Current excellence

Who are the top coaches in sports right now? We got to thinking about that last week as Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski became the all-time leader in Division I victories and Rays manager Joe Maddon was named American League manager of the year for the second time. Both make our list of the top 20 coaches/managers in sports right now. For this list, we're sticking with the major sports. Those who coach college squash and wrestling and volleyball are fine coaches, but the competition isn't as stiff as it is in the major sports. With that in mind, here is the Two Cents list of the 20 best active coaches.

1. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke men's basketball

Last week Coach K became the all-time leader in Division I victories. He owns four national titles and a remarkable 11 Final Four appearances. What makes this amazing is Krzyzewski, 64, has done this during the most competitive era in college basketball history and in arguably basketball's best conference over the past 30 years.

2. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

Of the four major North American professional leagues, Popovich, 62, has more championships than any active head coach or manager: four. And his Spurs have made the postseason every season except his first, 1996-97. He is still going strong. The Spurs have won division titles in two of the past three seasons.

3. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

He is the finest football mind of the past 30 years. Belichick, 59, has three Super Bowl titles as head coach of the Patriots, and you can throw in two more from when he was the defensive coordinator of Bill Parcells' Giants. He is 132-53 with the Patriots, and his teams haven't had a losing record since 2000. The Pats are on their way to their ninth division title in 11 years.

4. Nick Saban, Alabama football

He's the best college football coach in the country. He is 143-54-1 at Michigan State, LSU and Alabama; counting just LSU and Alabama, he is 100-28. Saban, 60, has won national titles at LSU (split with USC in 2003) and Alabama, and has a shot at this year's title. His team has lost only six times in the past four seasons despite playing in the best conference in the country.

5. Jim Calhoun, UConn men's basketball

Calhoun is 606-228 at UConn since 1986. He has won nine Big East championships and three national titles. He is 69, but the game hasn't passed him by. His Huskies are the defending national champs.

6. Roy Williams, North Carolina men's basketball

Williams has two national championships at North Carolina, and his team is ranked No. 1 in the country. At Kansas he reached the NCAA final twice, losing by a combined 10 points. Think about that: Williams, 61, is a handful of possessions from having won four NCAA titles.

7. Les Miles, LSU football

His coaching is unorthodox, and occasionally he seems more lucky than good. But Miles, 58, is 72-17 at LSU, with one national title and another perhaps a couple of months away for his No. 1-ranked Tigers. In the past six seasons, his team has finished in the top 10 four times.

8. Tom Izzo, Michigan State men's basketball

In his 17th season at Michigan State, Izzo has reached six Final Fours. That has resulted in only one national championship, in 2000, but Izzo, 56, remains one of the brightest minds in the game.

9. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers

In his first four seasons, Tomlin led the Steelers to three division titles, two Super Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl title. At the moment, his team is tied for first in the AFC. The guy is only 39 years old.

10. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers

Only one losing season in his first five seasons and McCarthy, 48, is guaranteed a winning season this year. The Packers won the Super Bowl last season and are the heavy favorite to win another this season. They are 9-0.

11. Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers

The crusty manager won three division titles with the Pirates (that franchise's last three, by the way) and a World Series with the Marlins, and has made the playoffs twice with the Tigers. Leyland, 67 next month, won his first division title in 1990 and his most recent this year.

12. Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays

Everyone will think this is a homer pick because Maddon, 57, is the highest-rated coach/manager without a championship. But he has won two manager of the year awards and guided the Rays to the playoffs three times in the past four years despite a low payroll in the toughest division in baseball. Every team in baseball would consider bringing him aboard if he became available.

13. Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh Penguins

Bylsma, 41, who led the Pens to the Stanley Cup in 2009, has had to juggle his lineup while stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal have missed significant time the past two seasons. Yet, the Pens remain one of the best teams in the NHL.

14. Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks

Carlisle, 52, finally got his recognition last season by leading the Mavs past the Heat for the NBA championship. But his career was already packed with success: nine seasons, eight postseasons, four division titles.

15. Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings

In eight seasons with the Ducks and Wings, Babcock, 48, has reached the Stanley Cup final three times, winning in 2008 with the Wings. And in the two losses, Babcock's teams lost in Game 7. He also was the head coach of gold medal-winning Canada in the 2010 Olympics.

16. Geno Auriemma, UConn women's basketball

The numbers of Auriemma, 57, might be inflated because there isn't a lot of great competition in women's basketball. Still, it's hard to ignore seven national titles and four additional Final Four appearances. His team is ranked No. 4, which seems extremely low for UConn.

17. George Karl, Denver Nuggets

Last season Karl became the seventh coach in NBA history to reach 1,000 wins. In 23 seasons as a head coach with the Cavs, Warriors, Sonics, Bucks and Nuggets, Karl, 60, has missed the playoffs three times. The reason he isn't higher on the list is he has never won an NBA title.

18. Chris Petersen, Boise State football

He has only six losses in nearly six full seasons. Three of those losses came in one season. If Petersen, 47, had a field goal kicker, his career record could easily be 72-3 instead of 69-6. Boise's last three losses have been by a combined five points. In each game, Boise missed a field goal that could have won it.

19. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks

Everyone questions whether this guy can coach in the NFL, and the jury remains out on that. But his defenders would argue that he has won two division titles in the NFL. At the college level — and this is why he is on this list — Carroll, 60, revived the program at Southern Cal with an 83-19 record from 2001-09 and won or shared two national titles.

20. Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers

Harbaugh, 48 next month, is the surprise of the list, and fans might howl that he makes it over Super Bowl-winning coaches such as Sean Payton and Tom Coughlin. After leading the University of San Diego to back-to-back Pioneer League titles, Harbaugh took over a Stanford team that went 1-11 in 2006. He improved the Cardinal to four wins in 2007, five in 2008, eight in 2009 and a 12-1 record and a No. 4 ranking in the final poll last season. And his 49ers are the talk of this NFL season with an 8-1 record.

tom jones' two cents

Current excellence 11/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 19, 2011 8:20pm]

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