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Out of their league

Pitino becomes latest college-to-NBA casualty

Click here for more on this story
Posted: Tuesday January 09, 2001 1:50 AM
Updated: Tuesday January 09, 2001 8:01 AM

  Rick Pitino Rick Pitino's winning percentage with the Celtics was 403 points lower than his record at the University of Kentucky. Otto Greule, Jr./Allsport

By Jacob Luft,

Rick Pitino's tenure as Boston Celtics head coach didn't remind anybody of the Red Auerbach era, but at least nobody is bringing up Roy Rubin's name.

Pitino never could translate his success in the college ranks into NBA victories, posting a .411 winning percentage in 3 1/2 seasons after leading Kentucky to the 1996 national title.

So does that make Pitino the poster boy for college coaches who failed in the pros? Not even close. Pitino is just the latest in a series of recent coaches who failed to make the transition (see chart, below).

If such a poster boy exists, it would have to be Rubin, who went from Long Island University to the 76ers in 1972-73. He went 4-47 before being mercifully fired, and the team ended up 9-73, which still stands as the worst record in league history.

Jerry Tarkanian led UNLV to an NCAA title but lasted a mere 20 games with the Spurs, at one point asking the courtside reporters for an explanation of illegal defense. Tarkanian won nine of 20 games before giving way to John Lucas, who went 40-22 with essentially the same team.

Seeing Green
Pitino with the Celtics
Seasons:  3 1/2  
Winning %:  .411 
10-Point Losses:  72 
Lottery Picks: 
Playoff App: 

In the past 20 years, only three coaches have gone from college jobs to the NBA and won world championships -- Gregg Popovich, Chuck Daly and Bill Fitch (see chart, below). Here are some more nuggets on the topic:

  • Bulls coach Tim Floyd, formerly of Iowa State University, became the fastest to reach 100 losses in NBA history (130 games). That is after leading the Cyclones to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances from 1994-97.

  • First-year NBA coaches Lon Kruger and Leonard Hamilton are not exactly bucking the trend. Kruger left a talented Illinois squad to lead the Hawks, who are 12-21 (as of Jan. 8) and would be in last place if not for .... Floyd's Bulls. Hamilton took the Miami Hurricanes to the Sweet 16 last season before being lured to the pros. Now he's stuck with an uncoachable Wizards bunch (7-28) that has team president Michael Jordan exasperated.

  • The college-to-NBA coaching curse seems to be more of a 1990s phenomena. In the '70s, Dick Motta went from Weber State to the Bulls, four times winning 50 or more games there before moving on to Washington (and a 1978 NBA title). Jack Ramsay coached St. Joseph's for 11 years before coaching in the NBA for 18 years, winning the 1977 championship with Portland.

    Bill Fitch (University of Minnesota) won an NBA title with the Celtics. John MacLeod (University of Oklahoma) has won more than 700 games in the NBA. Cotton Fitzsimmons, who once worked the sidelines at Kansas State, compiled a record of 832-775 during 20 NBA seasons.

    School of Hard Knocks
    College coaches haven't cut it at the NBA level recently
    Coach  College, Rec.  NBA, Rec. 
    Rick Pitino  Kentucky, 219-50, .814  Boston, 102-146, .411 
    Best finish:   National Champs, 1996  Fifth place, Atlantic Div. 
    John Calipari  UMass, 193-71, .731  N.J., 72-112, .391 
    Best finish:   Final Four, 1996  First round, 1997-98 
    Tim Floyd  Iowa St., 81-47, .633  Chicago, 36-128, .220 
    Best finish:   Sweet 16, 1997  Last place, Central Div. 
    P.J. Carlesimo  Seton Hall, 212-166, .561  Port., Gold. St., 183-223, .451 
    Best finish:   NCAA Runner-up, 1989  First round (Three times) 
    Jerry Tarkanian  UNLV, 509-105, .829  San Antonio, 9-11, .450 
    Best finish:   National Champs, 1990  DNF 

    Making the Jump
    The three college head coaches who went on to lead NBA teams to world championships in the past 20 years:
    Coach  College, Yrs.  NBA Champs 
    Gregg Popovich  Pomona-Pitzer, 1979-86  Spurs, 1999 
    Chuck Daly  Boston Coll., Penn (1969-77)  Pistons 1988-89, 1989-90 
    Bill Fitch  Minnesota, Bowling Green,
    North Dakota, Coe (1958-70) 
    Celtics, 1980-81 

    Related information
    Pitino resigns; Assistant O'Brien takes over Celtics
    SI's Marty Burns: Roundball Roundup -- Not-so-Slick Rick
    Celtics game but fall to Blazers in O'Brien's debut
    Profile: Pitino beaned in Boston
    SI's Marty Burns: Pitino's not an NBA coach
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