With news breaking Tuesday that Memphis may get rid of Tubby Smith and replace him with Tigers legend and Memphis AAU kingpin Penny Hardaway, the former Orlando Magic star could join an eclectic club: College basketball head coaches who “acted” in the 1994 film Blue Chips.
Blue Chips, for all the hype that surrounded its release 24 years ago, isn’t in the pantheon of great sports flicks. In fact, the movie was kind of a mess. It convinced Shaquille O’Neal he should attempt an acting career. The shaky cinematography during the basketball seasons could be headache inducing and the script had major issues.
Anybody who knows anything about college basketball knows coaches don’t call a meeting with their assistants after the season ends and sit down to make a list of players they want to sign for the next year. That’s not how recruiting works. Reporters on a college basketball beat don’t spend an entire offseason investigating an expose on paying players and breaking NCAA rules, then ask the guilty coach about it during a postgame press conference, giving away the scoop he worked months on before the story is published. That’s not how journalism works.
But playing Where’s Waldo in an attempt to spot all the real-life basketball figures who appeared in the movie was great fun. The cast list is filled with not only players, but several men who either already were, or would go on to become Division I head coaches.
With Penny Hardaway potentially joining that list, it seemed like a good time to come up with a definitive ranking of the Blue Chips coaches with a few ground rules. This is just for Division I head coaches. Larry Bird and Keith Smart aren’t included because they’ve only coached in the NBA. Former North Carolina player George Lynch played for Texas Western in the film and spent time as a college assistant, but never got a head coaching gig. They also have to be credited. Nolan Richardson and Dan Dakich can be spotted in the movie, but aren’t on the official cast list.
With that, here are the greatest Blue Chips college basketball coaches.
10. Rex Walters — Walters played for Texas Western in the movie and coached at Florida Atlantic and San Francisco in real life. But during eight seasons at USF he never could get the once-proud program back to prominence. His best season was an NIT appearance in 2014.
9. Bobby Hurley — Just a couple of months ago it would have tempting to rank Hurley, who played for Knight at Indiana in the Blue Chips universe, at least a few spots higher. His Arizona State team was ranked in the Top 5 and there was talk he could be the heir apparent to Coach K at Duke. But the Sun Devils have slipped and it’s just too early to fairly judge his career at this point.
8. Dick Vitale — Vitale is always self deprecating when it comes to his coaching career. After all, it’s his legendary broadcasting stint that brought him fame and fortune. And his time as the head coach of the Detroit Pistons didn’t go so well. But he was actually a pretty solid college coach, taking Detroit Mercy to a Sweet 16.
7. George Raveling — Raveling was a head coach for 22 years and only made six NCAA Tournament appearances. But two of those were at Washington State, so that has to count for something.
6. Bob Cousy — Cousy, who played the athletic director at Western University, accomplished so much in his basketball career it can be easy for forget he had a solid run as the coach at Boston College. He went 114-38 in six seasons and had the Golden Eagles within one game of the 1967 Final Four.
5. Matt Painter — Among the players in the film who turned to coaching, Painter has been the most successful. He’s won 68 percent of his games at Purdue and taken his alma mater to the Sweet 16 three times. His part in Blue Chips was quite forgettable, but he’ll be remembered forever in West Lafayette if he can get the Boilermakers to the Final Four this year.
4. Jim Boeheim — There’s a running theme here. The men who were current coaches when the movie was released all had their own off the court issues, and Boeheim too has been no stranger to NCAA sanctions. Even with a national championship on his resume, he’s a middle of the pack coach among the loaded Blue Chips roster with too many down years mixed in among the spectacular at Syracuse.
3. Jerry Tarkanian — Give Tarkanian credit, he never tried to pretend he was anything he wasn’t. The man who turned UNLV into a powerhouse didn’t exactly follow rules to do it, but he was also on the forefront of exposing the NCAA for a hypocritical and corrupt organization. While Pitino’s appearance in such as movie looks ridiculous in retrospect, Tarkanian used it as another opportunity to point a middle finger at the NCAA.
2. Rick Pitino — Pitino appeared in a movie about a once-revered college basketball coach whose career suddenly ended when his shady dealings and recruiting scandals were exposed. No, it wasn’t a biopic.
1. Bobby Knight — Knight, who clearly was an inspiration for the movies protagonist, Nick Nolte’s Pete Bell, showed tremendous acting range as the prickly head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers. Knight didn’t win an Oscar, but he did win more than 900 basketball games and three NCAA titles. Say what you like about him as a person, but he could coach some hoops.