The two most successful coaches in Arizona basketball history, Fred Enke and Lute Olson, were farm boys.
You would not insult either if you said, “hey, you son-of-a-cow milker.’’
Enke, of Rochester, Minn., and Olson, of Mayville, N.D., combined to win 1,098 games for the Wildcats, which, if nothing else, proves that you don’t have to be a son-of-a-coach to make some hay.
But it helps.
Seven of the 16 coaches whose team arrive at the Sweet 16 this week are sons-of-coaches, including brothers Sean Miller of Arizona and Archie Miller of Dayton.
This week they are the Right Brothers, but if you study the backgrounds of the Sweet 16 coaches, you discover that there is no wrong way.
Kentucky’s John Calipari, who is the cousin of Archie and Sean’s father, John Miller, is the son of Vince Calipari, who pumped fuel and threw baggage at the Pittsburgh airport.
How’s that for family ties?
Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins is the son of Johnny Dawkins Sr., who drove a bus in Washington, D.C. So much for the theory that Duke recruits from the spoiled class: at Duke, Dawkins was the 1987 NCAA Player of the Year.
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo is the son of Carl Izzo, who laid carpet and fixed shoes, most of it for the Izzo and Sons Company of Iron Mountain, Mich., at which Tom learned to stitch shoes and put zippers on coats.
Izzo’s path to Sweet 16 was not greased. He played point guard at Northern Michigan and spent 13 seasons as an MSU assistant coach.
Two of the Sweet 16 coaches overcame financial and domestic disadvantages. UConn’s Kevin Ollie grew up in gang-infested South Central Los Angeles. His mother, Dorothy Ollie, a single parent, is a preacher who steered her son straight.
Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin grew up in blighted East St. Louis, living in the housing projects, the son of Sandra Martin, who supported her three kids as a hotel maid by day and bartender by night.
Basketball was his ticket to Purdue University.
Louisville’s Rick Pitino is the son of Sal Pitino, a Queens, N.Y., building superintendent. Florida’s Billy Donovan is a Pitino protégé, first as a Providence guard and later as an assistant coach at Kentucky. Donovan is the son of Billy Donovan Sr., who lived on Long Island in New York and worked in the textile industry.
Donovan’s advice to his son was to work on Wall Street, which young Billy did when his NBA career fizzled. But after a few months in the brokerage business, Donovan found coaching as his calling.
Michigan coach John Beilein is one of nine children of Art Beilein of Burt, N.Y., who worked in a paper mill and operated an apple farm. Beilein had the most exhausting path to the Sweet 16: he coached at eight schools after graduating with a history degree at Wheeling (W.Va.) College, including Canisius, LeMoyne, Nazareth, Richmond and Eric Community College.
Welcome to the big leagues, Mr. Beilein.
San Diego State’s Steve Fisher, the son of Howard Fisher, a government worker from Herrin, Ill., played point guard at Illinois State and got his start at Rich East High School in Park Forest, Ill. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg was a BMOC at Ames (Iowa) High School, a quarterback-basketball star who stayed home and became a local legend at Iowa State, where his father, Eric Fisher, was a sociology professor.
The remaining Sweet 16 coaches are sons of coaches.
UCLA’s Steve Alford’s dad, Sam Alford coached Steve at New Castle, Ind., where the gymnasium capacity, 9,325, is the largest of its kind in high school basketball. Virginia’s Tony Bennett played on father Dick Bennett’s powerful Wisconsin-Green Bay team before they teamed up at Washington State, first dad, then son, which resulted in a 2008 Sweet 16 for the Cougars.
Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan grew up in Chester, Pa., home of UA freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, where his father, Butch Ryan, ran local youth basketball leagues when he could break away from his job as a pipefitter. And Baylor’s Scott Drew hails from coaching genes; his father, Homer Drew, coached Valparaiso to the NCAA tournament (including a 1996 first-round loss to Arizona) after 11 years at Bethel College.
The Sweet 16 coaches range in age from 41 (Ollie) to 69 (Fisher). Six played in the NBA. Only one, Drew, didn’t play college basketball. None grew up on a farm.
But this week they all find themselves in tall cotton.