Candid Coaches: Who is the most powerful person in all of college basketball? – CBSSports.com

CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Reid Forgrave spent much of July on the road in cities across the country, covering the live recruiting periods. While there, and in the weeks since, they’ve surveyed coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics in the sport. Over a two-week period, we are posting the results on several questions posed to more than 100 coaches.

Power in college basketball comes in many forms.

Sometimes it’s held by people in an official capacity — like college coaches and commissioners. Other times it’s held by people with the most influence over prospects — like grassroots coaches and shoe company representatives. Other times it’s held by people who operate in the shadows — like runners for agents and agents themselves. And sometimes, yes, even the media has power within the sport — specifically the power to hold people accountable and create change. So, with all of that in mind, we asked more than 100 college basketball coaches the following question:

Who is the most powerful person in college basketball?

(Only those receiving multiple votes are listed.)

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Coach K and Cal are the main men in terms of college hoops power.
Mike Meredith/CBSSports.com

Quotes that stood out

On Mike Krzyzewski …

  • “It’s K because of his USA Basketball influence. … His thoughts have more weight than anybody else’s. And I would think, probably with Nike, he has juice there too.”
  • “Coach K is the biggest deal in our sport. And the USA Basketball thing is what took it to another level. He gets [expletive] done. Who else could get that Marvin Bagley deal done like him? And he’s bullet-proof too. Corey Maggette situation. Nothing comes of it. Lance Thomas situation. Nothing comes of it. Totally bullet-proof. Have to respect it.”
  • “He’s coached the best in the world with USA Basketball, won all those gold medals and titles. He’s got Nike influence. And did you see Kevin Durant at Peach Jam? Who’s the coach KD went out of his way to stop and talk with? Coach K. Kids notice that.”

On John Calipari …

  • “He’s under 60, in the Hall of Fame and is recruiting the very, very best of the best. His name is floated for every NBA job out there. … He’s famous figure outside of just college basketball. People know him, and what really made it happen for him was the 30 for 30.”
  • “He’s successful, a trendsetter, outspoken and polarizing. Even if you you don’t follow college basketball, you know Coach Cal.”
  • “He’s changed how people do things. He’s changed the mindset of parents and of players. He’s made everyone up their game in terms of facilities and doing everything first class and trying to be big time. He by far has the most power in college basketball. Even Coach K has changed what he does because of what Calipari’s doing.”

On Jim Delaney …

  • “He’s an older guy. But he always still has new ideas. I read where that Big Ten network he created is just a money machine. Totally changed the game.”
  • “He blew it open with the cable. Changed the structure with the league. And he’s going to blow it open with the schedule too.”
  • “Nobody has more influence over officials. He’s very, very powerful.”

On Bret Just …

  • “He took Andy Enfield from Florida Gulf Coast to USC. Took Brad Underwood from Stephen F. Austin to Oklahoma State — and then moved him to Illinois. Got that crazy Chris Beard deal done to Texas Tech. Got Mike Hopkins moved [from Syracuse] to Washington under the radar. His fingerprints are on almost everything.”
  • “He’s involved in just about every coaching search. One of his guys doesn’t get every job. But he usually has one of his guys in there deep.” 
  • “He’s pretty smart. That’s all I’ll say about that.”

On Jay Bilas …

  • “No matter what he speaks on, coaches listen to him. Other media outlets listen to him. He’s got credibility with the student-athlete because he supports them. I think administrators hear his voice. He touches every part of the spectrum when it comes to college basketball. I don’t know if he has the most influence, but he’s the most heard person in college basketball.”
  • “A guy like Jay Bilas might have some juice. When he says it, a good journalist listens. There’s credibility there. And his answers are always well thought out.”
  • “Bilas isn’t afraid to highlight the hypocrisy in college sports. He tells the truth. He calls people out. He can shape the narrative about a situation, and coaches are aware of that. He’s way too smart to just be a basketball analyst. He should have an actual position of power in the sport.”

Takeaways

Mike Krzyzewski is a Hall of Famer who doubles as the winningest coach in Division I men’s basketball history. He’s in possession of five national championships and three Olympic gold medals. He’s set to coach the team that’s ranked No. 1 in the CBS Sports Preseason Top 25 (and one) thanks to the enrollment of a recruiting class also ranked No. 1. He’s in charge of the biggest brand in the nation’s best basketball conference. His voice matters more than anybody else’s voice. And those are just some the reasons he was the obvious answer to this question that will conclude our annual Candid Coaches series.

Coach K accounted for more than twice as many votes as any other person.

His influence over USA Basketball was repeatedly referenced.

“Anybody who doesn’t think his role with USA Basketball has helped him on the recruiting trail is crazy,” one source said. “He’s literally had the power to decide who gets to represent the United States. He got Mason Plumlee on the team! That’s power!”

John Calipari was a reasonable alternative answer.

“He got ESPN to turn a 30 for 30 into a recruiting commercial for him,” said one source. “Not that he needed the help. But that definitely didn’t hurt. … And he’s changed the sport with his approach. K is probably more powerful. But even K has had to adjust the way he does things because of the way Cal was doing things. And you know Cal loves that.”

Krzyzewski and Calipari were the only people to get at least 9 percent of the vote — but the next three names were interesting. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany finished third primarily because his creation of the Big Ten Network has produced so much money for member institutions that each Big Ten school can now easily afford to run its men’s basketball program in a first-class way. Furthermore, Delany’s philosophy as it relates to scheduling is also changing things in both the Big Ten and other leagues. And multiple coaches claimed Delany has more influence over officiating than any other person on the planet, for what it’s worth.

Next on the list was Bret Just.

He’s the CAA agent who represents Texas’ Shaka Smart, South Carolina’s Frank Martin, USC’s Andy Enfield, Illinois’ Brad Underwood, Texas Tech’s Chris Beard, Washington’s Mike Hopkins, Nebraska’s Tim Miles, Oregon State’s Wayne Tinkle, Houston’s Kelvin Sampson and many others. Like one coach told us, Just is involved in most coaching searches these days — and it’s fair to suggest he’s the only reason Illinois now employs Underwood because, if not for Just’s behind-the-scenes work, Illinois officials probably wouldn’t have ever even thought it was possible to lure Underwood away from Oklahoma State. Likewise, would Washington officials ever have known Hopkins was an option without Just being involved? Probably not.

So that’s where his power lies.

He is dictating, on some level, who coaches where.

Jay Bilas was the only media member to get votes, which makes sense, because the ESPN analyst is universally respected and his voice resonates. He helps keep the NCAA in check on eligibility issues, helps keep coaches in check when they restrict transfers for petty reasons. He sides with the student-athlete, always. And it was interesting to hear some coaches acknowledge they wish Bilas actually had a larger role in the sport.

There is no such thing as a College Basketball Commissioner.

But, if there were, Bilas would make a good one.

That’s what some coaches think. And I agree. But, for now, he’ll just continue to use his presence on television and Twitter to throw around whatever power he might have while making whatever difference he can.

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