Willem “Butch” van Breda Kolff coached at Hofstra for 13 total seasons over two tenures and recorded an overall record of 215-134 at the University, including a 23-1 campaign in 1959-60 that still holds as the best single-season winning percentage in school history. Butch’s 215 wins are the most of any Hofstra Basketball coach, while his .616 winning percentage is the third-highest mark in program history.
Butch coached Hofstra from 1955 to 1962, and after a long career coaching in the NBA, ABA and college ranks, returned to coach six more seasons with the Flying Dutchmen from 1988 to 1994, before retiring from the coaching ranks at the end of the 1993-94 campaign.
In his first stint with Hofstra, Butch had five 20-win seasons in seven years. He began with a 22-4 record in 1955-56 and concluded with a 24-4 mark in 1961-62. His 1961-62 team reached the second round of the NCAA Small College Eastern Regionals, while his 1959-60 and 1960-61 teams won a combined 23 games in a row, which remains a Hofstra record for the longest winning streak. During his second tenure with the Flying Dutchmen, Butch earned another 20-win season in 1991-92, when Hofstra finished with a 20-9 record. In his final coaching season, he earned the unique opportunity to end his career a winner, as the Flying Dutchmen earned the 1994 East Coast Conference championship with a dramatic 88-86 double-overtime win over Northeastern Illinois. The East Coast Conference did not have an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, enabling VBK, as he was affectionately known, to win his final game as a head coach.
Butch is the only person to have coached both an NCAA Final Four team (Princeton, 1965) and an NBA Finals squad (Los Angeles Lakers, 1968 and 1969). He compiled a professional and collegiate coaching record of 773-585, while coaching such basketball legends as Bill Bradley, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Pete Maravich.
Butch attended Princeton University, where he was a team captain in 1946-47. He was signed by the New York Knicks of the Basketball Association of America just after World War II, and played a total of four years in the BAA and the NBA, playing under legendary New York coach Joe Lapchick.
After leaving the NBA in 1950, Butch landed his first coaching job at Lafayette College. He coached the Leopards from 1952 to 1955, compiling a 69-34 record. He then coached at Hofstra from 1955 to 1962, and Princeton from 1963 to 1967. He guided the Tigers to the 1965 Final Four, and capped off his Princeton tenure with a 25-3 record in 1966-67 before being hired by the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA.
In his first season with the Lakers, van Breda Kolff guided his team to the 1968 NBA Finals, before losing to the Boston Celtics in six games. In his second campaign with the Lakers, his team – with Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain – compiled a 55-27 record and returned once again to the NBA finals, where it fell to the Celtics in seven games.
Butch then moved on to coach the Detroit Pistons during the 1969-70 season. In 1970-71, he guided the team to a 45-37 mark, the franchise's first winning season in 15 years. He then coached the Phoenix Suns for the first seven games of the 1972-73 campaign, and after a one-year stint with the Memphis Tams of the ABA, he returned to the NBA to coach the New Orleans Jazz, taking over in the middle of the 1974-75 season and departing partway through the 1976-77 campaign. Butch completed his NBA tenure with a career coaching record of 266-253 and a .513 winning percentage.
Butch returned to the collegiate coaching ranks with the University of New Orleans in 1977-78, where he guided the Privateers to a 21-6 record. He left New Orleans after the 1978-79 and worked in the private sector before returning to the college ranks in 1985 at Lafayette, the same program that he began his coaching career 30 years earlier. Butch stayed four seasons at Lafayette, before leaving to coach Hofstra once again for his final six seasons. In 28 years as a college coach, he compiled an impressive 483-272 record.
During his collegiate career, van Breda Kolff recorded 11 seasons with 20 or more victories. He coached six NCAA Tournament teams, one NIT team, three ECAC championship squads, and eight conference champions. He was voted the conference coach of the year three times, the United States Basketball Writers Association Coach of the Year once and the New York Basketball Writers Association Coach of the Year once. He was inducted into the New York Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and was presented with the Good Guy Award by the Metropolitan New York Athletic Directors in 1992.