Coaching trees are a popular topic of conversation in the college ranks, a way to measure the aptitude of a coach’s ability to develop his assistants, not just as a way to develop his players.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski probably has the most famous coaching tree in college basketball, as a number of his assistants have gone on to high-major head coaching gigs: Johnny Dawkins, Mike Brey, Steve Wojciechowski, Chris Collins, Tommy Amaker, Jeff Capel.
Thad Matta has sent Brad Stevens, John Groce and both Sean and Archie Miller to bigger and better coaching gigs. During Larry Brown’s five-year stint at Kansas in the 80s, he had John Calipari, Bill Self, Mark Turgeon and Gregg Popovich on his staff.
The biggest coaching tree is college basketball is unquestionably Rick Pitino’s, who count nine current Division I head coaches – Tubby Smith, Mick Cronin, Herb Sendek, Kevin Willard, Marvin Menzies, Kevin Keatts, Steve Masiello, Reggie Theus and one Richard Pitino – as former assistants, not to mention Billy Donovan, who has moved on to the NBA.
You probably knew about most of those already.
What you may not know about is Bob Johnson’s coaching tree. You probably don’t even know who Bob Johnson. A former Army Ranger and the son of a four-star general that was the Chief of Staff of the Army, Johnson spent 27 years as the head coach at Emory & Henry, a little Division III program in the middle of nowhere in southwestern Virginia. He passed away in 2009 after a long battle with cancer.
It’s not a big program – as someone that played Division III hoops, I follow it fairly closely and had never heard of Emory & Henry – and it didn’t have a drastic amount of success. In 27 years, Johnson reached the NCAA tournament just five times.
But the coaches that developed under him have gone on to have quite a bit of success in their careers. Currently, there are five Division I head coaches that spent time on Johnson’s staff: Jamion Christian (Mount St. Mary’s), Nathan Davis (Bucknell), Jimmy Allen (Army), Mike Young (Wofford) and the most popular head coach in mid-major basketball today, Fort Wayne’s Jon Coffman. Coffman led his Mastadon program to a win over No. 3 Indiana on Tuesday night and then proceeded to go viral in his postgame interview when he gave a heartfelt thanks to Tom Crean simply for deciding to play the game.
“We Emory guys are proud of our start,” Christian said, and they should be. Emory, Va. is a town of roughly 1,200 people that just about doubles in size when school is in session. It’s a basketball program in one of the best conferences in Division III basketball with no recruiting base, no budget and, frankly, no reason to be any good.
And yet, here we are, in 2016, and Bob Johnson, the guy that built that program into something, has produced as many current Division I head coaches as the man that coached Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony to a gold medal in the Olympics.
One of them just beat the No. 3 team in the country.
And when one of Johnson’s coaching tree wins a game like that, they all celebrate.