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Ranking the NCAA tournament coaches ... as players

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The Purdue Boilermakers' 74-68 loss to Rhode Island in an 8 vs. 9 game in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on March 18, 1993, will not go down as one of the most memorable contests in NCAA tournament history. Those who remember the event at all might have a fuzzy memory of dazzling freshman Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson putting up 36 points in a losing effort.

Matt Painter, Cuonzo Martin and Linc Darner also suited up for the Boilermakers that day. They combined for 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting. They left the floor disappointed. But 23 years later, fate has brought them together again -- as three of the 68 head coaches guiding teams in the 2016 NCAA tournament. Painter, a senior on the '93 team, would succeed his coach Gene Keady at Purdue in 2004. Martin, an emerging sophomore in 1993, will coach Cal in an NCAA tournament game for the first time. Darner, a reserve guard for those Boilermakers, leads Green Bay into the tournament in his first year as a Division I head coach.

Working as they do in the cutthroat industry of Division I coaching, the fact that three teammates would possess the talent, desire and simultaneous good fortune to reach this ultimate stage as coaches might feel unlikely. The fact that none of the three was the best player on his team is, as our study below reveals, not unusual at all.

A small fraction of the 68 men leading teams this week are remembered as electrifying players. To be fair to our Purdue trio above, they were three of the best, having played meaningful minutes for a high-level program (once out of Robinson's shadow, Martin became an all-Big Ten player and a pro).

There are members of the list below who played in the NBA, and there are those who we can't confirm would be able to make a layup if their next contract depended on it. The back stories of the coaches as players have no common thread. The back stories of the coaches as coaches is that they've worked awfully hard to get here. But the task here was to rank them as ballers, and that's what we've done:


68. Will Wade, VCU Rams -- Wade is one of the few D-I coaches who cannot put high school playing experience on his résumé. He played golf at Franklin Road Academy in Nashville, before heading to Clemson, where he got his start as a student manager under Oliver Purnell.

67. Scott Drew, Baylor Bears -- Drew's playing days ended with the JV team at Valparaiso (Indiana) High School. Though his brother, Bryce, played in the NBA, Scott Drew was a tennis player (he played on the team but didn't letter) and basketball manager at Butler.

66. Tom Crean, Indiana Hoosiers -- Crean mostly rode the bench at Mount Pleasant (Michigan) High School, but started scratching the coaching itch when Oilers coach Denny Kuiper allowed Crean to scout opponents. Crean did not play college basketball at Central Michigan.

65. Frank Haith, Tulsa Golden Hurricane -- Haith played four sports at Western Alamance (North Carolina) High, but did not play collegiately at Elon -- his coaching career began there as a student assistant in 1986.

64. Greg Gard, Wisconsin Badgers -- Gard was a three-sport athlete (including hoops) at Iowa-Grant High in rural Livingston, Wisconsin, but did not play basketball at Wisconsin-Platteville. Gard played baseball at UW-Platteville in the '90s but was cut before his sophomore year.

63. Chris Beard, Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans -- Beard was a regular for McCullough High School in The Woodlands, Texas, but did not play college basketball at Texas. Then-Longhorns coach Tom Penders gave Beard a managerial job and he'd eventually become a student assistant at the school.

62. Matt McCall, Chattanooga Mocs -- McCall was an all-area basketball player at Belleview High School in Ocala, Florida, but turned down opportunities to play at smaller colleges in order to attend Florida, where he became a manager for Billy Donovan.

61. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati Bearcats -- Despite his diminutive stature (5-foot-7), Cronin was a good high school point guard under his father, Hep, at Cincinnati's La Salle High. A knee injury was a factor in Cronin's career ending before he reached college at Cincinnati.

60. Mark Few, Gonzaga Bulldogs -- Few led Creswell (Oregon) High to the state's AAA semifinals as a senior point guard. Shoulder problems prevented him from playing at Linfield College, where he intended to play basketball and baseball.

59. Steve Prohm, Iowa State Cyclones -- Prohm was a three-year letterman at Northwest Whitfield High in Tunnel Hill, Georgia -- his claim to fame was hitting a half-court shot to win a game as a senior -- and played briefly at the Division III level at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. Prohm subsequently transferred to Alabama, where he became a manager and student assistant.

58. Roy Williams, North Carolina Tar Heels -- Williams won all-county, all-conference and all-region honors at T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville, North Carolina, and was a non-scholarship member of North Carolina's freshman team under Bill Guthridge in 1968-69.

57. Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M Aggies -- Kennedy was an all-district player at Holy Cross High School in New Orleans, and originally went to Southeastern Louisiana as a preferred walk-on. With playing time limited, Kennedy transferred to Delgado (Louisiana) Community College, but injuries caused him to abandon his playing career and transfer back to Southeastern, where he earned his degree in 1986.

56. Randy Rahe, Weber State Wildcats -- Rahe's claim to fame at Division III Buena Vista University (Storm Lake, Iowa) was really baseball -- he was twice named an All-Iowa Conference infielder for the Beavers -- but he also played hoops there from 1978-82.

55. Eran Ganot, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors -- Ganot was a four-year letterman at Division III Swarthmore in suburban Philadelphia from 1999 to 2003. He was twice named team captain and played all five positions for the Garnet, averaging 2.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in his senior season of 2002-03.

54. Dana Altman, Oregon Ducks -- Altman was a guard and captain at Fairbury Junior College in Nebraska (now known as Southeast Community College) from 1976 to 1978 before transferring to Division II Eastern New Mexico University. Altman has described himself as a "poor player" for the Greyhounds, but did graduate Magna Cum Laude from the school in 1980.

53. Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders -- Davis started his career at Phillips County (Arkansas) Community College before transferring to Mississippi State -- the school that had forced out his father, Kermit Sr., as head coach three years before -- for his final two seasons as a player (1980-82). The younger Davis appeared in just 14 games over his two seasons in Starkville, earning a total of 45 minutes and scoring 12 points while dishing out seven assists.

52. John Beilein, Michigan Wolverines -- Beilein was a backup guard at Division II Wheeling College (now Wheeling Jesuit) from 1971 through 1975, serving as team captain for one year but scoring fewer than 100 career points.

51. James Jones, Yale Bulldogs -- Jones played at then-Division III Albany from 1982-86, and captained the freshman team during his first year on campus.

50. Kevin Keatts, UNC Wilmington Seahawks -- Keatts played point guard for Division III Ferrum (Virginia) College from 1991-95, helping lead the Panthers to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 1992 in what remains the school's lone postseason appearance.

49. Nate Oats, Buffalo Bulls -- Oats played at D-III Maranatha Baptist University in Watertown, Wisconsin, from 1993 to 1997, serving as a captain and earning all-conference honors.

48. Rodney Terry, Fresno State Bulldogs -- Terry was a three-year starter at point guard for Division II St. Edward's University (1986-90) in Austin, Texas, serving as a two-time team captain for the Hilltoppers. Terry also contributed as a freshman for a Hilltoppers team that was a co-champion in the Big State Conference.

47. Nick McDevitt, UNC Asheville Bulldogs -- A star at the high school level for Madison (North Carolina) High, McDevitt played four years at UNC Asheville (1997-2001), mostly as a deep reserve, though he did appear in 27 games for the 2000-01 team.

46. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State Shockers -- The hard-nosed but then-rail-thin Marshall earned a partial scholarship to Division II Randolph-Macon (Virginia), where he played from 1981-85. Teammate Rod Wood told the Wichita Eagle that Marshall's typical stat line was: "1 point, a few charges, a bunch of rebounds and 10 stitches."

45. Tim Cluess, Iona Gaels -- Like his brothers Kevin, Greg and Hank before him, Tim Cluess -- a 6-foot-6 wing -- would wear a St. John's uniform (recommended reading: Ian O'Connor's brilliant 2011 profile of the triumph and tragedy of the Cluess family). However, injuries contributed to him falling out of the Red Storm rotation. Cluess transferred to College of Charleston and then on to Hofstra, where he saw some time and averaged 2.9 points per game in the 1982-83 season.

44. John Calipari, Kentucky Wildcats -- Calipari started his career at UNC Wilmington, scoring 29 points during the 1979-80 season before transferring to Division II Clarion, closer to his native Western Pennsylvania. Calipari was a starter at point guard for the Golden Eagles, averaging 5.3 points and 5.3 assists during his senior season.

43. Ed Cooley, Providence Friars -- Cooley was a three-year captain at Division II Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, from 1990 to 1994, averaging 7.4 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game for his career.

42. Tom Izzo, Michigan State Spartans -- Izzo played point guard at Division II Northern Michigan from 1974-77, captaining the team and also winning all-conference and team MVP accolades as a senior.

41. Bill Carmody, Holy Cross Crusaders -- Carmody went 59-11 in three years as a starting point guard (1972-75) at Union College in Schenectady, New York, earning all-ECAC honors and the school's Most Outstanding Athlete award as a senior. Carmody's teams won ECAC regional titles in 1973 and 1975.

40. Phil Martelli, Saint Joseph's Hawks -- Martelli led Division III Widener (Chester, Pennsylvania) as a point guard from 1973 to 1976, leading the Pioneers to the NCAA tournament in 1975 and 1976 and graduating as the school's all-time assist leader.

39. Chris Holtmann, Butler Bulldogs -- Holtmann was an NAIA All-American guard at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, with his best year coming in 1993-94, when he led the Trojans to a 25-9 record, a No. 1 national ranking and a berth in the NAIA tournament.

38. Kevin Willard, Seton Hall Pirates -- Willard played for his father, Ralph, at both Western Kentucky (1993-94) and then Pittsburgh (1995-97), serving mostly as a backup point guard. Willard passed up his senior season at Pitt to become an advance scout for Rick Pitino with the Boston Celtics.

37. Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks -- After starting his career at then-Division I Hardin-Simmons (1982-83) and moving on to Independence (Kansas) Community College (1983-84), Underwood played two years at Kansas State (1984-86) under head coach Jack Hartman, scoring 105 points in two seasons and serving as an occasional starter at guard.

36. Shaka Smart, Texas Longhorns -- Smart garnered recruiting interest from the Ivy League but instead attended Division III Kenyon College (Ohio), thanks in large part to his bond with then-head coach Bill Brown. Smart developed into a four-year starter (1995-99) and three-year captain for the Lords, becoming the school's career assist leader.

35. Tubby Smith, Texas Tech Red Raiders -- Smith starred at Great Mills High in Southern Maryland, and nearly played at Maryland but had a scholarship offer revoked at the 11th hour by new coach Lefty Driesell. He instead attended then-NAIA High Point, where he scored 1,589 points over four seasons -- numbers that continue to rank in the Panthers' top 10.

34. Greg Herenda, Fairleigh Dickinson Knights -- Herenda was a four-year point guard at Division II Merrimack (Massachusetts) College from 1979-83. He holds the school record for assists in a game (22) and shares the record for single-season assists average (9.0).

33. Ed Joyner Jr., Hampton Pirates -- Joyner played four years for his uncle, Steve Joyner, at Johnson C. Smith in Charlotte in the '90s, and finished his career on the top-10 assists lists for a school that made three appearances in the NCAA Division II tournament during his time there.

32. Andy Enfield, USC Trojans -- Enfield was a Division III All-American at Johns Hopkins (Maryland), and remains the school's lone 2,000-point scorer (2,025 points). Enfield was money from the stripe, setting what was then the NCAA all-divisions career free throw percentage record (92.5, hitting 431 of 466 shots) for the Bluejays. Hopkins made a pair of NCAA appearances during Enfield's career (1988-91).

31. Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa Panthers -- Jacobson played for then-Division II North Dakota from 1989-93, serving as team captain as a junior and senior and graduating as the school's all-time assist leader. UND made two Division II Elite Eight appearances during Jacobson's playing career.

30. Scott Nagy, South Dakota State Jackrabbits -- Nagy was a star for some good teams at Division II Delta State in Cleveland, Mississippi (1984-88), and still holds the school record for assists in a career (549), season (234) and game (15). Nagy, who led the Statesmen to three NCAA berths during his career, was inducted into the Delta State Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.

29. Joe Dooley, Florida Gulf Coast Eagles -- Dooley played four years for Gerry Gimelstob and John Kuester at George Washington University (1984-88), starting at guard for most of his final two seasons with the Colonials.

28. Chris Mack, Xavier Musketeers -- Mack was a starter for his first two seasons at Evansville (1988-90), transferring in part due to an incident in which then-coach Jim Crews ordered him to fire the ball into the face of Dayton center Wes Coffee on an inbounds play (Mack sent Coffee a letter of apology, and Crews recently admitted he ordered the code red). After arriving at Xavier in 1991, Mack tore his left ACL eight seconds into the team's first exhibition, missing the season, and tore his right ACL the summer before the 1992-93 season. He recovered to appear in 21 games (including two in the NCAA tournament) in 1992-93 under Pete Gillen.

27. Jay Wright, Villanova Wildcats -- Wright played three seasons at Bucknell (1980-83), emerging as the Bison's leading scorer as a junior but serving as a role player for the rest of his career with the Bison.

26. Fran McCaffery, Iowa Hawkeyes -- McCaffery started his career in the ACC, averaging 5.3 points as a freshman at Wake Forest (1977-78) before transferring to Penn for his final three collegiate seasons. As a senior (1981-82), McCaffery dished out 105 assists for a Quakers team that reached the NCAA tournament.

25. Linc Darner, Green Bay Phoenix -- Darner played four seasons as a guard for Gene Keady at Purdue (1990-94), serving as team captain twice and reaching the NCAA tournament three times. He was a college teammate of two other coaches in this tournament -- Cuonzo Martin (Cal) and Matt Painter (Purdue) -- and all three crossed over on the 1992-93 team. Darner was a reserve on the Big Ten title team and No. 1 seed that reached the 1994 Elite Eight.

24. Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt Commodores -- After a year at Belleville (Illinois) Area College, Stallings played three seasons at guard under Lee Rose and Gene Keady at Purdue (1979-82), and is one of two coaches in this tournament (Mark Turgeon) with Final Four playing experience. Stallings played in the Boilermakers' 1980 national semifinal loss to UCLA. He became a part-time starter as a senior, averaging 4.6 points per game.

23. Tad Boyle, Colorado Buffaloes -- Boyle played point guard at Kansas from 1981-85 under Ted Owens and then Larry Brown, playing on a pair of NCAA tournament teams and serving as a captain as a senior.

22. Dave Loos, Austin Peay Governors -- Loos played three seasons at point guard under Moe Iba at Memphis (1966-69), leading the Tigers in assists as a senior. But his better sport was probably baseball -- Loos was an all-Missouri Valley shortstop for the Tigers. He was named to Memphis' Hall of Fame in 2002.

21. Mike Brey, Notre Dame Fighting Irish -- Brey played three seasons at guard for Northwestern State (1977-80), racking up 311 assists along the way, but left when head coach Tynes Hildebrand got fired. The DC-area native transferred home to play his final season at George Washington (his mother, Betty, was the swim coach at GW), averaging 5.0 points and 4.8 rebounds in his senior season with the Colonials. Brey was inducted into the George Washington University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014.

20. Steve Pikiell, Stony Brook Seawolves -- Pikiell arrived at UConn the same year as Jim Calhoun (1986-87), and played four seasons over five years (he sat out in 1988-89), playing on two NCAA tournament teams as a part-time starter at point guard (both of which fell to Duke in the tourney). The pride of Bristol, Connecticut, Pikiell averaged 3.4 points per game and dished out 165 assists as a Huskie.

19. Bill Self, Kansas Jayhawks -- Self played at Oklahoma State from 1981 to 1985, starting at point guard over his final two seasons in Stillwater. Self also played in the NCAA tournament as a sophomore at OSU.

18. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke Blue Devils -- Coach K scored 426 points in three seasons as a point guard for Bob Knight at Army (1966-69), and was a starter and co-captain on the 1968-69 team that reached the NIT semifinals.

17. Matt Painter, Purdue Boilermakers -- Painter was a four-year letterman at Purdue (1989-93), playing on three NCAA tournament teams and becoming a full-time starter as a senior. Painter was an honorable mention All-Big Ten choice in 1992-93, when he averaged 8.6 points and 4.5 assists per game.

16. Fran Dunphy, Temple Owls -- Dunphy played three seasons for Tom Gola at La Salle (1967-70), including his junior year in which the Explorers went 23-1 but were banned from the postseason. As a senior, Dunphy averaged 18.6 points per game and led the Explorers in assists.

15. Mark Turgeon, Maryland Terrapins -- Turgeon played point guard for four years under Larry Brown at Kansas (1983-87), was named captain in his final two years in Lawrence and became the first player in team history to play in four straight NCAA tournaments. Turgeon is one of two coaches in this tournament with Final Four playing experience (Kevin Stallings), having dished out five assists in a 1986 national semifinal loss to Duke.

14. Roman Banks, Southern Jaguars -- Banks was one of the best players in Northwestern State history, and may be best remembered for making the game-winning free throw in a Dec. 7, 1988, upset of Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Banks played guard for the Demons from 1987-92 and still ranks in the school's top 10 in scoring (1,454 points, 118 games, 12.3 average), assists (515, 4.4 average) and steals (190, 1.5 average). Banks was an All-Southland Conference pick in 1990, and was named to the school's Hall of Fame in 2011.

13. Archie Miller, Dayton Flyers -- Miller made 218 three-pointers in four seasons at NC State (1997-2002), finally reaching the NCAA tournament as a fifth-year senior. Miller averaged 7.7 points for his career.

12. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse Orange -- Boeheim played three seasons at Syracuse (1963-66), coming off the bench his first two seasons before becoming a starter as a senior. He averaged 14.6 points and 3.1 assists during the 1965-66 campaign, leading the Orange to the Elite Eight. Boeheim went on to play professionally with the Scranton Miners of the ABL.

11. Bob Huggins, West Virginia Mountaineers -- Huggins started his career at Ohio University (averaging 2.3 points in 18 games as a freshman) but transferred to West Virginia, where he developed into one of the team's top players -- averaging 13.2 points as a senior point guard. Huggins sustained a major knee injury after being hit by a car while bicycling weeks before the 1977 NBA draft. He went to training camp with the Philadelphia 76ers while still recovering from his injury but was cut, and started his coaching career thereafter.

10. Sean Miller, Arizona Wildcats -- Miller started for four seasons at Pitt between 1987 and 1992 (he missed the 1989-90 season due to a foot problem), with teammates including Jerome Lane, Charles Smith and Brian Shorter. Miller, who averaged 10 points and 5.8 assists over his career, was the Big East's freshman of the year and would play in two NCAA tournaments.

9. Rod Barnes, Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners --- Barnes had an outstanding career as a point guard at Ole Miss from 1984 to 1988, where he was a double-digit scorer for three seasons and earned All-SEC honors as a senior, averaging 19 points, four rebounds and four assists for the Rebels. Barnes, who was later the head coach at Ole Miss (1998-2006), is the only person in SEC history to be named All-SEC as a player and SEC Coach of the Year. He was named to the Ole Miss Hall of Fame in 2012.

8. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh Panthers -- Dixon played at TCU from 1983-87, with his best season coming as a senior, when he earned All-Southwest Conference honors, led the league in assists and paced the Horned Frogs to what remains their most recent NCAA tournament win. Dixon was selected in the seventh round of the 1987 NBA draft by the Washington Bullets, and played professionally in the CBA and overseas.

7. Jim Larranaga, Miami (FL) Hurricanes -- Larranaga was a star at Providence from 1968-71, graduating as the school's fifth all-time leading scorer (1,258 points) and leading the team in scoring in two of his three years with the Friars. He was inducted into the Providence Hall of Fame in 1991. Larranaga was selected in the sixth round of the 1971 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons, but left the team's rookie camp when a position on Terry Holland's staff opened at Davidson.

6. Wayne Tinkle, Oregon State Beavers -- Tinkle starred at Montana from 1986-89, earning All-Big Sky honors as a forward over his final three seasons in Missoula. He continues to rank in the Griz top 10 in points (1,500) and rebounds (836). He played professionally for 12 years, including time in the CBA and Europe, and went to training camp with the Seattle SuperSonics.

5. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma Sooners -- Kruger was a two-time Big Eight player of the year as a point guard at Kansas State (1973 and 1974) and led the Wildcats to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances during his collegiate career. He was a ninth-round pick of the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA draft (Kruger also tried out with the Pistons) and played professionally in Israel. He also played a season of minor league baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and was invited to training camp with the Dallas Cowboys as a quarterback.

4. Cuonzo Martin, California Golden Bears -- Martin played four years under Gene Keady at Purdue (1991-95), where he was a quality defensive player and good outside shooter. Martin was an All-Big Ten pick as a senior, then played briefly in the NBA with the Grizzlies and Bucks. Martin was playing professionally in Italy when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, ending his playing career.

3. Tony Bennett, Virginia Cavaliers -- While playing for his father Dick at Green Bay, Bennett was a two-time player of the year in the Mid-Continent Conference (now the Summit League), leading the Phoenix to three postseason berths while graduating as the conference's leader in points and assists. Bennett played 152 NBA games as a backup guard with the Charlotte Hornets, before injuries hastened the end of his career.

2. Larry Krystkowiak, Utah Utes -- Krystkowiak was a stud at Montana -- he won Big Sky MVP honors three times and continues to rank as the school's all-time leader in points (2,017) and rebounds (1,105). Krystkowiak went on to play nine years in the NBA as a member of the Spurs (1986-87), Bucks (1988-92), Jazz (1992-93), Magic (1993-94), Bulls (1994-96) and Lakers (1996). He averaged 8.1 points and 4.1 rebounds a game in his NBA career, and played alongside the likes of Jordan, Pippen, Stockton/Malone, Shaq and Kobe before hanging up the shoes.

1. Kevin Ollie, Connecticut Huskies -- Ollie was a four-year starter at point guard for UConn (1992-95), racking up 619 assists and playing on three NCAA tournament teams under Jim Calhoun. Ollie's final two teams with the Huskies went a combined 57-10 and 32-4 in the Big East. Ollie was not drafted but would end up playing 662 games for 11 different NBA franchises before retiring at age 37.