This edition of The Best of Michigan Basketball will zero in on the 10 Best Coaches.
#10 – George Veenker (1928-31): Career record: 35-12 74.5% (Western Conference 24-10 70.6%) During his three seasons at Michigan, the Wolverines never finished lower than 3rd in the Western Conference. He led Michigan to a 13-3 record and a Western Conference championship in 1929. Veenker left Michigan to become the head football coach at Iowa State.
#9 – Tommy Amaker (2001-07): Career record: 109-83 56.8% (Big Ten 43-53 44.8%) Amaker was given the unenviable task of digging Michigan out of the mire of the scandal. During his six year career he took Michigan to 3 NITs, including winning the NIT in 2004 and finishing as the NIT runner-up in 2006. Unfortunately for Amaker he was not able to get Michigan into the NCAA Tournament and ultimately he was let go after the 2006 season. He ranks 6th in school history with 109 wins.
#8 – Frank Cappon (1931-38): Career record: 78-57 57.8% (Western Conference 44-40 52.4%) Cappon’s 78 wins tie him for 8th most in school history. He coached Michigan for 7 seasons. His finest season was in 1936-37 when he led the Wolverines to a 16-4 record. Cappon resigned as Michigan’s coach to take a coaching position at Princeton.
#7 – Bennie Oosterbaan (1938-46): Career record: 81-72 52.3% (Big Ten 40-59 40.4%) What didn’t Oosterbaan do at Michigan? He ranks as one of the best wide receivers in school history and was a 3 time All-American in football. He was a two-time All-American basketball player at Michigan. He was one of the finest football coaches in school history and he coached the basketball team for 8 years. Oosterbaan ranks 6th in school history with 81 wins. In 1946 Oosterbaan stepped down as basketball coach so he could focus on his duties as Michigan’s football coach.
#6 – EJ Mather (1919-28): Career record: 108-53 67.1% (Western Conference 64-43 59.8%) The third head coach at Michigan, Mather ranks 6th in school history with 108 career wins. He led Michigan to 3 conference titles including back-to-back championships (1926, ’27). In his second season at Michigan, Mather led the Wolverines to an 18-4 record. Mather remained the Michigan coach up until his sudden death in 1928.
#5- Bill Frieder (1980-89): Career record: 191-87 68.7% (Big Ten 98-64 60.5%) Frieder’s 191 wins rank him second on the school’s all-time list. He led Michigan to their first ever post season championship by winning the 1984 NIT. He directed Michigan to back-to-back Big Ten Championships (1984, 85). During that span the Wolverines won a school record 33 straight games. Michigan finished the 1985 season with a 26-4 record. That season, Frieder was named the National Coach of the Year. He took the Wolverines to 4 NCAA Tournaments. The farthest he advanced a team in the tourney was in 1988 when Michigan got to the Sweet 16. He left the team on the eve of the 1989 NCAA Tournament to take the Arizona State job.
#4 – John Beilein (2007-present): After completing his sixth season at Michigan, John Beilein has firmly established his legacy as not only one of the best coaches in Michigan history, but one of the best coaches in the country.
During the 2011-12 season, he directed the Wolverines to their first Big Ten Championship in 26 years.
He followed that up in 2012-13 by guiding Michigan to one of the finest seasons in school history. During that historic campaign, Michigan was ranked #1 for the first time in 20 years, they were ranked in the top 10 for the entire season. The Wolverines also returned to the Final Four for the first time in 20 years and made it to the National Championship game, where they lost to Louisville 82-76. The 31 wins that the Wolverines racked up in 2012-13 tied a school record.
Following their run to the National Championship game, Michigan advanced to the Elite Eight in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, where they were knocked out on a buzzer beater by Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison with 2.3 seconds left in the game.
Through eight seasons, Beilein’s career record at Michigan is 166-110 and the Wolverines have appeared in five NCAA Tournaments.
#3 – Steve Fisher (1989-97): Career record: 184-82 69.2% (Big Ten 88-56 61.1%). Due to NCAA Sanctions Michigan has vacated 108 of Fischer’s career wins. Fisher famously took over the head coaching duties on the eve of the 1989 NCAA Tournament and led Michigan to their only National Championsip. In all he took Michigan to the NCAA Tournament 7 times. Fisher brought the Fab Five to Michigan and took the Wolverines to back-to-back Final Fours (1992, ’93). The Wolverines finished as National runner-ups both seasons. Fisher directed Michigan to an NIT Championship in 1997. While at Michigan he coached 5 players who were selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.
I suspect Fisher will be a polarizing figure on this list due to his part in the scandal that brought down Michigan Basketball. However, it is hard to argue his record, NCAA Tournament success, and of course Michigan’s only National Championship.
After leaving the program in shambles due to the NCAA sanctions, Fisher became the head coach at San Diego State.
#2 – Dave Strack (1960-68): Career record: 113-89 55.9% (Big Ten: 58-54 51.8%) Strack’s 113 wins place him 4th on Michigan’s all-time list. He led Michigan to back-to-back Final Fours (1964, ’65) and 3 NCAA Tournament appearances. His 1965 team was the National runner-up. Strack piloted Michigan to three straight Big Ten championships (1964-66). Strack was named the UPI National Coach of the Year in 1965. Strack was responsible for bringing the legendary Cazzie Russell and Bill Buntin to Michigan. Strack played his college ball at Michigan.
#1 – Johnny Orr (1968-80): Career record: 209-113 64.9% (Big Ten record: 120-72 62.5%) Orr’s 209 career victories are the most of any Michigan coach. He inherited a Michigan team that had finished last in the Big Ten and within 4 years he had Michigan dancing. Orr directed Michigan to Big Ten Championships twice (1974, ’77). The first Big Ten coach to lead his team for four consecutive NCAA Tournament berths (1974-77). His 1976 team lost to Indiana in the National Championship game. Orr also led Michigan to the Great 8 twice (1974, ’77). Orr was selected as the Big Ten Coach of the Year twice (1974, ’77). Players Orr coached include; Rudy Tomjanovich, Campy Russell, Rickey Green, Phil Hubbard, and Mike McGee.
Best of Michigan Basketball