I can’t tell you a lot about the Naismith Hall of Fame selection process; only by describing its renderings can we begin to interpret its thinking. But I would suggest that with Gonzaga’s recent run to the NCAA championship game, Mark Few ought to have done himself a major favor in someday gaining entry into that lodge.
The HOF’s proceedings are notoriously clandestine. Back when I was U.S. Basketball Writers president in 1992-93, I recall being on an advisory committee. We had a conference call, and representatives from organizations like the NBA and USA Basketball weighed in on candidates. I think we took a vote on them, but it may have been merely advisory. And that was that. I don't think we even knew ahead of time who had been selected.
To my knowledge, there are no hard-and-fast markers to aid in consideration of college coaches, and perhaps that’s the way it should be.
What we do know is that annual classes have expanded, both to accommodate the growth of women’s and international basketball. There also seems to be a trend of recognition of “contributors,” those who gave something considerable to the sport apart from playing or coaching it.
The coaching landscape has certainly changed, and not necessarily for the good of Few’s argument. Of the last 13 Division I coaches to be named, dating to 2002, 12 have won national championships. That statistic is in itself a little chilling, because it seems to say that the committee isn’t looking deeper, at circumstance and setting.
But go back from 2001 to 1985, the year former PLU, Washington State and Washington coach Marv Harshman was selected. There were 15 Division I coaches in that group, and seven didn’t win a title, including Harshman or Oregon State’s Ralph Miller. In fact, neither of those two made a Final Four.
Thus, it’s a moving target, or at least a developing one.
Total victories help, but they’re not a guarantee of anything. In fact, look at Nos. 13-15 and 17 on the all-time total wins list at any NCAA level entering the 2016-17 season: Thirteenth is Eddie Sutton at 806; 14th is Rollie Massimino (793); 15th is West Virginia’s Bob Huggins (791) and 17th is Lefty Driesell at 786. And Massimino has Villanova’s stirring 1985 championship (but a checkered record elsewhere, including his last six ‘Nova teams, which were 48-50 in the Big East).
I’d expect retired Bo Ryan (747 wins at three schools) to find a way in soon. You’d also like to think the committee would have been considering somebody like Mike Montgomery, who was pretty much spotless over 32 years, with 677 wins -- an average of 27 in his last seven years at Stanford -- and a worthy antagonist of powerful Arizona in Lute Olson’s best years.
So . . . Few?
With Gonzaga’s dazzling 37-2 season, he jumped the 500-win mark and is now 503-113, a win percentage of .8165. That leapfrogs him two spots to No. 4 all-time among NCAA coaches at all levels, behind two legendary figures, No. 3 Adolph Rupp and No. 2 Clair Bee. (No. 1? Wait for it -- Jim Crutchfield, who just resigned as head coach of your Division II West Liberty, W.Va. Hilltoppers to take the job at Nova Southeastern in Florida. His win percentage of .855 might get bruised as he rebuilds Nova’s 6-20 team this season.)
But let’s not get consumed with total victories or win percentage. The West Coast Conference is a victory waiting to happen, at least when you’re not playing Saint Mary’s or BYU.
Here’s what should matter: That Few has been the driving force in a long, sustained, organic movement of Gonzaga from college-basketball nobody to national player, a phenomenon the extent of which hasn’t happened in recent decades in the game. And maybe ever.
It should matter that Gonzaga has now gone to 19 straight NCAA tournaments, tied for sixth on the all-time list. And that in winning games in nine straight tournaments, the Zags sit at No. 10 in history in that metric.
As I wrote in the book “Glory Hounds,” it might take a deeper look at the Gonzaga story than mere win-loss records and percentages to assess Few’s impact. The committee did just that in naming John Chaney in 2001, minus a Final Four but with a major contribution to African-Americans in his job at Temple; and Princeton’s Pete Carril (1997), a figure who never came close to a Final Four but forged an indelible stamp on the game with his strategic concepts.
A Final Four will only help Few’s case. There’s work still to be done. But it seems ever more doable.