Best First Seasons For Head Coaches In NCAA Men's Basketball History


Apr 3, 2022

First-year head coaches often don’t have much expectation in collegiate sports, but sometimes they can catch lightning in a bottle and bring their team to unprecedented heights beyond belief. In light of head coach Hubert Davis leading North Carolina to the National Championship Game in his first season at the helm, we run down the five best first seasons for head coaches in NCAA men’s basketball history.

Best First Seasons for Head Coaches in NCAA History

1) Hubert Davis (North Carolina, 2022)

Hubert Davis already makes this list no matter what happens in the national title game. The 51-year-old has more than exceeded expectations in his debut season, but what puts the icing on the cake is to beat your rival in the first-ever postseason meeting with them while retiring their head coach of 42 years whom many consider the greatest of all time. It doesn’t get much better than that and if he can top it off with a national championship, it’s hands down the best debut season we have ever seen from a head coach in NCAA history.

2) Steve Fisher (Michigan, 1989)

Fisher only had an interim tag and basically took over just for the postseason, but we’ll count it because he is the only head coach to guide his team to a national championship in his first season (for now). Moreover, it remains Michigan’s lone National Championship in men’s basketball and his ability to keep the Wolverines focused following the abrupt exit of former head coach Bill Frieder to Arizona State was a testament to how good of a coach he would be for years to come (see, Fab 5).

3) Bill Guthridge (North Carolina, 1998)

Guthridge only lasted three seasons with the Tar Heels as he was deemed to be a placeholder for head coach Roy Williams (who eventually came after three tough Matt Doherty seasons), but he certainly made the most of his time at the helm. He brought North Carolina to two Final Fours including in his first season as head coach after inheriting Dean Smith’s program following the legend’s unexpected retirement. Guthridge was flawless in the transition by notching 34 wins in a single season, tying the most by a North Carolina team in the program’s history.

4) Bill Hodges (Indiana State, 1979)

Hodges was the man who recruited NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird to come to Indiana State when he was an assistant and ultimately became the man to coach him as well. Prior to the start of Bird’s season year in 1978-79, head coach Bob King suffered a brain aneurysm which left Hodges as the team’s new head coach. The Sycamores would go on to win 33 straight games on their way to the National Championship Game where they would fall short to Magic Johnson and Michigan State. Hodges had a generational talent in Bird on his roster, but to go that deep into the NCAA Tournament as a first-year head coach out of the Missouri Valley Conference is something to speak of. Hodges would go on to win just 34 games over the next three seasons but his magical run in 1979 forever cements his place in NCAA history.

5) Larry Brown (UCLA, 1980)

The 1979-80 UCLA basketball team technically didn’t go to a Final Four in head coach Larry Brown’s first season after being rescinded due to fielding ineligible players, but Brown still makes the list because of how impressive it was to do so regardless of eligibility. The team had plenty of freshmen and despite failing to win the conference for the first time in 14 years, Brown still led the Bruins to the National Championship Game where they would eventually fall to Louisville.

Thumbnail photo via Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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