The 2019 Final Four represented a breakthrough for three of the four participants: Virginia's Tony Bennett, Texas Tech's Chris Beard and Auburn's Bruce Pearl all earned their first-ever trip to the Final Four—and the program's first when it came to the Red Raiders and Tigers. And when Bennett and Beard met on the sidelines of the national championship game, it ensured that we'd have a first-time winning coach for the first time since Villanova's Jay Wright in 2016. That honor ultimately went to Bennett, who joined Wright, Kentucky's John Calipari and former UConn coach Kevin Ollie as first-time winners this decade. With that box checked off on Bennett's résumé, we're wondering: who will be next? We asked our writers.
Who Will Be the Next Men's Coach to Win His First National Championship?
Dan Greene: Mark Few. Like Bennett and a number of 21st Century first-timers—Jay Wright, John Calipari, Roy Williams, Bill Self—Few has been steadily taking good-to-great teams into the tournament (and, unlike pre-title Bennett and Wright, finding some success there), so it seems like just a matter of time before he breaks through. He’s made Gonzaga into not only a national brand but a place where transfers and international talent have found consistent success, which should keep the talent flowing to Spokane for a while. When you’re looking for the kind of strong foundation that often precedes a title, it’s hard to beat Few’s.
Emily Caron: No one will top Tony Bennett’s redemption run, but Chris Mack could bring the Cardinals back to glory and get his first national championship with Louisville this year. He’s just in his second season at the helm and it might sound early, but with the right combination of veteran leadership (led by potential ACC POY Jordan Nwora), a good grad transfer get in Lamarr Kimble and a highly-rated recruiting class, Mack could have the right combination on his roster to take an NCAA title.
Max Meyer: While I think Chris Beard is the best coach not to have a title under his belt, I don't think he's up next. In fact, I think there will be another first-time winner this season: Chris Mack. Getting Jordan Nwora back for his junior year was huge, and grad transfer Lamarr Kimble is a welcome addition at point guard. Pulling in a very strong recruiting class doesn't hurt either. Louisville overachieved in Mack's first season at the helm, and the Cardinals will be a force to be reckoned with in the ACC for years to come. Mack is an excellent gameplanner, and he has the talent to make a major breakthrough this campaign.
Michael Shapiro: Chris Mack certainly has a solid shot at his first national title entering 2019–20. The former Xavier head coach will lead a stacked Louisville squad into next season, headlined by returning forward Jordan Nwora. The 6'8" junior nearly entered the 2019 NBA draft, but will come back to Louisville after averaging 17 points per game in his second season with the Cardinals. Nwora will be joined by St. Joseph's transfer Lamarr Kimble, filling Louisville's notable hole at point guard. Mack's crew is talented and tough, in prime position for the school's first Final Four since 2012-13.
Mitchell Gladstone: It’s hard to question the success of Chris Mack. He’s made the NCAA tournament in nine of his 10 seasons as a head coach, including last year with a Louisville squad that not many were expecting much out of. The Cardinals are a projected top-10 team in the nation this year and should easily be one of the best teams in a down ACC, plus Louisville is one of just nine programs to stake claim to at least three national titles (albeit a 2013 crown that was later stripped due to NCAA violations). Even if the Cardinals aren’t cutting down the nets this coming April, I have a good feeling that Mack will reach the mountaintop pretty soon.
Eric Single: Matt Painter(!): How differently might the 2018 NCAA tournament have gone if Isaac Haas hadn't fractured his elbow in garbage time of Purdue's first-round win? How differently might this March have gone if Mamadi Diakite's buzzer-beating floater in the Elite Eight hadn't fallen? Painter may not have a transcendent scorer like Carsen Edwards at his disposal every year, but he has brought the Boilermakers back into an era of consistent contention, and one of these years, it's going to all fall into place in West Lafayette. He may not be reeling in top-10 classes, but if Painter can start consistently landing some of Indiana's best high school players—as he did this year in signing the state's No. 5, 7 and 8 prospects—the Boilermakers should stay firmly in the national title conversation in the years to come.
Molly Geary: I’ll go with the guy who came closer to anyone but Bennett in 2019: Chris Beard—even if I’m not entirely convinced it will come at Texas Tech. Not because the Red Raiders can’t win a national title—they clearly can, as evidenced by how close they came this past April—but more because I expect Beard to draw tons of future attention on the coaching market. Look at what he’s done in just three seasons at Texas Tech, a program that hadn’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2005 (and never to the Elite Eight) before he took over: Back-to-back Elite Eight trips, including a national championship game run, and both in seasons where the Red Raiders were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12! I wouldn’t count out him wielding his magic and making another serious run in Lubbock next March, but no matter where he is after that, more big-time success is likely to follow.