I don’t have a dog in this race, but what Kansas head coach Bill Self has done in his 19+ seasons as a men’s college basketball head coach is quite remarkable.
With a win over Iowa State on Monday, Self earned himself win number 500 for his career – and he’s just a few months into his 50’s.
500 wins – at this rate, he’ll get number 1000 by the time he’s 100! I’m kidding of course, but let’s take a little deeper look into how he got to 500 and where he might one day climb.
Coach Self started his coaching career as an assistant at Kansas in 1985 under former head coach Larry Brown. After the 1985-86 season in Lawrence, Self headed south to Stillwater to serve as an assistant under Oklahoma State head coach Leonard Hamilton, who was later replaced by Eddie Sutton. He was at OSU from 1986 to 1993 before the opportunity to lead his own program presented itself.
Self began his head coaching career in 1993-94 at Oral Roberts, a then-independent coming off a 4-23 season. In his first season in Tulsa, Self went 6-21 as they showed little improvement. The following year, some more improvement – a 10-17 record. And in 1995, the losing stopped. For ORU and for head coach Bill Self.
Over the next two seasons, ORU would go 18-9 and 21-7, respectively, earning an NIT berth following the latter in 1997. They wound up losing by 16 to Notre Dame in the 1st Round, but that was besides the point. He led an independent Golden Eagles program to the postseason, a team that just four years prior had won a total of four games. History was already being made.
He moved on from Oral Roberts following the 1997 season but didn’t move far – the University of Tulsa was the next stop.
They had a conference – the WAC – and were coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance the year prior. Year One at Tulsa saw the Golden Hurricane go 19-12 and miss the postseason, marking the last time a Self-led team would fail to qualify for the postseason. The 1998-99 season saw 9-seed Tulsa advance to the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tourney following a win over College of Charleston.
In 1999-2000, Self’s final season at Tulsa, he earned WAC Coach of the Year honors and one-upped himself, getting the Golden Hurricane to the Elite Eight as a No. 7 seed. Tulsa knocked off UNLV, 2-seed Cincinnati and 6th-seeded Miami (FL) before falling to the Final Four-bound North Carolina Tar Heels. Self then said sayonara to Tulsa.
Big Ten Country was calling and Self made the move to Champaign to lead the Illinois Fighting Illini. Immediately, the Illini became a national championship threat, earning a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament following a 13-3 league mark. Though they would ultimately fall to Arizona in the Regional Final, Self proved himself as an elite coach. Though over the next two seasons, the results failed to improve (2001-02 Sweet Sixteen, 2002-03 2nd Round) Self had started Illinois’ journey towards being elite. Then in 2003 he left – for his current home, Lawrence, Kansas.
He stumbled a bit out of the gate according to Kansas standards. In Self’s first year, they earned a 4-seed by coming in 2nd-place in the Big 12 – the last time he’s failed to lead KU to a 1st-place finish. Following three more successful seasons between 2004-2007, Self would finally reach the pinnacle – he led Kansas to the 2008 National Championship.
Kansas was the 1-seed in the Midwest Regional and steamrolled their way to the Regional Final, against Davidson. A narrow two-point win helped the Jayhawks reach the Final Four, where they had a date with the Tar Heels. It would prove to be a one-sided affair, as KU rolled UNC, 84-66. Kansas then went on and took down Memphis in the title game, 75-68, helping Self earn his first National Championship in his very first try.
He led the Jayhawks back to the promised land a season ago but lost to a Kentucky team everyone anointed champs from Day One of the season.
Self is a proven winner and will be a Hall of Famer one day. Will he ever move on from Kansas? Will be make the jump to the NBA, a la John Calipari and Rick Pitino, only to come back to the college ranks? Personally, I think he’s found his home at Kansas in an era when coaches always seem to be on the move. Kansas will one day have the winningest coach in men’s Division I basketball history.
Self’s career record is 500-162 (.755). He’ll look for No. 501 on Saturday against West Virginia.