NEW ORLEANS — Confetti falling in his hair, an extended hug with his recently widowed mother on the floor, a throng of media taking in every word he’ll give them.
Here’s Bill Self, once more on top of the sport. Put everything that goes into coaching college basketball into consideration, and it’s plain to see that Self is arguably the best out there. Monday provided it. You could also ask just about anyone in the college coaching profession; Self’s name is always included when listing those at the top of a best-coaches list. He often occupies slot No. 1.
His No. 1-seeded Jayhawks made history on Monday night, holding on vs. North Carolina, their 72-69 win giving the program its fourth national championship: 1952, 1988, 2008 and now.
Self just became the first Kansas coach to win multiple NCAA Tournament titles. Fourteen years after Mario Chalmers hit a 3-pointer to rally Kansas from a nine-point deficit late against Memphis — then win in overtime — Self brought his team back to the mountaintop. He did it in vintage Self style, coaching a second-half masterpiece and doing what had never been done in a title game in the 80-plus-year history of this grand event.
Kansas trailed 38-22 in the first half, and its 15-point halftime deficit (40-25) looked daunting after North Carolina unfurled a lengthy 29-13 run. Instead, it’s Kansas on the winning end, its victory registering as the greatest comeback in title game history. The Jayhawks did it with a well-rounded player performance; five guys finished between 12 and 15 points for Kansas. It was a classic Self masterpiece. For the third straight game, Kansas scored 41-plus second-half points. Adjustments, adjustments, adjustments.
He’s at the top of his craft, which is where he’s maintained a level for essentially 15-plus years.
“I think we’re probably all a little overwhelmed and spent,” Self said. “And I don’t know that I’ve ever had a team flip the script like we have probably in the NCAA Tournament, whether it be Miami in the Elite Eight or whether it be this game. But it would be special to win regardless But to win when your team had to fight and come back the way they did and show that much grit makes this one off the charts. be.”
The win obviously comes with a looming situation for Self and Kansas. That uncertain future has the potential to influence what Self can do or wants to do. Kansas is awaiting punishment from the NCAA (via the IARP), and sources have told CBS Sports that it’s likely that the damage will be severe — and coming soon. A ruling on Kansas happening in the near-future is likely.
This of course dates back to the FBI scandal, as the NCAA has pinned five Level I violations on Self and his program. He’s guaranteed a suspension, and its length could be anywhere from low double digits in games to sitting out an entire season. He’ll fight it all, and the university will certainly try to sue on his behalf, but because this is the IARP, there is no appeal process.
There’s a chance Kansas could also be banned from the 2023 postseason.
Here’s the question. Title No. 2 in hand. Self again conquering the sport. Would he choose to step away on top? I’m not suggesting he should. I’m not predicting he will. But if he decided to, who could blame him? We already know, via Self and Kansas’ own prior statements, how little they care for how the NCAA is handling this case. It’s as antagonistic of a situation between a school and the NCAA as we’ve seen in a long time — maybe ever. But the man has five Level I allegations against him and his program. Something catastrophic could be awaiting Kansas later this spring.
No one knows when Self’s next game will be, but it’s safe to say he won’t be coaching college basketball in November, not when a suspension is all but guaranteed at this point. At 59, he’s got plenty of coaching years left in him. How will he choose to spend them?
What if the NBA comes calling? Jobs turn over in that league at a high rate. Few candidates would have the credentials of Self. He’s been considered before and is respected at that level. Like many college coaching greats, there’s a natural curiosity that’s existed for years. He’d need to be offered a job, sure, but if he was… who’s to say he wouldn’t take it? Or shouldn’t?
Maybe this will only refuel him, though. The DNA of college coaches is usually to resist and fight and push back on the NCAA more than it is to dismiss punishment and seek success elsewhere. That seems the most likely path. Kansas just won a national title after living in recruiting limbo for years. A national championship will give it as much of a boost as it could possibly ask for, particularly given the uncertainty that’s still out there with its case. If anything could help offset recruiting barricades, a title would do it.
After all, if Self was able to do this under the cloud of uncertainty, what goods could await once Kansas gets on the other side?
It took him 14 years to win a second one. He’s one of just 16 men to do it in his sport. It feels natural for him to be at this point, if not delayed by a few years. He’s that good. With Self and Kansas it was basically a numbers game, and if he kept at it long enough he was going to get there. He might have gotten there in 2020, when Kansas had the best team. If this pandemic never landed, perhaps we’re talking about three-time champion Bill Self on this Tuesday after the title game. The NCAA Tournament is really hard to win, but Self is that good of a coach. Getting two does not feel like achievement so much as it is a natural progression of his career — even if his ascension of him has come with alleged rule-breaking that will make Kansas and its imminent infractions case one of the biggest stories of the off-season.
“They’re hard to get,” Self said of national championships. “Nobody’s ever put pressure on me that we’ve got to win another one, but I think I put pressure on myself knowing that this place deserves more than what we’ve won. And this year, I don’t know how these guys feel about me, but I’ve never felt more connected to a group than I have this year.”
Self lost his father, Bill Self Sr., just a few weeks ago. A title run paired with major life events can prompt reflection on things bigger than coaching in games. This was a special group, to be sure. Ochai Agbaji grew into one of the greatest four-year players ever at Kansas, and his development of him speaks to Self’s ability to create an environment in his program where one-and-dones can thrive just as much as four-year players who get better and better and better every year.
“When you go through stuff and when individuals go through stuff, everybody deals with crap,” Self said. “But I never said a word to these guys about anything I was going through, but they rose their own level to a level that propped me up. This is what makes coaching the best, because players can learn from coaches, but certainly coaches can learn from players.”
The man has won 763 games in his career. I’d love to see him coach deep into his 60s at KU, but in the big picture Self has nothing left to prove in college. Getting multiple championships puts you on a level few others can match. This man won 14 consecutive regular-season championships. That’s never getting duplicated at the power-conference level again. He can stay on and fight the NCAA, take the suspension and endure through sanctions and restrictions he’s never had before. Self’s been at the school for 19 seasons. If he sticks with it, the future might hold another championship or two years down the road. But he it’s probably not on the table for 2023.
If ever there was a window to try something different, now would be the time. Maybe the last time, even.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism