Long before the days of NIL deals and wall-to-wall coverage on streaming platforms, NCAA basketball was a much different game than it is now. For the first half of the 1990s, basketball coaches weren’t worried about recruiting players that would only stay for one season before heading to the NBA. Because of this, the best coaches had four-year plans for each player and mostly picked out local players.
The 1990s marked a significant shift into modern basketball and some coaches were able to adapt through the entire decade. Out of the many that could be picked, these were the best NCAA basketball coaches of the 1990s.
- Lute Olson
- Jim Boeheim
- Bob Huggins
- Bob Knight
- Jerry Tarkanian
- Tom Izzo
- John Thompson
- Tubby Smith
- John Calipari
5. Rick Pitino
After leading Providence to a stunning Final Four run, Rick Pitino was one of the hottest coaches available in 1987. He found his way to the University of Kentucky, which was ineligible for postseason play due to sanctions at the time. After the 1990-91 season, Kentucky was eligible once again and Pitino took advantage.
He coached the Wildcats through the 1996-97 season, making all tournaments the team was allowed to make. That first year of eligibility resulted in an Elite Eight run. The Wildcats made it at least that far five times in six years, including a championship in 1996 and a trio of Final Fours.
4. Roy Williams
Before he headed to Chapel Hill to coach North Carolina, Roy Williams had made his mark at Kansas. Replacing Larry Brown, Williams took over at the end of the 1980s, and after one season became a national title contender. Williams spent the entire decade with the Jayhawks, winning at least a share of the Big Eight/12 Conference Championship in all but two seasons.
Williams also led Kansas to an NCAA Tournament appearance in each year of the 1990s. Though he didn’t win a championship, Williams did reach the Final Four twice and at least the Sweet 16 five times.
3. Jim Calhoun
Jim Calhoun was hired by the University of Connecticut in 1986 and got off to a slow start. When the 1990s came around, though, UConn became one of the nation’s top teams. Calhoun’s Huskies made the NCAA Tournament in all but two seasons, reaching at least the Sweet 16 on six occasions.
After flirting with a Final Four appearance so many times, Calhoun finally reached the promised land in 1999. The 34-2 Huskies didn’t just make the Final Four, either, as they ended up defeating Duke for Calhoun’s first NCAA Championship.
2. Dean Smith
It’s a testament to the greatness of Dean Smith to be one of the best 1990s coaches without even being around for the final three years of the decade. Smith, the North Carolina legend, already had decades of success heading into his final years as a coach.
Smith retired in 1997, but not until he made four Final Four appearances during the 1990s, including his final NCAA Championship in 1993. Even at the very end, Smith’s Tar Hells finished 28-7 and reached the Final Four one last time before calling it a (very fine) career.
1. Mike Krzyzewski
After struggling during his first three seasons with Duke in the early 1980s, Mike Krzyzewski found his footing in the latter half of the decade and made his Duke Blue Devils dominant for the entirety of the 1990s. In the first two seasons of the decade, Coach K and his team took home back-to-back championships.
Coach K added a pair of Elite Eight runs during the 1990s and nearly won a third title in 1994. There was one season that Duke didn’t make the tournament during the decade, and it was when Coach K missed most of the season with an injured back that needed immediate medical attention.