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From The Court To The Bench: ACC Players Who Became ACC Coaches

Including Jeff Capel and, next season, Jon Scheyer

ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round
GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 11: Head coach Jeff Capel of the Pittsburgh Panthers reacts following a play against the North Carolina State Wolfpack during their game in the second round of the 2020 Men’s ACC Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 11, 2020 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This past April North Carolina’s Hubert Davis became the 11th man to both play for an ACC team and later serve as an ACC head coach. Davis also is among seven former ACC players who went on to become head coaches at their alma maters.

Only one other ACC alum is currently operating on an ACC sideline, if not at the school he attended —Duke’s Jeff Capel. Previously the head coach at Virginia Commonwealth and Oklahoma, Capel is in his fourth year directing Pitt.

Davis joins the Wolfpack’s Sidney Lowe, Virginia’s Jeff Jones, and Wake’s Jackie Murdock as ACC veterans who made their head coaching debuts on a conference bench. All did so at the school where they played.

Jones is now head coach at Old Dominion. Lowe is currently an assistant with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Murdock has been out of basketball for awhile.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim played for the Orange back when Lyndon Johnson was president (1966 alum) but that was long before the school joined the conference. Nearly a half-century passed before SU found ACC refuge.

Of the 11 eventual head coaches with ACC playing roots, only Capel and Davis played with the 3-pointer and shot clock as permanent parts of the game. Davis, the former Tar Heel, was fourth-best in modern ACC history with .435 accuracy from beyond the arc.

David Padgett was among the very few men who coached an ACC team for a single season, along with South Carolina’s Walt Hambrick (1959), Duke’s recently deceased Neil McGeachy (1974), and Wake’s Murdock (1966).

Pete Gaudet (Duke, 1995), Mike Hopkins (Syracuse, 2016), and Scott Spinelli (BC, 2021) stepped in for part of a season. Hopkins, then Boeheim’s coach-in-waiting, served while the boss sat out an NCAA punishment.

Padgett stepped up to “acting head coach” for the 2018 season. A Kansas transfer, Padgett played center for the Cardinals from 2005-08. Like NC State’s Vic Bubas and Norm Sloan, and Syracuse’s Boeheim, he coached but never played in the ACC.

NC State produced the most ACC alum-coaches with three (Waters, Robinson, Lowe), followed by Duke and UNC with two each.

Four disciples of Hall of Famer Everett Case played at Raleigh and coached in the ACC – Sloan and Bubas in the late 1940s before the ACC existed, and later Waters at Duke and Robinson at State. Two Dean Smith disciples (Doherty, Davis) served at Chapel Hill.

Bubas piloted four Blue Devils squads to league championships within an eight-year span during the 1960s (1960, 1963, 1964, 1966) and reached the Final Four in ’63, ’64 and ’66.

Sloan won three league titles (1970, 1973, 1974), as well as the ’74 NCAA championship. The national title was the first by an ACC club since UNC in 1957. Sloan led the Wolfpack to a 57-1 record in 1973 and 1974, best two-year record ever in the conference. The ’73 squad was undefeated but prevented by NCAA probation from advancing past the ACC Tournament.

Bobby Cremins, like Smith an acolyte of Hall of Famer Frank McGuire, played at South Carolina while it was an ACC member and coached at Georgia Tech. He too won three ACC championships – in 1985, 1990 and 1993 – and took the Yellow Jackets to the 1990 Final Four.

Cremins’ title total compares favorably to the single ACC championship for coaching contemporary and ex-Dukie Lefty Driesell, a media favorite who won fewer games overall and in the conference than the USC product, had a lower career winning percentage, and failed to take a team to a Final Four. Driesell was recently inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.

Neither Cremins nor Sloan have been similarly honored.

The Terrapins’ volatile Gary Williams is yet another Hall of Famer with league playing and coaching roots. He served as a guard at his alma mater under Bud Millikan during the 1960s. At College Park Williams’ teams earned NCAA and ACC titles (2002 and 2004, respectively), a second Final Four visit (2001), and better overall league marks than Cremins, Sloan, or Driesell.

Hall of Famer Roy Williams never played for the Carolina varsity, but played on the junior varsity squad for a year and later coached the JV for eight. The Smith assistant established himself at Kansas, then returned to coach the Heels from 2004 through 2021. He won three NCAA titles (2005, 2009, 2017), three ACC championships (2007, 2008, 2016), and went to nine Final Fours, five at North Carolina.

We can predict with a fair degree of certainty that in 2022-23 Jon Scheyer will become the 12th ACC product to coach and play for a league team, in his case Duke.

Men Who Played On The Varsity And Later Served As Head Coach In ACC
Player, School Played Head Coach (Years)
Jeff Capel, Duke 1994-97 Pittsburgh (2019-)
Bobby Cremins, South Carolina 1968-70 Georgia Tech (1982-2000)
Hubert Davis, North Carolina 1989-92 North Carolina (2022-)
Matt Doherty, North Carolina* 1981-84 North Carolina (2001-03)
Charles "Lefty" Driesell, Duke% 1954 Maryland (1970-86)
Jeff Jones, Virginia 1979-82 Virginia (1991-98)
Sidney Lowe, NC State 1980-83 NC State (2007-11)
Jack Murdock, Wake Forest 1955-57 Wake Forest (1966)
Les Robinson, NC State 1963-65 NC State (1991-96)
Harold "Bucky" Waters, NC State 1956-58 Duke (1970-73)
Gary Williams, Maryland 1965-67 Maryland (1990-2010)
* Coached at Notre Dame in 2000, prior to ACC membership.
% Playing career began prior to advent of ACC.