Critical Coaches: Who's the best coach at bending but not breaking the rules?

By Eye on College Basketball staff | CBSSports.com
Florida's Billy Donovan is seen as one of the most sagacious coaches in the game. (Getty Images)

CBSSports.com's college basketball quartet of Gary Parrish, Jeff Goodman, Jeff Borzello and Matt Norlander spent the July recruiting period hobnobbing with nearly 100 coaches, brain-picking them on some of the sport's current issues. From the best players to their comrades in coaching; from the AAU programs to the agents' involvement; from the rule changes to the NCAA as a whole. We had to promise them anonymity, and in exchange, they gave us honest answers. Through Aug. 24, we'll be putting out one question per weekday and giving you the array of results, straight from the coaches' mouths.

Today we're not going to talk about the good guys or the dirty guys. We're going to discuss the savvy guys. The coaches who study the rulebook not because it's their job and they should, but know much of their tome of guidelines by heart because it gives them an advantage. These are the ones who find alleyways around the rules that can give them an advantage in building their programs, enhancing their presence, keeping their jobs, getting better ones and upping their salaries.

In turn, it's also earned them respect. When it comes to playing within the boundaries, it's much more than recruiting. If they try hard enough, coaches can garner slight advantages over their competitors in a guile, fair way.

So which ones do it best?

The question is: Which coach is best at bending the rules but not breaking them?

  • John Calipari: 13 percent
  • Billy Donovan: 11 percent
  • Sean Miller: 8 percent
  • Tom Crean: 8 percent
  • Mike Krzyzewski: 6 percent
  • Roy Williams: 6 percent
  • Tom Izzo: 5 percent
  • Josh Pastner: 5 percent

Others: too many to list

Quotes that stuck:

On Calipari: "Everyone says he cheats, but when has he been caught?"

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On Krzyzewski: "J.J. Redick and Grant Hill courtside in Orlando to watch Austin Rivers play. Grant drives off in his Ferrari that was valeted and pulled up to the curb as Austin is leaving. American Express commercials. USA basketball."

On Donovan: "Billy is, or at least he used to be, the best. He's the one who came up with the idea of elite camps. He's just really smart. He knows how to get things done."

On Crean: "He is so creative that he finds ways around the most difficult of rules. There is no "no" in his vocabulary, so you have to expand your mind to manage around all the rules. And he will never break one."

On Izzo: "I hope Izzo's clean. If he's not, that's the one coach that would break my heart to find out [if he was cheating]."

Takeaway (by Matt Norlander):

I'm honestly, genuinely wondering what Kentucky fans must be thinking right now. Because just last week we ran our question that revealed coaches' collective answer to who is perceived as the biggest cheater. It was, in fact, Calipari. Yet here, we've got a majority faction of coaches saying they believe Calipari doesn't cheat, that he knows the rules so well, he doesn't need to.

And that's Calipari. Giving opposite impressions to the same group of people. This one, they see that his prestige among recruits -- and the lure of UK basketball -- doesn't need the benefit of cheating. It's why he's become good buds with LeBron and knows coaching the Dominican national team can only help him with landing 2015 five-star prospect Karl Towns, who played for the team.

Calipari's reputation and aura continues to fascinate me. He's a man who's respected/hated/loved/feared/envied by coaches. Seriously, those are the five categories. Every single coach has an opinion when it comes to Cal and it fits into one of those five feelings. Here, he's seen in the shrewd light he deserves to be in. He's the last coach I'd ever choose to play Monopoly against because I know I'd be done before the game began. No one has mastered the ability of Master College Basketball Coach like Cal.

The Kentucky coach is joined by good company. There are 10 national titles, 32 Final Fours (yeah, sorry, NCAA, but I'm counting Calipari's vacated ones here) and well more than 100 NCAA tournament wins on that list. I also don't find it coincidental that each of those coaches should make the NCAA tournament next year, and in fact, all of them have expectations, minimally, of getting to the second weekend.

In a way, all the men above are seen with equal parts envy and a noble hat tip. They're the ones who've shown they can win and aren't going to be lazy or luck into it. They're ahead of the game, as it were. And notice the lack of age bias. The difference between Coach K and Pastner is more than 30 years. Judging by our sample size of coaches, these are the ones most believed to be good, clean and toeing the line of the rulebook's boundaries.

By the way, there was another astute coach suggestion/observation, but he didn't garner enough votes: Randy Bennett at Saint Mary's.

"He's always getting these Australian kids, conducting workouts all the time," one coach said. And he's right. It's Exhibit A of working hard to advance a program. It's no secret that Australia is seen as a boon for college hoops talent. But few programs have found inroads to getting recruits there like Bennett. That will change in the next five years, though.

Staying ahead of the pitchfork fan mob and constantly chasing storm of expectation in hoops is, of course, about winning. But there are many ways to find the Ws, and only a select few are cunning and able enough to work their way between what's outside the lines and dig in where nothing's been drawn yet.

Coming Friday: What issue should NCAA spend more time pursing?

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