NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament   - Final Four - Media Day
Getty Images

When new Kentucky coach Mark Pope walked off a bus inside Rupp Arena last month holding the 1996 national championship trophy he helped win as a player for the Wildcats, an arena filled to the brim with UK fans went nuts celebrating the return of a champion. It was a frenzied moment of both nostalgia and hope that the past and present will collide to bring more triumphs with Pope as the coach at his alma mater.

On the one hand, Pope has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game across nine total seasons as a coach at Utah Valley and BYU. Though his career 187-108 record is solid, his resume pales in comparison to national-title winners such as Billy Donovan, Dan Hurley and Scott Drew, who were each connected to the UK opening at some level.

But on the other hand, Pope knows firsthand what it takes to reach the pinnacle of college basketball while wearing a Wildcats uniform. Kentucky went 62-7 during Pope's two seasons under Rick Pitino, earned a pair of No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament and won the trophy that Pope toted on his way off the bus.

Pope averaged 7.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 20.3 minutes per game for the 1995-96 title team, earning him a spot in the lore of a proud program.

"Guys, it is the greatest honor that I will ever have in my to be able to come back here and do this with you," Pope said. "The difference between Kentucky and every other program in the country is that this is not my team. It is not even our team. It is our team."

Time will tell whether the passionate reunion between Kentucky and Pope yields the results UK fans are hoping for. They don't have to look far for an example of how a joyous reunion can go wrong. Kenny Payne won a national championship as a player at Louisville in 1986, but flopped as a coach, posting a 12-52 mark in two seasons from 2022-24.

Recent history shows that coaches returning to the schools where they once played produce a mixture of results ranging from horrendous to triumphant. Here's the ranking of big hits, big misses and a look at some of those who fell somewhere in between. 

The coaches ranked are either active now or were hired by their former school within the past 15 years.

Big hits

1. Matt Painter, Purdue (2005-present)

Painter spent one season as a college head coach at Southern Illinois before returning to Purdue to be the Boilermakers head coach in waiting in 2004. After one season working under Gene Keady, his former coach, Painter took over the head job. Now 19 years in, his stardom has never been higher. The Boilermakers are coming off consecutive outright Big Ten titles and just reached the Final Four for the first time since 1980. 

2. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State (2010-15)

With no collegiate coaching experience, Hoiberg took over at Iowa State just a few years after retiring as a player. He produced stunning results for a program that had posted four straight losing records before his arrival. After going 16-16 in Year 1, Hoiberg took ISU to four straight NCAA Tournaments before he was hired as head coach of the Chicago Bulls.

3. Hubert Davis, North Carolina (2021-present)

Davis is doing a nice job through three seasons as he navigates the unenviable task of replacing Roy Williams. He started by leading the Tar Heels to the Final Four in 2021-22. Although the 2022-23 season was a big flop, UNC rebounded by winning the ACC regular season title and reaching the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed in 2023-24. Next year's squad is shaping up quite nicely as UNC stands at No. 3 in Gary Parrish's Top 25 And 1.

4. Jamie Dixon, TCU (2016-present)

TCU had been to just two NCAA Tournaments since expansion in 1985 before Dixon took over in 2017. The former Horned Frogs guard has guided his alma mater to four appearances in the Big Dance and six 20-win seasons in eight years. TCU was a Big 12 punching bag before Dixon's arrival. Now, it has made three consecutive NCAA Tournaments for the first time in program history.

5. Jon Scheyer, Duke (2022-present)

Elevated to replace Mike Krzyzewski at just 34, Scheyer has kept the Duke standard high in his first two years by winning the ACC Tournament in his first season and reaching the Elite Eight in his second. Scheyer has another big challenge ahead as he builds his 2024-25 roster around No. 1 ranked freshman Cooper Flagg. His legacy is mostly undetermined at this point, but he's been good so far.  

Big misses

Kenny Payne failed to find the success success at Louisville that he had as a player. USATSI

1. Kenny Payne, Louisville (2022-24)

After years as an assistant at Oregon, Kentucky and with the New York Knicks, Payne landed the head coaching job at his alma mater in 2022. His tenure an unmitigated disaster. The Cardinals lost an exhibition game to Division II Lenoir-Rhyne before Payne's tenure officially began, and things never improved. He was fired after going 12-52 in two seasons.

2. Kim Anderson, Missouri (2014-17)

Unlike many of the other busts, Anderson actually entered with significant experience running a college program. His Central Missouri team won the 2014 Division II national title, and that achievement catapulted Anderson to the top seat at Mizzou. But the Tigers never won more than 10 games in his three seasons, and Anderson's tenure concluded with an 8-46 mark in SEC play.

3. Eddie Jordan, Rutgers (2013-16)

Jordan starred for Rutgers' 1976 Final Four team and enjoyed a fruitful NBA playing and coaching career. But he couldn't replicate that success at Rutgers. Faced with the difficult task of navigating the Scarlet Knights from the Big East to the Big Ten, Jordan posted a 7-25 (1-17 Big Ten) mark in his third and final season.

4. Patrick Ewing, Georgetown (2017-23)

Ewing's tenure began in somewhat respectable fashion as the Hoyas finished 19-14 (9-9 Big East) with an NIT appearance in his second season. Then, in Year 4, he led the Hoyas on a stunning Big East Tournament title run that resulted in a surprise NCAA Tournament appearance. But the bottom fell out during his last two seasons as Georgetown went 13-50 overall and 2-37 in the Big East, which led to a change following the 2022-23 season.

5. Chris Mullin, St. John's (2015-19)

A three-time Big East Player of the Year during his time in college, Mullin landed the St. John's job in 2015 and steadily improved, culminating with an appearance in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. But on the whole, it was a struggle. The Red Storm never posted a winning record in Big East play during Mullin's four seasons as he finished just 20-52 in conference games.

Mixed bag

These prominent coaches who were hired by the schools where they played are a mixed bag of success and frustration.

Mike Woodson, Indiana (2021-present)

Neither of Woodson's two most-recent predecessors at Indiana did anything worth mentioning in their first three seasons, and by the time Archie Miller was fired in 2021, it had been five years since the Hoosiers reached the NCAA Tournament. Woodson came in and immediately got IU to consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Though IU regressed to 19-14 and missed the Big Dance in 2024, Woodson has a strong class of transfers entering. This one could still go either way.

Juwan Howard, Michigan (2019-24)

Howard took Michigan to an Elite Eight as a No. 1 seed in his second season and led the Wolverines back to the Sweet 16 the following season. It ended in flames following an 8-24 season and plenty of drama. But his five-year roller-coaster of a tenure featured some highs that should be acknowledged.

Penny Hardaway, Memphis (2018-present)

Memphis has won 20+ games in all six seasons of Hardaway's tenure, which is impressive for someone who entered the job with no coaching experience beyond the high school level. But the Tigers have yet to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Given the big game Hardaway talked early in his tenure, the lack of postseason pop is disappointing.

Shaheen Holloway, Seton Hall (2022-present)

Holloway just led Seton Hall to a 25-win season and NIT title after the Pirates were left on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble with a 13-7 Big East record. Normally, that type of season would be a harbinger of big things to come. But the portal hit Seton Hall with force, leaving Holloway on uneven footing entering Year 3 on the job.

Kevin Ollie, UConn (2012-18)

UConn won the 2014 national championship in Ollie's second season as coach. Eventually, amid diminishing on-court results and allegations of NCAA violations, he was fired for cause. Ollie's six-year run featured the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

Keeping score

Notable recent coaches at their alma maters

AlabamaMark Gottfried1998-09210-131
ButlerThad Matta2000-0124-8
ButlerThad Matta2022-current32-33
ButlerLaVall Jordan2017-2283-74
ButlerBrandon Miller2013-1414-17
ButlerTodd Lickliter2001-07131-61
ButlerBarry Collier1989-00196-132
CincinnatiMick Cronin*2006-19296-147
DaytonAnthony Grant2017-current149-72
DukeJon Scheyer2022-current54-18
GeorgetownPatrick Ewing2017-2375-109
GeorgetownCraig Esherick1999-04103-74
HoustonClyde Drexler1998-0019-39
IndianaMike Woodson2021-current63-40
Iowa StateFred Hoiberg2010-15115-56
LouisvilleKenny Payne2022-2412-52
LouisvilleDavid Padgett2017-1822-14
LSUJohnny Jones2012-1790-72
MarylandGary Williams1989-11461-252
MemphisPenny Hardaway2018-current133-62
MichiganJuwan Howard2019-current87-72
MinnesotaBen Johnson2021-current41-54
MissouriKim Anderson2014-1727-68
NC StateSidney Lowe2006-1186-78
North CarolinaHubert Davis2021-current78-31
North CarolinaRoy Williams2003-21485-163
North CarolinaMatt Doherty2000-0353-43
Oklahoma StateSean Sutton2006-0839-29
Oklahoma StateEddie Sutton1990-06368-151
Ole MissRod Barnes1998-06141-109
OregonErnie Kent1997-2010235-173
Penn StateEd DeChellis2003-11114-138
PurdueMatt Painter2005-current447-203
RutgersEddie Jordan2013-1629-68
Seton HallShaheen Holloway2022-current42-28
St. John'sChris Mullin2015-1959-73
SyracuseRed Autry2023-current20-12
SyracuseJim Boeheim1976-231,015-441
TCUJamie Dixon2016-current160-110
TexasChris Beard*2021-2329-13
Texas TechMark Adams*2021-2343-25
UConnKevin Ollie2012-1897-79
WashingtonLorenzo Romar2002-17298-195
West VirginiaBob Huggins2007-23345-203
West VirginiaGale Catlett1978-02439-281
XavierChris Mack2009-18215-97