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Candid Coaches: Which college basketball conference, top to bottom, has the best stable of coaches?

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 nine questions they were asked.

Most Power 5 athletic departments, thanks to lucrative media rights deals signed by their conferences, have more money than they know what to do with these days. So they build incredible facilities, travel in first-class ways and invest heavily in coaches. If they have an unsuccessful one, they buy him out and hire somebody else. If they have a good one, they do whatever it takes to keep him. And the byproduct of this aggressive approach is a collection of coaches in the wealthiest conferences that’s arguably as impressive as ever. With that in mind, we asked more than 100 college coaches the following question:

Which conference, top to bottom, has the best stable of coaches?

Conference Votes
ACC 39%
Big 12 23%
SEC 19%
Big Ten 16%
Big East 2%
MVC 1%

Quotes that stood out

  • “The ACC is my answer. A stable of Hall of Fame coaches and titans of the game. But the SEC is in the conversation. From top to bottom, the SEC may have the most amount of proven coaches.”
  • It’s the Big 12 slightly over the Big Ten. The Big 12 has less teams so they have less guys on the lower end of the spectrum. Both leagues have heavy coaching talent in the top half, or three-fourths, of the league. And the Big Ten also has two new coaches in Fred Hoiberg and Juwan Howard — [both of whom] I think will end up being outstanding hires. … And the Big 12 has guys who have all been through the grind of that conference and know how to navigate it. Plus, you better be able to coach or you will get embarrassed going into those rabid Big 12 environments night in and night out.”
  • “The Big 12 doesn’t have a bad coach in its league.”
  • “To me, it’s the SEC, and it’s not close. Almost half of the coaches in the league have made the Final Four. And I know Stack [Jerry Stackhouse] is new [at Vanderbilt]. But everybody else in the league has already proven they can either really coach or really recruit or both. … Who are the bad coaches in the SEC? There might not be any.”
  • “[The] Big Ten [has the best coaches]. Matt Painter is one of the best in the business and doesn’t get a lot of credit for it. Now it has Fred [Hoiberg], [Tom} Izzo, I love [Steve] Pikiell at Rutgers. The guy who is underrated, and it’s a tough job at Penn State, is [Pat] Chambers. Unbelievable motivator — and his kids play hard as hell. Chris Collins and Archie [Miller] are good. Shit, I didn’t realize how deep that league really was.”
  • “The ACC has three Hall of Fame coaches [Jim Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams], the winningest coach of all-time [Krzyzewski], maybe the best coach in the game right now [Tony Bennett] and a bunch of other really good guys. Not sure how the answer could be any other conference.”

The takeaway

The Atlantic Coast Conference, as many coaches pointed out, has three of the five Hall of Fame coaches still active in college basketball (Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim) and the coach of the reigning national champions (Tony Bennett). That’s four men with 10 combined national titles. So there’s no denying the ACC has the strongest, and most accomplished, coaches at the top. And guys like Jim Larranaga, Mike Brey, Leonard Hamilton, Chris Mack, Jeff Capel and Kevin Keatts, just to name a few, obviously provide plenty of coaching depth — which is why the ACC is a totally reasonable answer to the question we asked.

But so is the Big 12 and/or the SEC.

Those two conferences combined to get 42% of the vote — and understandably so considering you can reasonably argue both have a lower percentage of on-the-hot-seat coaches than the ACC in its current form. Do you realize 60 percent of the 10 Big 12 coaches (Chris Beard, Bob Huggins, Lon Kruger, Bill Self, Shaka Smart and Bruce Weber) have made a Final Four at their current school, a former school or both? That’s strong. And no league has upgraded its stable of coaches over the past decade more than the SEC — a conference where six men with Final Four appearances (Rick Barnes, John Calipari, Tom Crean, Ben Howland, Frank Martin, Bruce Pearl) on their resumes now work. As one coach highlighted, yes, Jerry Stackhouse is an unproven commodity at Vanderbilt. But literally every other coach in the conference has already shown himself to be a high-level recruiter or coach or both. In fact, if you get bored, go make a personal ranking of SEC coaches. What you’ll find, no matter your order, is that somebody really good is going to be outside of your top 10. That’s a testament, more than anything else, to the commitment SEC schools have made to men’s basketball in recent years. And it’s starting to produce tangible results — evidence being that seven SEC programs made last season’s NCAA Tournament, and five are now in the CBS Sports preseason Top 25 And 1.

For what it’s worth, the Pac-12 got zero votes.

It was the only Power 5 league that didn’t receive a single vote just five months after only placing three schools in the NCAA Tournament, none of which were higher than a No. 9 seed. But let the record show that four of the top 11 freshman classes that just enrolled belong to Pac-12 institutions, according to 247Sports. That suggests the conference is positioned for a bounce-back. So if we ask this question again in a few years, perhaps the results will look a little different.

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