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Thunder: How does Billy Donovan compare to other college-to-NBA head coaches?

Billy Donovan has been praised and criticized and everything in between this season.

The NBA is tough like that.

I wrote about the Thunder rookie coach's first season in the Thursday Oklahoman. You can read that column here: But by most accounts, Donovan has had a positive and profound effect on the Thunder.

Another way to look at Donovan is historically, so here's a list that I resurrected from our coverage after the Thunder first hired Donovan. Our man Berry Tramel put it together, and it looks at all the coaches who were hired from the college ranks to become NBA head coaches and took over teams with pretty solid talent. I have gone back and spruced up the list to focus more on how the college-to-NBA coaches did in their first seasons in the NBA. 

Donovan, again, fares quite well. 

Coach, College, NBA team, First season, Rookie record

John Kundla, St. Thomas, Minnesota Lakers, 1948-49, 44-16 (.733)

Kundla moved with the franchise to the NBA, and with George Mikan as the cornerstone, Kundla helped build a dynasty. He won a title in his rookie season, then four more in the next five seasons.

Fred Schaus, West Virginia, L.A. Lakers, 1960-61, 36-43 (.456)

Schaus took over a team with a 26-year-old Elgin Baylor and a 22-year-old Jerry West. While the Lakers lost in seven games in the Western Conference Finals in Schaus' rookie season, they made the NBA Finals four times under him.

Charlie Wolf, Villa Madonna, Cincinnati Royals, 1960-61, 33-46 (.418)

Hired from a tiny Kentucky college, Wolf inherited rookies Oscar Robertson and Bob Boozer as well as Jack Twyman and Wayne Embry. After a losing record in Wolf's rookie season, the Royals made back-to-back playoffs.

Frank McGuire, North Carolina, Philadelphia Warriors, 1961-62, 49-31 (.613)

McGuire took over quite a lineup, anchored by 25-year-old Wilt Chamberlain. Philly pushed Boston to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals in McGuire's one and only NBA season. He chose to return to college coaching.

Harry Gallatin, Southern Illinois, St. Louis Hawks, 1962-63, 48-32 (.600)

Gallatin, a hall of fame player, took over a stout team with Bob Pettit and Lenny Wilkens among others, and in his rookie season, he was named NBA coach of the year as the Hawks made the first of two consecutive trips to the West finals.

Butch van Breda Kolff, Princeton, L.A. Lakers, 1967-68, 52-30 (.634)

With Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, van Breda Kolff took the Lakers to the NBA Finals as rookie, then again in his second season after adding Wilt Chamberlain. He coached in the NBA another eight years but never again made the playoffs.

Joe Mullaney, Providence, L.A. Lakers, 1969-70, 46-36 (.561)

Mullaney replaced van Breda Kolff, inherited that great roster and made the NBA Finals in his rookie season. But after losing in the West finals the next season with an aging roster, Mullaney was fired. 

Paul Westhead, LaSalle, L.A. Lakers, 1979-80, 50-18 (.735)

Westhead was actually an interim head coach in his rookie season, moving from assistant after head coach Jack McKinney was injured a bicycle crash, but the transition was eased with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. The Lakers won the title that season. But after a first-round upset the next season, Westhead only lasted a few weeks into his third season before being fired.

Jerry Tarkanian, UNLV, San Antonio Spurs, 1992-93, 9-11 (.450)

The Spurs had already started a playoff run that continues to this day, but despite that and having a young David Robinson, Tark realized only a few months in that the NBA wasn't for him. He never coached in the league again.

Billy Donovan, Florida, Oklahoma City Thunder, 2015-16, 55-27 (.670)

Donovan took over a roster with two of the best players on the planet, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and finished the regular season with the best rookie year record by any college-to-pros coach in the past three decades. His postseason success? TBD.

Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State, Chicago Bulls, 2015-16, 42-40 (.512)

The Bulls handed Hoiberg an extremely talented roster. Derrick Rose. Jimmy Butler. Joakim Noah. Pau Gasol. Taj Gibson. But Hoiberg's rookie season became one of injury and discontent as the Bulls missed the playoffs.

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›