In the modern age, basketball coaches at major institutions are celebrities with million dollar contracts and gaudy win-loss records that are the envy of their peers. This is a national trend of hoops affluence, but everything has a beginning. As far as scheduling the toughest non-conference opponents available and being a virtual fixture in the NCAA tournament, no one did it with as much regularity before Denny Crum roamed the sidelines at the University of Louisville, and very few did it with as much fervor after he retired in 2001. Crum started coaching at the University of Louisville in 1971 after serving as an assistant at UCLA and at Pierce College prior. He was known for his festive blazers featuring the red and black of Louisville. His hair was a virtual helmet. No matter the histrionics he displayed on the sideline when arguing a call or pushing his players, not a single strand seemed to ever be out of place.
He would turn the Louisville Cardinals from a basketball stepchild in the state of Kentucky to a national powerhouse under his 30 year watch. Denny would reach the Final Four for the first time in 1972 before losing to mentor John Wooden’s UCLA squad. Crum would reach the Final Four six times in all and is tied with Adolph Rupp (University of Kentucky) and Tom Izzo (Michigan State) for sixth all-time in Final Four apperances. John Wooden, Dean Smith (University of North Carolina), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke University), Roy Williams (University of North Carolina, University of Kansas) and Rick Pitino (University of Louisville, University of Kentucky) are the only ones to reach the Final Four more.
Denny Crum would lead Darrell “Dr. Dunkenstein” Griffith, Rodney McCray and Derek Smith to a National Championship over UCLA in 1980. That team is widely recognized as having popularized the High-5 celebratory salutation. Crum would win the NCAA Championship again six years later with the help of super freshman “Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison. Denny Crum reached the NCAA tournament 23 of the 30 years he coached the Cardinals and has a tourney record of 43-21. He is also one of eleven coaches to win two or more national championships and is also the second fastest Division I coach to ever win 500 games.
General Douglas MacArthur once said “Old soldiers don’t die, they just fade away”, and the same can be said for old coaches too. Louisville would eventually fall from the ranks of college basketball’s elite in the late 90s as 3-point shooting was emphasized over the high post offenses Crum liked to run. There were fewer quality, skilled big men and more centers who liked to float on the perimeter. Critics blamed Crum’s percieved inability to recruit top players and used his decreased win totals between 1996, when he reached the Elite 8, and 2000 as a catalyst to push him out. He was replaced by a more exciting name that boosters believed would reignite the program. That individual’s name is Rick Pitino. Denny Crum would go on to coach exhibition basketball and is still a special advisor at Louisville. Though there are flashier names in college basketball, nobody can say they were hands down better.