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How much longer will Bill Self coach?
In a Wednesday interview with ESPN.com’s Myron Medcalf, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self shed a sliver of light on just how much longer he might like to coach.
Brace yourselves, Kansas fans. Self’s answer was not, “forever.”
Self, who will turn 55 in late December, often has shared the feeling that he is unlikely to follow in the footsteps of coaches like Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim (72), Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (70) and North Carolina’s Roy Williams (67), all of whom are still going strong at or near the age of 70.
“I’ve said all along that if I could go to my late 50s, that’d be good for me,” Self told Medcalf on Wednesday. “Now that I'm getting close to my late 50s, I’m like, ‘Well ... ,’ but my contract runs until I’m 59, so I’ve got five more years left. I definitely want to do that. Then whatever happens after that I’d be happy with whatever.”
Self’s current contract, which was extended by four years back in 2012, runs through the 2021-22 season. And, at this point, 60 fast-approaching or not, it’s hard to imagine Self hanging it up then.
Self carries himself today with as much charm and charisma as he did the day he arrived at Kansas and operates, acts and looks a lot more like a coach in his 40s than one talking about turning 60. That’s with players, fans, colleagues and, perhaps most importantly, recruits.
Medcalf’s story also quoted Self as saying that the never-ending world of modern recruiting, “just wears you down,” and it’s certainly understandable that a life that does not involve tracking every move of young ballplayers from the time they’re 14 or 15 years old through the day they announce their college of choice would be appealing to Self and dozens of other coaches in similar positions.
Still, as things stand today, it sure seems like there’s a lot for Self still to accomplish before he hangs up his whistle.
Don’t mistake that for more to prove. There really isn’t much for Self still to prove.
He already has a national title; — though one or six more of those surely would please both him and the rabid Kansas fan base — the Big 12 Conference title streak already is the longest in the history of the game and Self is the only coach to have racked up that many consecutive conference titles all on his watch; he recently was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; and his trophy case is full of a variety of coach of the year hardware.
While those credentials, and many more, were what earned Self his rightful spot in the Hall of Fame this year and a permanent place in the hearts of Kansas fans forever, it really does seem as if Self is simply getting better with age. Say what you will about his record in Elite Eight games — 2-7 all-time, 2-5 at Kansas and 0-2 in the past two seasons — you just don’t see the kind of elite-level consistency that Self’s Kansas teams have produced pretty much anywhere else.
That’s what makes that five-year time frame he talked about so hard to imagine.
Self’s coaching career began in 1993, at the age of 30, when he took over the Oral Roberts program after several years as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State. When he was a junior in high school back in Oklahoma, he told his father, Bill Self, Sr., that he would become a college head coach by age 30 and, after achieving that goal — “That was just unbelievable to me,” Bill Self Sr., recently told the Journal-World — Self moved forward with a career that has been turning heads and accomplishing goals — big time, lofty, next-level goals — ever since.
He picked up his 100th victory while at Tulsa in 1999, grabbed win No. 200 just four years after that, during his final season at Illinois and snagged his 300th win during his fourth season at KU.
Since then, Self has been on pace to eclipse a major milestone victory about every three years, with No. 400 coming in 2010, No. 500 coming in 2013 and No. 600 coming last December. Self ended the 2016-17 season with 623 career victories, giving him an impressive average of 26 wins per season during his 24 seasons as a head coach, a number that, somehow, rises to an eye-popping 30 wins a year during his 14 seasons at Kansas.
Who knows how many more wins or seasons Self will actually coach? While records and milestones are as appealing to him as the next guy, you just don’t get the sense that those things really matter that much unless you’re talking about the milestones that come with a net and a trophy on the final Monday of each college basketball season.
Given the fact that Boeheim and Coach K (both already over 1,000 career victories) are still coaching and winning, it’s hard to imagine Self one day climbing to the top of that list. But winning 800 games seems within reach, and, provided Rick Pitino (770), Bob Huggins (747) and John Calipari (694) all get there before him, Self would become just the 12th coach in NCAA Division I history to reach 800 wins.
Would a milestone like that be a good enough note on which to call it a career? Perhaps. Keep in mind that Self mentor and close friend, Eddie Sutton, guided his teams to 806 victories during his remarkable career. Wouldn’t there be something special about Self tying that mark or, in true Self fashion, perhaps finishing right behind Sutton at 805?
Regardless of whether Self goes to the end of his current contract and hangs ’em up or gets to that point and decides he wants to coach another 5 or even 10 years, one thing is certain: He’s definitely the kind of guy who would (a) want to walk away with a lot of good years of living still ahead of him, and (b) would have the discipline to say he’s done and then actually call it a career.
LISTEN: Our latest KU Sports Hour podcast explores a number of "What If" scenarios surrounding recent Kansas basketball history...