2014 Final Four Coaches: Who Will Lead His Team to Championship?
by Trevor Whenham - 4/2/2014
There is one consistent trend among the four teams this year in the Final Four, as there is almost every year at this point in the college basketball season - these are four exceptionally well-coached teams. These 2014 Final Four coaches have very different backgrounds and different levels of experience with the challenge they are facing this year, but they should all have their teams ready to go by Saturday:
Kevin Ollie, Connecticut: Ollie is only two years into his head coaching career, so he is off to an impressive start. Last year he won 20 games, but the squad was ineligible for the postseason. This year his team made it as high as ninth in the rankings when they upset Florida at home in early December, but then they fell from there and wound up 18th in the final AP poll before the tournament. Ollie did lead his team to the final of the AAC tournament and now the Final Four, so he obviously excels at pulling the best out of his team when the chips are down.
His path to this place has been really swift. He last played in 2010 with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was well past his prime by that point, but Kevin Durant gives him tremendous credit for changing the entire culture of the team. From there he returned to his alma mater to serve as Jim Calhoun's assistant, and after just two years in that role he was the man in charge. The first of those years ended in a National Championship, though, so he has no shortage of experience with this challenge despite it being his first postseason run as the man in charge.
He's the least experienced coach by far of the four remaining, but it's not to an extent that it is a major concern.
Billy Donovan, Florida: Donovan has been at the helm in Florida since 1996, so there is no shortage of experience on his front. He has the back-to-back titles in the Joakim Noah glory days to his credit, his team lost in the finals in 2000, and he has made the last three Elite Eights without a win before breaking through this year. Donovan is, in other words, dialed in right now.
He also clearly knows how to get the best out of this particular team since the seniors at the core of this team have been together for so long. In the two years after Donovan took the Orlando Magic job in 2007 before changing his mind soon after, it was easy to question whether he had lost his touch and stayed too long in one place. There is no questioning that now, though.
John Calipari, Kentucky: Calipari is in his fifth Final Four and his third in four years, so he is clearly comfortable with the challenge he faces here. He won it all in 2012, too.
What is most impressive about what Calipari has done at Kentucky is that he has essentially done it with a new cast of characters at the core of his team each year. Most coaches have to be concerned with developing players, helping them grow from year to year, and hoping they have enough upperclassmen to lead the way. Calipari just has to find a way to make the most ridiculous collection of young superstars every year grow up quickly enough to learn how to play together well enough to let their ridiculous talent shine. Sometimes it doesn't work - like last year when his squad fell into the NIT and was knocked out in the first round. Other times it takes a while, like it has this year.
No matter what, though, it is a unique set of challenges that Calipari faces, and he has shown that it clearly works for him. Another title this year, and there wouldn't be a megastar youngster in the country that he couldn't land if he wanted to - not that there are many right now.
Bo Ryan, Wisconsin: Ryan is a bit of an odd case in this group. He is the oldest coach, and he has by far the most career wins, but he is making his first appearance in the Final Four even though he has been at Wisconsin since 2001. The last Wisconsin Final Four run happened the year before he arrived.
He does have some tournament success of a sort, though. From 1984 to 1999 he was head coach at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville, and he won their version of the National Championship four different times, including twice at the completion of undefeated seasons. So, while this is new ground for Ryan, you hardly have to worry that his bag of tricks isn't big enough to handle it.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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