For Roy Williams, the reason is simple. It’s the same reason why he does so many of the things he does. He wears a coat and tie on the sideline because Dean Smith wore a coat and tie on the sideline.
For most college basketball coaches, like Williams, a suit and tie is the closest thing to a uniform, but there are almost as many sideline fashion looks as there are coaches. At one end, there’s the Triangle’s carefully formal foursome of Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, Mark Gottfried and LeVelle Moton. At the other, there’s West Virginia’s windbreakered Bob Huggins, who looks like he just finished speed-walking 20 laps of the Morgantown Towne Centre.
For the most part, they can be sorted into two schools: Those who wear ties, and those who do not.
There are exceptions. When Tony Bennett started out at Virginia, he often went suited but tie-less, like an equities trader headed to the bar for Happy Hour. Now, he’s rarely seen without a tie.
The coat-and-tie people are traditionalists. This is what basketball coaches wore. This was their uniform, from Everett Case to John Wooden to Smith. Suits gave some ground to garish blazers at one point, and all bets were (and still are) off at a holiday tournament in the tropics, but the orthodoxy was enforced.
George Raveling, at Iowa in the ’80s, was the first prominent coach to break the code. He and his staff wore tracksuits on the bench, on the theory that there was no reason to wear an expensive suit around a bunch of sweaty players.
Open collar look
That trend never really caught on, but it still has its disciples. Huggins, who ditched his suits for a windbreaker and other casual attire a few years ago, is Raveling’s sartorial heir.
On the next notch up: new-school coaches like Notre Dame’s Mike Brey and Harvard’s Tommy Amaker, who wear suits and sportcoats, but never a tie.
Amaker’s signature look features not only an open collar but a blazer with both buttons buttoned, the kind of traditional fashion faux pas the cool kids like to turn on its head. It’s as close as college hoops will ever get to punk.
Brey was once known for wearing mock turtlenecks, a different and less forgivable kind of fashion faux pas, but has since upgraded and refined his look, always stopping short of the neckwear. “I wear a tie to funerals and weddings,” Brey once said.
Curiously, both are former assistants to Krzyzewski at Duke, where their mentor is rigidly coat-and-tie. As were they in their time at Duke.
“They wouldn’t do something different,” Krzyzewski affirmed.
It is not a trend among former Duke assistants. Johnny Dawkins (Stanford), Chris Collins (Northwestern) and Steve Wojciechowski (Marquette) all follow in their mentor’s image.
Krzyzewski’s look is traditional without being dated, about what you’d expect from a military man who sees himself as much a CEO as basketball coach. Esquire once called him the best-dressed coach in college basketball. (Villanova’s Jay Wright might have something to say about that.) The tie is mandatory. In addition to his suits, he also always wears two lapel pins representing his charity work, which leads to lapel overload when he has to wear an NCAA pin during the tournament.
Krzyzewksi said it’s too late to change now; he wears more casual attire coaching Team USA, but if he ditched his tie while coaching Duke it would be a “big story” and “they would do a psycho test on
That’s a common thread among the orthodox. Habit is a big factor. Gottfried said he wouldn’t wear a suit if it weren’t comfortable, with a tip of the cap to his tailor in Fuquay-Varina, but that downplays his fashion sense a hair, from pocket squares with corners pressed so sharp you could put an eye out to the monogrammed gold belt buckle proclaiming his initials: MFG.
Some push the style envelope even farther, from Williams and his love-them-or-hate-them-plaid-overload Alexander Julian outfits, to Wright’s from-the-pages-of-GQ ensembles. Kentucky’s John Calipari likes high-end Italian suits, lots of pinstripes, classy rather than snazzy. Louisville’s Rick Pitino, his white Colonel Sanders suit aside, leans more to the rakish.
The common thread? Ties. Always.
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo doesn’t aspire to join that group from a couture point of view, but he’s still worn a tie to all but one game this year. He can’t offer a good reason, other than he always has.
“I like Amaker and Brey’s look, personally,” Izzo said. “For me, I like the no-tie look. I haven’t done it. It’s not anything respectful or disrespectful. When I was an assistant we were going through that phase where guys were wearing sweatsuits. I’m not sure I was crazy about that. You’ve got to look like you know what you’re doing. If you look too casual, the refs won’t take you seriously.”
That’s almost exactly what Smith told Williams many, many years ago: be professional. He hasn’t wavered since. He only rarely even takes his coat off during a game.
“Coach Smith told me a long time ago, if you want to be respected as a businessman is, as a professional is, you got to dress like one,” Williams said. “He never changed or told me any different. So I will never coach a game unless I’ve got a coat and tie on. That may be corny or silly or whatever it is, but I don’t think coach Smith would coach a game today without one, so I’m not going to.”
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947