While NBA players can be lured by fat pay checks and lucrative bonuses, college basketball players are offered scholarships. Don’t get me wrong, a free education at some of the country’s top academic schools is nothing to scoff at. However, student-athletes wanting to go pro normally leave their education behind to pursue a career in the NBA.
With that being said, it’s very difficult for schools and their coaches to maintain a winning program with players transferring and leaving for the NBA Draft after every season. Despite the challenges, a handful of NCAA men’s college basketball coaches have learned how to win no matter where they are.
Here’s the top five winningest coaches who are actively coaching Division 1 programs. Note: Win totals are prior to the 2020-21 season.
Cliff Ellis – Coastal Carolina (858 Wins)
While many expected to see Kentucky’s John Calipari within the top five, Coastal Carolina head coach Cliff Ellis actually has over 100 more wins than the Wildcat leader.
Ellis began his Division 1 head coaching tenure at South Alabama from 1972-75. He then spent a decade at Clemson University followed by another 10 years at Auburn. He has been the head coach at Coastal since 2007.
Ellis’ track record demonstrates he can win anywhere. He ranks first in wins at both Clemson and South Alabama and second on the win charts at Auburn and Coastal Carolina. He’s been coach of the year in three different conferences and won the AP’s Coach of the Year in 1999, when he took Auburn to the Sweet 16.
Bob Huggins – West Virginia (879 Wins)
West Virginia’s Bob Huggins began his head coaching career at Walsh University, a NCAA Division II team in Canton, Ohio. After coaching the Cavaliers from 1980-83 and a brief stint as an assistant at UCF, Huggins took the head coaching job at Akron University.
He saw his greatest success at the University of Cincinnati, where he reached the Final Four and Elite Eight in back-to-back years in the early 90s.
After 16 seasons at Cincinnati, Huggins took the head coaching job at Kansas State in 2006. The following year he left for West Virginia, where he currently has a .648 winning percentage. His career winning percentage sits at .704.
Roy Williams – North Carolina (885)
North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams sits just ahead of Huggins with 885 career wins. In 1978, former Tar Heels coach Dean Smith hired Williams to be his assistant. After 10 years under Smith’s tutelage, Williams accepted the head coaching job at the University of Kansas.
After just three seasons, Williams had the Jayhawks in the national title game. While at Kansas, he reached four Final Fours and two national championship games. Following his 15th season as the Jayhawks head coach, Williams decided to head back home to North Carolina to help a struggling Tar Heels program.
As North Carolina’s head coach, Williams has won three national championships and boasts a .753 winning percentage. His career .777 winning percentage is best among active coaches.
Jim Boeheim – Syracuse (964 Wins)
Unlike the first three coaches on our list, Syracuse University’s Jim Boeheim has spent his entire coaching career at one school. He was an assistant from 1969-76 before taking the helm.
Boeheim currently sits approximately 30 wins away from becoming the fifth men’s NCAA basketball coach to win 1,000 games.
During his time at Syracuse, he led the team to 34 NCAA Tournaments, five Final Fours and three national championship games. His lone title came in 2003 with star Carmelo Anthony.
Mike Krzyzewski – Duke (1,157 Wins)
In what comes as a surprise to no one, the winningest active coach in NCAA men’s basketball is none other than Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. After coaching five years at his alma mater, Army, Coach K moved to North Carolina to become the head coach of the Duke Blue Devils in 1980.
Krzyzewski went on to reach the Final Four seven times in nine years between 1986 and 1994. He won back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992 and added three more championships in 2001, 2010, and 2015.
With his more than 1,150 wins, Coach K is the winningest coach of all time, not just among active coaches. Many consider him to be the greatest coach that men’s college basketball has ever seen.