In college basketball, fans tend to obsess over bitter rivalries. Of course, the thing about college basketball rivalries is that players come and go. Some of the real rivalries in college basketball are between coaches rather than players. After all, it’s the coaches who are matching wits year after year, constantly trying to get the best of each other. In recognition of that, let’s take a look at some of the great coaching rivalries in college basketball history.
Bob Knight vs Gene Keady
These two were longtime head coaches at the two biggest programs in the basketball-loving state of Indiana, so it was only natural that a rivalry developed between the two. The Indiana-Purdue rivalry has been around for a long time but it’s never been as intense as it was when these two were the coaches.
Keady had a lot to prove when he arrived at Purdue, but during the 1980s and 90s, he built the Boilermakers into one of the Big Ten’s preeminent programs alongside Knight and the Hoosiers. That led to countless head-to-head battles between the two coaches with big stakes. When all was said and done, Keady had a 21-20 record in head-to-head record against Knight, showing just how competitive this rivalry was during that time.
Jim Boeheim vs John Thompson
More than any other rivalry in the conference, the Syracuse vs Georgetown rivalry helped to build the Big East. For many years, Boeheim and Thompson were at the center of it. The rivalry between the players occasionally led to fisticuffs while neither coach was afraid to go to war with their words.
Boeheim has notoriously thin skin and Thompson knew just how to get him riled up. After Thompson retired, there was great respect and a friendship between the two legendary coaches. But in the heyday of the Big East, there was a lot of bad blood between Boeheim and Thompson that would sometimes boil over.
Dean Smith vs Mike Krzyzewski
It’s hard to find a better rivalry than North Carolina and Duke, and these two coaches were at the center of it for nearly two decades. Smith’s Tar Heels were the big brothers on Tobacco Road for a long time until Coach K got things rolling in Durham.
It was Krzyzewski elevating the Blue Devils to the national stage and always feeling like Duke had something to prove against Smith and UNC that made this rivalry what it is today. Deep down, there was great respect and a friendship that developed after Smith retired. But for a long time, the rivalry between the coaches was nearly as fierce as the one between the players.
Rick Pitino vs John Calipari
If these two coaches have genuine respect for one another deep down, it’d be news to us. The history of these two dates back a long time to when Calipari was a player at camps where Pitino worked as a coach. There is also a story that Pitino helped Calipari get the head coach job at UMass in 1988, although Calipari doesn’t recall it happening that way. Keep in mind that they met in the 1996 Final Four with Pitino’s Kentucky team beating Calipari and UMass.
There was also a couple of years when Pitino coached the Celtics while Calipari coached the Nets. They also crossed paths with Memphis and Louisville. Then came the days with Pitino at Louisville and Calipari at Kentucky, which sent this coaching rivalry into overdrive. For years, they were the two head coaches in one of the most intense in-state rivalries in college basketball. It became clear there was more contempt than respect for one another. Things came to ahead in the 2012 Final Four when Calipari’s Kentucky team beat Louisville in the most important showdown between these two great rivals.