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College coaches to NBA: How they've fared the past 20 years

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Rick Pitino is a famous symbol of a college coach who failed at the pro level. (USATSI)
Rick Pitino is a famous example of a college coach who failed at the pro level. (USATSI)

You knew this topic of conversation was coming. Brad Stevens up and leaves Butler in the middle of a hot summer day, and now we're going to be discussing his future as an NBA coach.

Can he succeed? College coaches failing at the pro level is a trope that's been discussed in both basketball and football over the past 20 years. But what are the modern numbers for hoops coaches who've taken the leap? What's the record for the average man who takes his first NBA head coaching job after working at the college level?

Here's the roster of men who have gone straight from college head coaches to NBA head coaches since the 1993-94 season (* denotes first head NBA job):

  • Lon Kruger* (Illinois to Atlanta Hawks): 69-122 from 2000-03, no playoffs
  • Rick Pitino (Kentucky to Boston Celtics) 102-146 from 1997-2001, no playoffs
  • John Calipari* (UMass to New Jersey Nets): 72-112 from 1996-99, 0-3 in playoffs
  • Tim Floyd* (Iowa State to Chicago Bulls): 49-190 from 1998-2002, no playoffs
  • Mike Montgomery* (Stanford to Golden State Warriors): 68-96 from 2004-06, no playoffs
  • P.J. Carlesimo* (Seton Hall to Portland Trail Blazers): 136-109 from 1994-97, 3-9 in playoffs
  • Reggie Theus* (New Mexico State to Sacramento Kings): 44-62 from 2007-09, no playoffs
  • Leonard Hamilton* (Miami Hurricanes to Washington Wizards): 19-63 in 2000-01, no playoffs

The collective record and winning percentage: 559-900 (.383) with a 3-12 playoff record over 22 seasons.

I should note with Pitino that his first NBA job, with the Knicks in the late 1980s, led to a 90-74 record over two seasons, with two playoff appearances. That tenure ended when the lure of Kentucky pulled him away from Manhattan.

To counter, there's another unlisted example that came more than 20 years ago: Hall-of-Famer Jerry Tarkanian not even lasting a season with San Antonio in 1992 (going 9-11). Point is, the NBA is a very, very different game than college.

It's a bit of a fool's errand to compare one man's situation to another, and that seems especially worth noting considering we're talking about Brad Stevens here. He's a different kind of coach who's won under unprecedented circumstances, really, and has a tactical approach to the game that's new age and in line with evolving NBA concepts of how to build a team and where to emphasize what components in order to win.

In short: the NBA in 1997 with Pitino is not the NBA in 2013 with Stevens. On the surface, he seems more built to win, even if Boston is doing something of a rewipe on its franchise. Three years in, if Stevens hasn't made a playoff run and is struggling to duplicate what he did in college, then he'll prove the pattern once more.

And if not? He'll just be Brad Stevens, proving people wrong again and basically looking like one of the most competent basketball minds of his generation, regardless of the level that he's coaching at.

Worst-case scenario? He can always go back to college. And no matter what he does in the NBA, just about every program available would take him.

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