College Blog Blog Network

LEEInks list: NBA coaches who started in New England

06.10.10 at 7:55 am ET

As the Celtics continue to battle the Lakers in the NBA finals, news has surfaced that C’s assistant coach Tom Thibodeau will be named the next head coach of the Chicago Bulls. While it will be tough to see Doc Rivers‘ right-hand guy depart after three successful years with the team, many may not realize he got his coaching start here in Massachusetts. Although it was years ago and before he became a defensive mastermind in the NBA, Thibodeau was once the head coach at Salem State College, his alma mater. In honor of Thibodeau’s well-deserved opportunity with the Bulls, here is a list of current or former NBA head coaches who once were college head coaches in New England, ranked in order of their success in the NBA.

10. tie, Satch Sanders, John Kuester and Doggie Julian

Sanders won eight NBA championships with the Celtics before he took the head coaching position at Harvard. His four-year stint with the Crimson (1973-77) led him back to the Celtics, where he served as an assistant to Tom Heinsohn, then head coach for parts of two seasons (1977-78 and 1978-79), although he had an uninspiring 23-39 record.

Kuester was an assistant to Rick Pitino at Boston University before he took over for him in 1983 to become the youngest head coach in NCAA Division 1 history. From there he has spent time with eight NBA teams, including the Celtics, Magic and Cavaliers, mainly serving as an assistant coach. He just finished his first season as head coach of the Detroit Pistons with a record of 27-55.

Julian may be most well known for his coaching stint with Holy Cross, where he led the Crusaders to the NCAA title in 1947. One of the members of that team, Bob Cousy, helped Julian come close to winning the title again the following season, but HC lost in the semifinals. He was courted by the Celtics after his time at Holy Cross but found very little success in the NBA, amassing a less-than-stellar 47-81 record before being let go in 1950. He then returned to college, guiding the Dartmouth program from 1950-67.

9. John Calipari

After taking over the UMass program in 1988, Calipari turned the team around, culminating in an appearance in the 1996 Final Four (since vacated by the NCAA). Calipari then tried to pull off another turnaround in the NBA, with the New Jersey Nets. After a 26-win season in his first year, Calipari got the team to 43 wins the next season, barely qualifying for the playoffs. But when New Jersey started the lockout-delayed 1998-99 season at 3-17, Calipari was fired with an overall record of 72-112. He returned to college and has since found great success (and more NCAA scrutiny) at Memphis and Kentucky.

8. P.J. Carlesimo

He received his first head coaching job at Southern New Hampshire University (then called New Hampshire College) in 1975-76. Although he only stayed for one year, he had a fairly successful stint, guiding the Penmen to a 14-13 record and winning the Mayflower Conference championship in the process. After stints at Wagner and Seton Hall, he began his NBA career in 1994 with the Portland Trail Blazers, but after failing to get past the first round of the playoffs, he was fired after the 1996-97 season. He then coached the Golden State Warriors, spent time as an assistant under Gregg Popovich with the Spurs, and found another head coaching job with the Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder before being fired 13 games into his second season of 2008-09. Carlesimo, whose career NBA coaching record is 204-296, may be best known for an incident when Warriors guard Latrell Sprewell attacked and choked him in practice during the 1997-98 season. He currently is an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors.

7. Bob Cousy

Cousy retired from the Celtics at the age of 35, having won six NBA championships and countless awards. With his legacy preserved and many year’s ahead of him, Cousy decided to try his hand at coaching less than a year out of retirement. He joined Boston College in 1963, leading the Eagles to the postseason five out of his six years, and even getting them to the Elite Eight in 1967. He was named New England Coach of the Year during the 1968-69 season and accumulated 117 wins during his tenure with the team. Six years was enough, however, and he decided the NBA was his ultimate calling. Cousy then became the head coach of the Cincinnati Royals, briefly coaching fellow NBA legend Oscar Robertson and making seven token appearances as a player to boost ticket sales. His underwhelming 141-209 record over five-plus seasons led to his departure 22 games into the 1973-74 season, after the Royals had moved and become the Kansas City-Omaha Kings.

6. Jim Lynam

Lynam first began coaching basketball with Fairfield University from 1968-70. His brightest moment as a head coach can be traced back to 1981 when, as leader of the St. Joseph’s Hawks, his team had a huge upset victory over No. 1 seeded DePaul in the NCAA tournament. Lynam has served as the head coach for the Washington Bullets, Philadelphia 76ers and the San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers, finishing with a 328-392 record. He currently is an assistant coach for the 76ers.

5. Joe Mullaney

Mullaney started out with Providence College from 1965-69. He then decided to try his hand at the professional ranks, coaching in both the NBA and ABA. After moderate success with the Los Angeles Lakers from 1969-71 (94-70), he decided to try the ABA, where he was named Coach of the Year during the 1974 season with the Utah Stars. He returned to the NBA briefly to coach the Buffalo Braves in 1977. After he finished coaching professional basketball with a 322-244 record and had stints in Italy and with Brown University, he decided to end his coaching career where it started: at Providence College.

4. Rick Pitino

Pitino got his first head coaching gig with Boston University, where he went 91-51 during an impressive five-year stint, becoming the most successful basketball coach in BU history. Named New England Coach of the Year twice while at BU, he took the team to the NCAA tournament in 1983 for the first time in 24 years. He also had a successful two-year stint at Providence, taking the Friars to the Final Four in 1987. That led to a job as head coach of the Knicks, whom he coached to a 90-74 record in two seasons, the second of which featured a division title. He has since gone back and forth between the collegiate level and the pros; including a stint as the president and head coach of the Celtics from 1997-98 until he quit in the middle of the 2000-01 season. He had little success in Boston (102-146 record) and left for Louisville, where he currently is the head coach.

3. Stan Van Gundy

After getting his first taste of head coaching at Vermont’s Castleton State College in 1983, Van Gundy took over UMass-Lowell in 1988, inheriting a team that was coming off a Division 2 national title but had graduated a ton of talent. His four years in Lowell led to a mediocre 54-60 record, but his overall record as a college head coach was an impressive 135-92. He went on to spend 12 years in the Miami Heat organization, becoming the head coach from 2003-05. He joined the Orlando Magic in 2007, after Florida coach Billy Donovan decided to back out of his deal with the team. Van Gundy has won at least 50 games in each of his first three seasons in Orlando to improve his overall NBA coaching record to 282-149, and he took the Magic to the NBA finals in 2009.

2. K.C. Jones

After a Hall of Fame career with the Boston Celtics, during which he won eight world championships, Jones began his coaching career at Brandeis University. During his tenure with the Judges (1967-70) he went 34-32. His first head coaching job in the NBA was with the Washington Bullets, a three-year stint that included an appearance in the 1975 NBA finals. Jones took over for Bill Fitch in Boston in 1983 and guided Larry Bird and the Celtics to championship seasons in 1984 and 1986. His coaching record in both the ABA and NBA is 552-306.

1. Chuck Daly

Replacing Bob Cousy as head coach of Boston College in 1969, Daly went 11-13 and 15-11 in his two seasons with the Eagles. His first head coaching duties in the NBA were forgettable, as he was fired from the Cavaliers after taking over midseason in 1981-82 and going 9-32. He is most well known for guiding the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons of the 1980s and early ’90s to two NBA championships. He also was the head coach of the U.S. Dream Team that won the gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics. He finished his NBA coaching career with stops in New Jersey and Orlando, resulting in an impressive 638-437 cumulative record in the NBA.

Read More: Bob Cousy, celtics, Chuck Daly, Doggie Julian