Rick Pitino is the inspiration for this list. The disgraced former Louisville coach has recently said he is retired, and has published a book. Although Pitino was on the backside of his career and although he did deserve what happened to him, he was nonetheless still in his prime as a coach. Pitino turned out excellent Louisville teams year in and year out and is only five years removed from a national championship.
So that’s the kind of coach we’re talking about here — a guy who was still crushing it, yet had to go.
Bobby Knight, Indiana Hoosiers, 2000
You could say that Indiana’s best years were behind it by the time Knight finally wore out his welcome in Bloomington, His last great team came in 1992-93, when the Hoosiers went 31-4 and lost in the Elite Eight, but he was still riding 16 straight NCAA Tournament appearances when he got fired for assaulting a player and a regular Indiana student, among other transgressions.
Proving Knight still had the juice, he went to Texas Tech and got it right into the NCAA Tournament and won an average of 21 games in six seasons at a school not exactly known for basketball excellence.
Jim Harrick, UCLA Bruins, 1996
Jim Harrick got fired at UCLA for one of the dumbest reasons possible. He was hosting a recruiting dinner for a couple of prospects, which was legal to do until Cameron Dollar and Charles O’Bannon sat down at the table. They were UCLA players at the time, and since Harrick paid the tab, they had technically received an impermissible benefit, according to the NCAA rulebook. So Harrick puts it down on the expense report that it was his wife and a new assistant coach that had the two meals, not Dollar and O’Bannon.
He got busted and that’s what got him fired from UCLA right before the 1996-97 season began, and less than two years after he led the Bruins to their first national championship since Wooden.
Eddie Sutton, Oklahoma State Cowboys, 2006
You might say it’s a stretch to say 70-year-old Eddie Sutton was still in his prime when a drunk driving accident ended his career at Oklahoma State in 2006. But he’d just taken the Cowboys to a Big 12 championship and the Final Four two years earlier and the 06-07 team won 22 games.
He was the interim coach at San Francisco during the 2007-08 season long enough to get him over 800 wins before he retired for good.