With all he’s achieved in this profession the Final Four still continues to elude the coach who has won over 300 games and taken three different teams to the Elite 8.
“I'd much rather play in the game than not be in it. But, you know, it hurts. Every coach and their staff, they work hard. This is a hard-working profession,” said Self who’s now 0-4 in Elite 8 games. “You put yourself in position to be in this game. You know, certainly you get this far, you have to deliver. I mean, that hasn't occurred.”
There are plenty of coaches who would love to say they have coached in four different Elite 8 games. Coming up on the short end is never an easy pill to swallow but Self is not alone. Some of the games more well-known coaches have never reached the Final Four.
Norm Stewart won over 700 games and went to only two Elite 8’s. Another coach who won over 700 games, Lefty Driesell took two different teams to the Elite 8 and was 0-4. Hall of Fame member John Chaney was 0-5 in Elite 8 games at Temple. Between those three coaches there’s well over 2,100 wins, and not a single Final Four.
Gene Keady, one of the Big Ten’s all-time best, went to two Elite 8’s and five Sweet Sixteens at Purdue. He amassed well-over 500 wins and never made it to the NCAA’s most celebrated weekend.
“Gene Keady never got to a Final Four. He's one of the best coaches in the modern era of basketball, history of basketball. Sometimes you have to have some luck and breaks go your way, like a Darren Collison three at the end of the shot clock,” said Howland referring to the back-breaking three made late in the shot clock that put UCLA up eight.
It takes luck, it takes bounces going your way and for Self, everything hasn’t fallen into place quite yet.
The difference between Self and some of the above-mentioned coaches is that none of them patrolled the sidelines at Kansas, a place where it’s Final Four or bust on a yearly basis. Many believe it’s only a matter of time before Self earns a Final Four appearance and a national title.
That certainly was the case for some of today’s big name coaches not too long ago.
Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun, another Hall of Famer, was 0-3 in Elite 8 games before breaking through in 1999 and now the UCONN coach has two national titles to his credit. By the way, Calhoun is actually 2-5 in Elite 8 games. So you can see he’s had to get there seven times just to participate in two Final Fours.
A Final Four eluded Gary Williams of Maryland for a long time. He was once the coach with the most NCAA tournament wins without a title, and a championship run in 2002 changed that conversation. So was Jim Boeheim of Syracuse who was next on that list. It took the Orange coach three Final Fours before winning a title. And yes, as Kansas fans well know, Roy Williams went to four Final Fours without a title and he now has one on his resume at North Carolina.
These coaches had to really “work” for their success. It didn’t come easily but the lesson to be learned here is that if you put yourself in this position often enough, you’ll likely break through. That’s certainly how UCLA coach Ben Howland feels about Self.
“There's no doubt in myself that Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks are going to win a national championship here at some point. They do an incredible job. They're as well-coached as anybody we've played,” an emphatic Howland stated. “It's an incredible program. He's one of the best coaches in the country without question. They will get there. They will win a national championship, I'm sure.”
It was high praise coming from Howland who also said that UCLA defeated “the best team it played all year today”. It certainly doesn’t lessen the blow to Self and his team.
“I'm not going to look and say, ‘Poor, pitiful me.’ It's not about that,” said a disappointed Self. “It's about getting your team there. I feel bad for our guys because they've given us a great opportunity to have a great year just because of their focus, unselfishness. We’ve got some really good, talented players. Everybody sacrificed for the good of the team, put away individual agendas. This isn't about me. It's about them.”
“But from my standpoint, you know, it hurts. You know, I really felt like that this was our year. I really felt like -- I'm not saying a year to win it all, but I really felt like we were the best-equipped team to make a strong run. And we did. It just wasn't good enough.”
There’s a plethora of reasons to believe that Kansas will be good enough sometime in the near future and it might just be in 2008.