The College Basketball coach dress code used to be suit and tie or sit on the sideline. Now, it's a free-for-all that needs to be stopped.
Left: Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images, Left-Center: Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images, Right-Center: Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images, Right:Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Sideline Suits: The Coaching Athleisure Revolution Has Officially Gone Too Far

Late on the first night of the men's NCAA Tournament, the Tennessee Volunteers were trying to stave off a frisky Louisiana team. The Ragin' Cajuns made a spirited run toward the end of the second half, making the game unexpectedly close. Coaching Tennessee was Rick Barnes. Barnes has been a Division I head coach since 1987. He's most notable for underperforming in big games at Texas for almost 20 seasons and wasting Kevin Durant's lone college season. So seeing Barnes on the sidelines is not exactly a novelty. But there was something about seeing him that was a bit unsettling. Couldn't figure it out at first. I mean, he looks great for a 68-year-old. He's got all his teeth, his hair was combed. No big issues.

And then it hit me: It felt weird that Rick Barnes was not wearing a suit.

Suited and Booted

Head coach Matt Painter of the Purdue Boilermakers talks with the team during the second half of a game against the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

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For as long as anyone can remember, basketball coaches wore suits. A few may have broken ranks from the shirt-and-tie combo — Mike Brey's turtlenecks come to mind — but generally speaking, on game day, the coaching staff suited up as if they were headed to a wedding. Or a first Communion. Or a community theater production of Guys and Dolls.

This all changed with the NBA's COVID-19 bubble in Orlando, Florida, in the fall of 2020. With no fans in attendance, it was deemed a little silly to wear suits and ties strictly for the television broadcast.

Later that year, when college basketball returned to arenas but fans did not, college coaches followed suit (pun not intended, but intentionally not avoided). Across the country, coaches ditched their tailors in favor of team-branded polos and pullovers.

Here's where I give an important disclosure, that I don't actually care what coaches wear and I'm not a crank who believes wearing athleisure is a sign of disrespect for the beauty of James Naismith's invention of the beautiful game of roundball. Football coaches have dressed like garbage for decades, and baseball managers famously dress like they could pinch hit if needed. Like, the stakes here couldn't be lower.

And yet — there is something about seeing Barnes in an ill-fitting jumper and slacks that just didn't feel right. Dude has been coaching basketball longer than I've been alive. All of a sudden, we're just gonna change up outfits? It's weird! Matt Painter has been the head coach at Purdue since 2005. Why is he walking around the sidelines in a dumpy-looking long-sleeve shirt and sweatpants?

But for some coaches, the golf polo and Lululemon pants combo works well. Like, how is Marquette's Shaka Smart supposed to get down in a proper defensive stance while wearing a suit? And Tobin Anderson, the little guy from Fairleigh Dickinson? Looks great in his little black quarter zip situation, that little zipper pulled all the way up!

A Third Way

Head coach Jim Larranaga of the Miami Hurricanes looks on during the first half in the Elite Eight round game of the 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Kansas Jayhawks

Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

We need some type of compromise. I want a college basketball world where we get the best of both worlds. Three-piece suits versus track suits. Athleisure versus Armani. Khakis versus cashmere.

Here's my first draft of a proposal:

If you're 60 and up, you can't do the athleisure thing. Sorry, I don't make the rules. Oh whoops, I do, and that's the rule, and it's ageist as hell, sorry. I'm not saying you have to go full suit and tie for every game. But keep it business casual at least. You can go button-down shirt with a quarter zip over it. You can go shirt and tie, no jacket. Maybe you try out the Midtown Uniform. Heck, you can even sneak a pair of sneakers in there as long as it looks put together. But you can't look like a mall walker who just wandered onto the sidelines of a high-profile college basketball game. That's gotta end.

If you've been coaching the same team since 2008 or earlier, you gotta wear a suit. Maybe if you change schools, you get the opportunity to rebrand. But I've watched you wear one thing for the better part of 15 years and now I'm just supposed to adjust my expectations? No, no. You gotta sweat through those suits like you always have. Sorry.

If you're still coaching at 80 years old, all these rules go out the window. Just be comfortable, you've earned it.

Everyone else can do what they want. Try to make it look put together, though, will you? Hell, would love to see a coach wearing a jersey and shorts. Maybe there will be some 40-year-old coach who finds an NCAA loophole and gets eligibility for next year's tournament. I mean if Drew Timme is still in college, why not Juwan Howard?

But before you make a choice, just look at Ricky P.

In a world of joggers and T-shirts, my man is still going with the suit. It's that type of mentality that helped Iona pull off the upset over UConn en route to a Sweet 16 berth.

Oh crap, they lost? Whatever. Still looks good.

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