We know they can coach. But enough about that. It’s time to ask the hard-hitting questions: What music did these guys listen to?
I reached out to every coach in this year’s NCAA Tournament field and got them to answer one simple question: Who’s your favorite band or musician?
The answers were startling, hilarious, unexpected, enlightening and all around delightful.
Shoutout to a man named Kermit (Davis) for getting down to music by a man named Boz (Scaggs)!
Much love to Holy Cross’ Bill Carmody who, when asked his favorite band or musical artist of all time, completely went off the board and went with Bach. Yes, as in Johann freaking Sebastian. Do you, Bill! Temple’s Fran Dunphy lists Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture as maybe his favorite piece of music, but in terms of bands? The Four Tops. Motown groups the choice of a number of coaches, like Miami’s Jim Larranaga, Weber State’s Randy Rahe and Providence’s Ed Cooley, all of whom put The Temptations as their favorite.
I haven’t been able to shake this image from my head in recent days. It’s Green Bay’s Linc Darner, and he’s belting Meat Loaf’s “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” at a dive bar karaoke session.
I got everything from Stony Brook’s Steve Pikiell actually admitting, on the record, that he loves Rascal Flatts, to Austin Peay’s Dave Loos owning up to his Donna Summer obsession. Loos, by the way, said the first record he purchased was in 1956. Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.”
“You are really dating me,” Loos said.
You’re the man, Dave.
South Dakota State’s Scott Nagy and Texas A&M’s Billy Kennedy listed two bands who had among the best debut/eponymous records in the 1970s: Boston and The Cars. The Aggies are a 3 seed in this year’s bracket. Let the good times roll, Billy.
I can’t go any further without addressing John Calipari being a complete fanboy for Train. One of the greatest coaches in college basketball history gets down to “Hey, Soul Sister.” I can only assume this will now be used against him in recruiting.
Yes, predictably, we have Springsteen honks in the coaching fraternity: Notre Dame’s Mike Brey, Iowa’s Fran McCaffery, Villanova’s Jay Wright and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim all bow to the Boss. Had St. Bonaventure and Saint Mary’s coaches made the field, they’d be in this group, too. But no coach in the field loves Bruce more than Phil Martelli at Saint Joe’s. He caught Springsteen for the first time in ’73, when he was a freshman at Widener University.
“If every person in this country worked as hard at their job as he does at it his, this country would be amazing,” Martelli once told me.
Jason Aldean fan/Florida Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley told me he thinks Kansas’ Bill Self would’ve put Springsteen at the top of his list, but no. Self responded, perhaps superstitiously, with the man who is the voice of “One Shining Moment” — Luther Vandross.
There might not be a better first round matchup between coaches with better music tastes than Tad Boyle and Kevin Ollie. Boyle was the only coach to list the most influential band of all time as his favorite: The Beatles. You can’t go wrong with that — ever. Ollie, who grew up in Compton, California, and loved NWA and Snoop Dogg, now puts Michael Jackson as his No. 1. We’ve got plenty of MJ love to go around, too.
Yale’s James Jones and UNC Wilmington’s Kevin Keatts put the King of Pop at the top — and so does Tom Izzo! You’re thinking about Izzo busting his rump to “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” and suddenly the day can’t get any better.
Cal’s Cuonzo Martin listed Jackson just behind a guy who is almost as influential: Bob Marley. He and Texas’ Shaka Smart have that in common. Smart lists “Redemption Song” as his favorite Marley tune.
Most surprising band choice with multiple votes: Earth Wind & Fire. Boyle and Ollie put them near the top of their lists, while Maryland’s Mark Turgeon, VCU’s Will Wade and Iona’s Tim Cluess named ’em No. 1. Also loved this anecdote from Cluess: He used to own a bar in the ’90s, and the last song he played before handing the keys over to the new owner? Sinatra’s “My Way.” Perfectly cliché.
Speaking of Sinatra, Mick Cronin loves the Chairman of the Board, but he’s got nothing on Fairleigh Dickinson’s Greg Herenda, who grew up in the same town Sinatra did (Hoboken, New Jersey), and not only that, Herenda’s grandfather babysat the legend in the late 1920s.
Let’s tour the rest of the South region, shall we? And we’ll make our way counterclockwise throughout the bracket. Tuesday night’s terrific First Four game will pit two coaches with contrasting musical tastes against each other: Kevin Stallings (Vince Gill) vs. Gregg Marshall (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers).
Sean Miller for John Mayer? Yeah, and in fact, the two bumped into each other at SFO Airport in October. Miller loves all kinds of Mayer: acoustic, electric, country, John Mayer trio. I can only assume an early Arizona exit will lead to Sean cuing up Heavier Things on Pandora.
Credit to Hawaii’s Eran Ganot, who was one of two coaches to give me an artist I’d never heard of. Jimmy Borges, an island legend out in the Pacific, tops his list. The other was Buffalo’s Nate Oats, who said Hillsong United, a Christian rock group. (Also a favorite of a coach who missed making the field, Valpo’s Bryce Drew.)
The dream of the ’90s is alive in Oregon. And Utah, Ohio, North Carolina and Tennessee. These ’90s bands got love: Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Dave Matthews Band. Utah’s Larry Krystkowiak, Oregon State’s Wayne Tinkle (also a huge Pink Floyd guy) and Chattanooga’s Matt McCall all put PJ at the top of their lists, though I’m calling out McCall for copping to a 1999 Blink 182 show as his first concert ever.
“Don’t sleep on Backspacer,” McCall said when running down the Pearl Jam discography. He said Ten is his favorite LP, and since he also used to play bass in a band … yeah, consider yourself pardoned, Matt. (Yield is the best PJ album, BTW.)
Tinkle is a huge Pink Floyd fan, by the way.
Nick McDevitt, coach at Asheville, is of my era and genre. That being: mid-30s white American male who grew up in the 1990s. So Dave Matthews Band it is! Krystkowiak is also a big DMB fan, and so is Seton Hall’s Kevin Willard, who gets instant street cred for name-dropping the Beastie Boys.
Dayton coach Archie Miller and I got to texting a few weeks back after he told me about his affinity for Alice in Chains. Then he started sending me Apple Music links to “Would?” and I knew he was on the level. Shoutout to “Nutshell,” though.
Let’s look West. You knew MEAC and SWAC coaches would bring it. Edward Joyner, Jr. (Hampton) gave me Anita Baker, while Roman Banks (Southern’s coach) listed Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly. Hell yeah! Oregon’s Dana Altman was the only coach who just couldn’t list me a favorite band, but he did go to a Rolling Stones concert in recent years, so he gets Keef and Mick by default.
Mark this down as a stunner: Scott Drew loves … Lecrae? I still can’t believe this, Scott!
Very cool: Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson lists The Front Fenders as his favorite band — because they’re his dad’s. Rod Barnes at CSU-Bakersfield digs him some Marvin Sapp.
Mike Krzyzewski was the only coach who did not get back to me for this piece. But it doesn’t matter. Because he’s on the record about being “madly in love” with Beyonce, so Beyonce Krzyzewski will get.
Mike Krzyzewski is 69.
The other coach in the Bey hive? USC’s Andy Enfield.
Lon Kruger has coached at Oklahoma, UNLV, Kansas State, Florida and Illinois. His favorite band is also a place: Chicago.
In the East, let’s shine a light on UNC’s Roy Williams. Although Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” is Ol’ Roy’s ringtone, he paints himself as a huge Luke Bryan fan.
Stephen F. Austin’s Brad Underwood used to work for Bob Huggins at K-State. And not only do those two share a first-round game, they also share a favorite band: The Eagles. Hey, RIP to Glenn Frey. Huggins wanted to let people know he loves “Take It Easy,” which seems ironic.
Rodney Terry at Fresno State gave me Chris Brown, while on the other end of the dial, Greg Gard can’t get enough of Travis Tritt. That’ll happen when you grow up in Cobb, Wisconsin, a rural town of 300. And Kevin Stallings is good friends with Vince Gill, so you knew that had to be his top choice.
Oh, and Chris Mack loves Kid Rock. Like, unabashedly. Like, he’s been to multiple concerts and thinks Kid Rock is as good as music gets.
In the East, you see Jamie Dixon and Tom Crean as U2 fans, and the same goes for Butler’s Christ Holtmann, who gets Tubby Smith’s Texas Tech team in the West. Tubby has great music taste, citing The Isley Brothers as his favorite group. His first concerts as a young man were attending gigs by Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett on the beaches of southern Maryland. That’s living right.
A nod to Iowa State’s Steve Prohm, who still goes back to Billy Joel. Meanwhile, I promised Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd — who probably loves Beck and the Beastie Boys more than any coach on this list loves any band or artist — that he’d get a name drop. His boss, Mark Few, enjoys Keith Urban.
In building out this story, no coach texted me more about music than Purdue’s Matt Painter, who lists Zac Brown Band at the top but goes as deep into his music catalog as just about any coach out there. And there is no greater age gap between coach and artist than Little Rock’s Chris Beard being a die-hard fan of 78-year-old Merle Haggard. True country, man.
You want to know the man who inspired me to write this piece a few years back? Virginia’s Tony Bennett. Now, he gave me Boyz II, but I’m here to report that Bennett is so R&B heavy, you don’t even know. Also an Ed Sheeran fan. Some of these answers are just amazing. The coach who had to be the most shocked to be in this field, Frank Haith at Tulsa, is all about that Cooleyhighharmony life, too. Haith is a big Boyz II Men guy.
Haith will go up against John Beilein in the First Four on Wednesday. How about this from Beilein: He’s a huge Marvin Gaye fan. You’ll never look at him the same way again.
These guys are about more than just hoops. In truth, 75 to 80 percent of them loved getting a chance to just talk tunes. Beilein was happily scrolling through his phone trying decide who he wanted to pick after being talked off going with a country artist.
From a music standpoint, I think these line up as the best first round matchups:
Boyle (The Beatles) and Ollie (Michael Jackson)
Tinkle (Pearl Jam) and Wade (Earth, Wind & Fire)
Archie Miller (Alice in Chains) and Boeheim (Springsteen)
Smith (The Isley Brothers) and Holtmann (U2)
In terms of genre, this is how the field of 68 breaks down:
R&B and hip hop: 9
Frank Sinatra: 2
Meat Loaf: 1