always hover over Pauley Pavilion, but the lure of it will remain as well.
3) Kentucky (31 points)
Kentucky actually tied with the Lakers on points, so they fall to third because of the level of expectations that come along with coaching there combined with the fans’ vitriol should they lose. Lakers fans will turn on you in a second, but they will turn to the Kings, Dodgers or the beach. Kentucky fans will turn to message boards, radio stations, and hate mail – just ask Billy Gillispie.
2) Los Angeles Lakers (31 points)
Simply put, it’s the best job in professional basketball, and probably will be for a long time.
1) Indiana University (34 points)
I don’t even think site creator Jerod Morris would say that Indiana University is the best program in college basketball, but it’s hard to think of a place that could be more appealing to a basketball coach. A loyal and knowledgeable fan base that cares more about your team than every other sports team in the region? Check. Unbelievable resources making recruiting a breeze? Check. Long-lasting tradition of excellence? Check. Prestige of winning it all? Double-check.
As much as it pains this Purdue fan to admit it, there’s no better basketball job in America than the one in Bloomington, Indiana.