Candid Coaches: Who is the most underappreciated good head coach in college basketball?

CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander surveyed more than 100 coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, the coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics in the sport. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be posting the results on 10 questions we asked them.

The handful of active Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coaches at big-brand schools -- like Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, North Carolina's Roy Williams, Kentucky's John Calipari, Kansas' Bill Self and Michigan State's Tom Izzo -- tend to get most of the attention in college basketball because they're legends who still operate at the top of the sport. But know this: There are terrific tacticians at every level, in every league, guys who could also be household names throughout the country if they ever landed a blue-blood job.

Some have been to Final Fours.

Others have not.

But there are plenty of coaches who are undeniably better than their national reputations suggest. So given that nobody knows coaches better than coaches, and in attempt to identify the men who might not get the credit they deserve, we asked more than 100 college coaches the following question:

Who is the most underappreciated good head coach in college basketball?

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CBS Sports / Mike Meredith

Bob McKillop (Davidson)

10.5 percent

Ed Cooley (Providence)

9.5 percent

Rick Byrd (Belmont)

7.6 percent

Mike Brey (Notre Dame)

5.7 percent

Brad Brownell (Clemson)

5.7 percent

Mick Cronin (Cincinnati)

5.7 percent

Bob Huggins (West Virginia)

3.8 percent

Bruce Weber (Kansas State)

3.8 percent

John Beilein (Michigan)

2.9 percent

Lon Kruger (Oklahoma)

2.9 percent

Matt Painter (Purdue)

2.9 percent

Mike Young (Wofford)

2.9 percent

(Note: Every coach listed received at least three votes.)

Quotes that stood out

  • "Bob McKillop was a great coach prior to Steph Curry. However, Steph gave him a lot national attention. He is one of the only coaches that could jump from the Southern Conference to the Atlantic 10 and win the regular season in his first year. They have been able to get better players since Curry was there. But he still does the most with the least."
  • "Ed Cooley probably isn't underappreciated within the Big East or the northeast in general -- but I am not sure if nationally people realize how good this guy is and how good he has things rolling at Providence. To get to five straight NCAA Tournaments at Providence is an unbelievable accomplishment. Once he pushes through to the next level and gets to a Sweet 16, and people really take a closer look, they will see how good he is."
  • "Mike Brey doesn't get the best recruits every year, but he's in the NCAA Tournament [almost] every year. And he does it in the same league as Duke and North Carolina. He's very comfortable in his own skin. He's perfect for the job he's got."
  • "Brad Brownell is of the best X-and-O guys in terms of defensive strategy. Very creative and innovative on offense. He's one of those guys who will draw something up in the sand out of a huddle and do something you've never practiced before. It will be an out-of-bounds play or late-game situation. Never practiced it, never done it, but makes guys believe it will work. Some coaches always just do what they have in the playbook. He can improvise."
  • "Mick Cronin doesn't get the credit he deserves. He had to replace a legend. That's not easy. And he inherited nothing. But now he goes to the Tournament every season. Wins every season. Doesn't get high-rated guys. But he gets his guys. Great evaluator. His teams have an identity. They know who they are, and that's because of him."

The takeaway

To the extent that Bob McKillop's name resonates nationally, it's because he coached Stephen Curry in college for three seasons and made the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament in what was his second year with the future two-time NBA Most Valuable Player. In fact, if a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer goes in, the Wildcats would've beaten Kansas and advanced to the Final Four. And I've always believed that scenario would've led to Bill Self, under scrutiny, bouncing to Oklahoma State.

But I digress.

My initial point: That run in the 2008 NCAA Tournament put McKillop on the national radar. But the truth is that he'd been really good at Davidson long before Curry enrolled. And, similarly, he's been really good in his post-Curry career.

Coaches know.

McKillop's resume features 11 Southern Conference regular-season titles -- five before Curry, three with Curry, three more after Curry. But, like one coach told us, his greatest achievement might be how his program seamlessly transitioned to the Atlantic 10 before the 2014-15 season and immediately won that league's regular-season title. Not even Brad Stevens, for all his greatness, did that when Butler moved from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 before the 2012-13 season. But McKillop, at this private liberal arts college with an enrollment of only around 2,000, did. He secured the A-10 trophy in 2013 and made the eighth NCAA Tournament of his career.

Then he made the NCAA Tournament again last season.

So that's nine.

McKillop has been the NABC National Coach of the Year once, his league's Coach of the Year nine different times. And multiple Atlantic 10 coaches have told me that the Davidson game is annually the toughest scout on their schedule because McKillop's teams always play smart, and because nobody else plays like McKillop's teams play. Beyond that, I can tell you, from spending time with the Atlantic 10 coaches at their meetings in Florida earlier this year, that McKillop is revered by his colleagues. He's not the biggest voice in the room. But his presence is undeniable. He has the respect of the people he competes against. And the results of this poll suggest that respect actually transcends conferences and resonates at all levels of the sport.

CBS Sports' Candid Coaches series for college basketball

CBS Sports' Candid Coaches series for college football

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Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

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