The Atlantic Coast Conference’s coaching Big Four completed its ascension into history on Wednesday night. In an under-the-radar matchup with Cleveland State, Louisville Cardinals coach Rick Pitino earned the 700th victory of his college coaching career, making him the 20th coach to ever reach the 700-win plateau at the Division I level.
Already the owner of two national championships at two different schools — Kentucky and Louisville — Pitino’s ascension to college basketball’s exclusive coaching club was only a matter of time. The 62-year-old New York City native has won 20 or more games in 22 of his 28 full seasons on a Division I sideline.
The sole reason behind the delay: Pitino’s 192 other coaching victories at the NBA level. He missed college seasons while coaching the Knicks and Celtics. All told, Pitino’s Hall of Famer’s career boasts 892 wins and counting.
Pitino joins Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, the all-time Division I wins leader, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and North Carolina’s Roy Williams to make the ACC the first Division I conference to boast four active coaches with at least 700 wins. Each coach is also a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame — SMU’s Larry Brown is the only other active member — and they have combined for nine NCAA titles, 29 Final Four trips and 84 conference regular-season or tournament titles. It’s a star-studded cast.
"I don’t think it’s the coaches as much as the programs when you look at this," Pitino said last month at the ACC Tipoff in Charlotte. "Syracuse, Louisville, North Carolina and Duke â no matter how you would rate it, you would put those four schools in the top 10 of basketball traditions all time … And I don’t think any of those coaches are considering retirement anytime soon, so it’s going to be around for a while."
The 2012-13 Big East conference boasted the previous high with three active coaches owning 700 or more wins: Boeheim, Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun and West Virginia’s Bob Huggins.
Along with Pitino, Krzyzewski, Boeheim, Williams and Huggins, Coastal Carolina’s Cliff Ellis and Utah State’s Stew Morrill are the only other active coaches with more than 600 Division I wins.
Pitino’s win total looks like it will only continue to swell. Led athletic forward Montrezl Harrell, the Cardinals are once again a defensive juggernaut and efficient machine, jumping out to a 5-0 start for the fifth straight season. Louisville has averaged more than 25 wins in Pitino’s 13 seasons, including eighth straight NCAA tourney appearances.
The next-closest Division I coach for Pitino to pass would be UTEP legend Don Haskins, who won 719 games in El Paso from 1961 to 1999.