How recent coaches have fared after going from college to NBA

Celtics coach Brad Stevens is the prime example of a former college coach who has done well in the NBA.

John Beilein will be entering the NBA for the first time next season, as the Cavaliers whisked him away from the University of Michigan.

Beilein, 66, has coached at the college level for three decades, leading West Virginia to the Elite Eight (2005) and Michigan to the national championship game on two occasions (2013, 2018). Now, he will have to coach at least twice as many games in a season than he ever did in one season in college.

Here is a look at how some other recent college-to-the-NBA coaches fared:

Brad Stevens (Butler to Boston Celtics): While the Celtics underachieved this season, Stevens is widely regarded among players and executives as one of the league’s best. The Celtics have been competitive and occasional contenders under Stevens. His first season was an adjustment, but he’s been golden since, compiling a 270-222 regular season record.

Billy Donovan (Florida to Oklahoma City Thunder): Unlike Stevens, Donovan actually played in the NBA for a moment. But most of Donovan’s career was spent coaching in the college ranks. The Thunder lost Kevin Durant in free agency, and have lost in the first round of the playoffs twice since then. But no one is really questioning if Donovan is qualified. He’s had little issue with the transition. Donovan is 199-129 in four NBA seasons.

Reggie Theus (New Mexico State to Sacramento Kings): The odds seemed to be against Theus when he took over the Kings in 2007, as the franchise was rebuilding and merely looking for a “name” to help draw fans. That rarely works, and it didn’t in this case — as Theus went 44-62 and never made it to the playoffs.

Rick Pitino (Kentucky to Boston Celtics): Who can forget who Pitino uttered the line about Larry Bird not “walking through that door?” Pitino took the job with a lot of confidence, perhaps a degree of cockiness, but things went south quickly. From 1996-99 he went 72-112 and 0-3 in the playoffs. Pitino had loads of success while coaching in college, but his stint in the NBA was mostly a flop.

John Calipari (Massachusetts to the New Jersey Nets): With all the success he’s had in college, it’s easy to forget Calipari had a stint in the NBA. Calipari was a lot younger and a lot less experienced, and things didn’t go so well. He went 72-112 and also was 0-3 in the playoffs.

Jerry Tarkanian (UNLV to San Antonio Spurs): This was perhaps the worst college-to-pros leap in NBA history. Tarkanian’s biggest strength at UNLV was his ability to recruit. He didn’t seem to grasp that in the NBA, the front office, and not the coach, determines who is on the roster. Tarkanian last just 20 games in 1992, finishing with a 9-11 record.


  • Tim Floyd (Iowa State to Chicago Bulls): 49-190 from 1998-2002, no playoffs. Michael Jordan called him “Pink” Floyd.
  • Lon Kruger (Illinois to Atlanta Hawks): Kruger went 69-122 from 2000-03. The Hawks never made the playoffs.
  • Mike Montgomery (Stanford to Golden State Warriors): 68-96 from 2004-06, no playoffs.
  • P.J. Carlesimo (Seton Hall to Portland Trail Blazers): 136-109 from 1994-97, 3-9 in playoffs.
  • Leonard Hamilton (Miami Hurricanes to Washington Wizards): 19-63 in 2000-01, no playoff

1 Comment on "How recent coaches have fared after going from college to NBA"

  1. Great summary Mr Amico!

    Fact that Brad Stevens sort of hit the ground running when he made the jump is very encouraging.

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