5 championship coaches who started in New England college basketball

Prominent college and NBA coaches got their first chance in the Boston area.

Marcus Camby, Lou Roe, and John Calipari watching the final minutes of a Sweet Sixteen win over Tulsa in the 1995 NCAA Tournament.
Marcus Camby, Lou Roe, and John Calipari watching the final minutes of a Sweet Sixteen win over Tulsa in the 1995 NCAA Tournament. –Globe Archives

In 2018, Massachusetts had zero representatives in the men’s Division-I NCAA basketball tournament. It was a downturn for a state that’s produced some great teams in the past.

What stands out most in a study of the local area’s college basketball history is that it’s been a proving ground for a few highly successful coaches. The only catch has been that none of them reached their highest peaks while working those original jobs.

Here’s a quick look back at a few college coaches who got their start in New England:

Jim Calhoun

Northeastern head coach Jim Calhoun at the annual Beanpot Basketball Tournament Final between Northeastern and Harvard at the Boston Garden in 1973. —Globe Archives

After turning Dedham High School into a state semifinalist with an undefeated league record, Calhoun became the head coach at Northeastern University in 1972. In 14 seasons, Calhoun helped the program transition smoothly to Division I, heralding a 248-137 record. His five NCAA Tournament bids remain a high point in the men’s program’s basketball history.

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Following the end of the 1985-86 season, Calhoun accepted an offer to become the head coach of the University of Connecticut. Trading one Huskies mascot for another, he quickly embraced the spotlight of the Big East. Calhoun stayed in Storrs until 2012, winning three National Championships and amassing an impressive .720 winning percentage.

John Calipari

John Calipari during a UMass practice, March 13, 1996. —AP Photo/Winslow Townson

Getting his first chance as a college head coach at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1988, Calipari survived an up-and-down first season, going 10-18. In 25 college seasons since, he’s never had another one end with more losses than wins. Starting in 1991, Calipari’s UMass Minutemen won five consecutive Atlantic 10 titles, advancing to the Final Four in 1996 (though it was later officially vacated due to NCAA violations).

Leaving UMass for the Nets after that season, Calipari returned to college coaching in 2000 with Memphis. He closed out his tenure with four straight seasons that crossed the 30-win threshold, including a National Championship appearance in 2008 (that was also vacated). Taking the helm at Kentucky in 2009, Calipari has since won a National Championship and guided three other runs to the Final Four.

Chuck Daly

Daly arrived at Boston College after working as an assistant to Vic Bubas at Duke. He replaced a local legend in Bob Cousy, who coached the Eagles to 114 wins and only 38 losses in six seasons prior. Daly’s tenure in Chestnut Hill lasted only two seasons, in which he went 26-24. Shortly after the 1971 season concluded, Daly abruptly left to become the coach at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Though he was more successful at Penn, Daly didn’t reach his peak for another decade, when he became famous as the head coach of the Detroit Pistons. Known to basketball history as the “Bad Boys,” Daly’s Pistons won back-t0-back titles in 1989-1990, emphasizing a physical brand of basketball. He also coached the 1992 USA Olympic team, known as the “Dream Team.”

K.C. Jones

K.C. Jones and the Brandeis basketball in 1967. —Via Globe Archives

Playing for the Boston Celtics from 1958-1967, Jones won eight NBA titles. Upon his retirement from playing, Jones entered coaching. His first stop was at Brandeis, a Division-III school. In three seasons, Jones went 34-32 before leaving to become an assistant at Harvard.

Eventually, Jones would wind up back in Boston with the Celtics, first as an assistant and then as head coach starting in 1983. In five seasons in charge of the Celtics, Jones won two NBA championships, including the 1985-86 season (widely regarded as one of the greatest NBA teams of all time).

Rick Pitino

Boston, MA – 1/10/1979: Boston University head coach Rick Pitino with Steve Wright and Tom Chummel at Case Gym. —Joseph Dennehy/Globe Staff

After coaching as an assistant in Hawaii and Syracuse, Pitino got his first full-time head coaching job with Boston University in 1978. Taking over a program that had experienced just one winning season in eight years, Pitino immediately took the Terriers to a 21-9 record and an NIT appearance. In four seasons, he amassed a 91-51 record, culminating with the school’s first NCAA appearance in nearly a quarter century.

Pitino left BU in 1983, weaving his way between the professional and college ranks. This included stops with the New York Knicks, Providence (where he experienced his first trip to the Final Four), Kentucky (where he won the 1996 National Championship), and finally a failed effort coaching the Celtics. Pitino wound up at Louisville from 2001-2017, where he won a second title in 2013 (later vacated). In Oct. 2017, Pitino was fired amid a federal corruption probe of the Louisville men’s basketball program.