ARLINGTON, Texas -- Billy Donovan and John Calipari were always going to live this life -- one way or another, at one place or another, because they were accurately labeled college coaching stars remarkably early in their careers.
Donovan was 28 when he landed his first Division I head-coaching job.
Calipari was 29.
Each has a fascinating story that's been told. But neither man's career was contingent on timing, luck or coincidence. Both were always on a path for high-major success.
At the other end of the spectrum is Bo Ryan and Kevin Ollie.
Ryan and Ollie are talented and obviously wonderful coaches, but, in this world, that's not always enough to get you where you want to be or even ought to be. Oftentimes, it takes something happening that's random and totally unrelated to you, and a great example of that in recent years is how Doug McDermott ended up playing for his father, Greg McDermott, in Omaha at Creighton.
How'd that happen?
Here are the random steps in that process:
- Oregon had to fire Ernie Kent in March 2010.
- Gonzaga's Mark Few had to turn down Oregon.
- Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon had to turn down Oregon.
- Lots and lots of other coaches had to turn down Oregon.
- Then Oregon had to offer its job to Creighton's Dana Altman.
In other words, Doug McDermott playing for his father at Creighton only happened because Oregon opted to fire its coach in the same year that the eventual National Player of the Year was graduating high school, at which point Oregon started a search that eventually led to the coach at Creighton, which eventually opened a position at Creighton. Without all of that, Greg McDermott would've remained at Iowa State for at least another year while Doug McDermott enrolled at Northern Iowa, and, boy, isn't that weird to think about now?
I've always been fascinated by these random developments that alter the course of things.
There are similar moments in my life and career.
I'm sure there are similar moments in your life and career.
Either way, there are undeniably similar moments in the lives and careers of Bo Ryan and Kevin Ollie, and those moments are worth detailing as the 66-year-old Wisconsin coach and 41-year-old UConn coach prepare to work their first Final Fours on Saturday in games on opposite sides of the bracket. Again, Billy Donovan and John Calipari? They were always going to be here, one way or another, at one place or another. But Ryan and Ollie's roads to this Final Four weren't quite as clear, straight or identifiable early.
John Calipari had been to two Final Fours and six Elite Eights with three different schools -- and coached in the NBA -- by the age of 51. It'll be another 10 years before Kevin Ollie is 51. And Billy Donovan, with two national titles and four Final Fours, won't be 51 until 2017.
I bring this up because Bo Ryan was 51 when he got his first Division I job.
He was a junior high coach, a high school coach and a college assistant before spending 15 years at Wisconsin-Platteville, a Division III school where he had so much success -- and by so much success, I mean four national titles -- that Milwaukee gave Ryan his first Division I opportunity. At 51. Which is three years older than Donovan is now.
Two years later, Wisconsin's Dick Bennett abruptly resigned three games into the 2000-01 season, at which point assistant Brad Soderberg took over on an interim basis. Soderberg led the Badgers to the NCAA Tournament, and there was a segment of the fanbase that wanted him to keep the job permanently. But Pat Richter, Wisconsin's AD at the time, wanted to hire somebody unconnected to Bennett, and that somebody was ... Rick Majerus.
That's the coach Richter initially targeted.
But Majerus, battling health issues, removed his name from consideration pretty quickly. After that, Seton Hall's Tommy Amaker was reportedly considered for the opening, but he instead landed at Michigan. And if any of these things would've gone the other way -- if Bennett didn't retire when he retired, if Majerus would've been healthy and anxious to pursue Wisconsin, if Michigan wouldn't have needed a new coach at the exact same time that Wisconsin needed a new coach -- who knows where Ryan would be today?
"When you're coaching a team, no matter what level, what league, wherever you are, and some things go well, it's always in the back of your mind," Ryan said. "You know, 'I wonder if this can happen somewhere else?'"
We now know the answer to that question for Ryan -- and the answer is yes.
But it took a long time and some random developments to get us to this point.
Kevin Ollie appeared in an NBA game for the final time on April 24, 2010, when he took one shot and missed it in five minutes of action for the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Playoffs. Roughly two months later, Jim Calhoun had an opening on his staff because of an NCAA investigation that led to the forced resignation of assistant Pat Sellers. That position was offered to Ollie. He accepted.
But what if Calhoun wouldn't have had an opening on staff?
"I would have probably [stayed] with the Thunder because I had an opportunity to stay with the Thunder in different capacities," Ollie said. "Me and [Thunder GM] Sam Presti are great friends, and he wanted me to come back and be a coach or in the front office with him."
If UConn would not have cheated to sign Nate Miles, an NCAA investigation into his recruitment would've never been launched, which means Sellers would've never been forced to resign, which means Calhoun would not have had an opening on his staff at the exact moment Ollie was retiring from the NBA as a player. Then Calhoun would've never been able to hire Ollie, who would've never been on staff when Calhoun retired, meaning Ollie would've almost certainly never replaced Calhoun before the 2012-13 season because he would've been working in the NBA in some form rather than on Calhoun's bench at UConn.
So on behalf of UConn fans, I say, thank you Nate Miles.
Oddly, UConn is being led by Ollie only because of Miles' dirty recruitment.
And then there's this ...
"If [UConn] would have changed [coaches to] someone from outside [of the so-called UConn family], I think [Shabazz Napier] would have [transferred]," Napier's AAU coach, Mo Vasquez, told CBSSports.com on Friday. "[But] Ollie [has] been great with him."
So remember all of this Saturday night -- when Ollie coaches in his first Final Four at 6:09 ET, and then again when Ryan coaches in his first Final Four at 8:49 ET. They'll be in this position for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is because they're good at their jobs. But what if Majerus would've been healthier in 2001? What if Michigan didn't target Amaker in 2001? What if Miles never connected with a former UConn manager turned agent who got the Huskies caught in a scandal that led to Calhoun sacrificing an assistant in 2010?
Then this Final Four would look a lot different.
Life is funny like that.