For the last dozen years, they have ranked among the handful of coaches who consistently produce elite teams. Between them, they have won 743 games, two NIT titles, an Olympic gold medal and enough regular-season tournaments to fill a nice-sized trophy case.
But neither Marquette's Al McGuire nor North Carolina's Dean Smith has won the Big One, the NCAA tournament championship. For one of them, that will change Monday night.
They've gotten to this 8:15 p.m. showdown by employing vastly different coaching styles and philosophies, and by recruiting different types of players. But it probably wouldn't be justice to end this crazy basketball season with an NCAA final between teams with similar approaches to the sport.
And this final has an added dramatic touch. It is McGuire's last game after 20 years, (13 at Marquette) as a college coach and - just as when UCLA's John Wooden bowed out three years ago - many would like to see him leave with the sweetest victory of them all.
Carolina, however, can counter with its own dramatic overtone. Only Kentucky's Adolph Rupp has coached an Olympic basketball champion and won an NCAA title seven months later. Smith can accomplish that feat Monday night.
Both coaches have had one previous shot at the NCAA championship. McGuire lost to David Thompson and North Carolina State in 1974; Smith lost to Kareen Abdul-Sabbeer and UCLA in 1968. But neither these schools nor the coaches, who are long-time friends, have played each other in a formal game.
The contrasts and comparisons extend even to the players. Carolina athletes wear vested suits and speak in guarded, coach-approved tones; Marquette athletes wear blue jeans and rugby shirts and yell at their coach.
Carolina freshman sensation Mike O'Koren and Marquette playmaker Jim Boylan play against each other regularly on the Jersey City, N.J., playgrounds. "Boylan," said O'Koren, "is always the first guy chosen in pickup games, which means he's good Me? I'm picked fifth."
Bolan is at Marquette only because Smith recommended him to McGuire two years ago when the guard was ready to leave Assumption College. Boylan had wanted to attend North Carolina but Smith won't accept transfers unless their last name is MacAdoo.
Marquette's Butch Lee wanted to try out for Smith's Olympic team (which included Carolina's Phil Ford, LaGarde), but was not invited. So he Walter Davis and the injured Tom played for Puerto Rico and scored 35 points, mostly while being guarded by Ford, in a one-point loss to the Americans.
"Phil and Walter came back from Montreal and said Butch was busting everyone," said Carolina's John Kuester, who will guard Lee Monday night. "They did everything to stop him and couldn't."
The coaches agree there are no mysteries as to how employ their players in the final. Carolina wants a fast tempo ("So we can score 90 points," said Smith) and will press to force Marquette into turnovers. The Warriors want a slow-paced cat-and-mouse game ("If we give up 70 points, it's tap city," said McGuire) and will not force shots or do any running.
Marquette will concentrate on stopping Ford. "He is the head of the body," said McGuire. "You've got to chop off the head. No one will ever know the real value of the four-corner until Ford leaves. He is their blue-plate special. He makes them."
Carolina will concentrate on Boylan and Lee. The Tar Heels don't want Marquette to control the clock with its deliberate offense the Warrior guards run so smoothly. But the Tar Heels have had problems in the past changing the style of deliberate squads, especially when playing Virginia.
Both teams have had to struggle to get this far, although Carolina has had the tougher tournament opposition, which it has overcome despite the absence of LaGarde and injuries to Ford and Davis. Carolina, shooting incredibly well, has won its last 15 games; Marquette eight of nine after suffering midseason slump.
Smith, chosen today by his national coaching association peers as coach of they year, is the ultimate technican. His teams play a complex assortment of offenses and defenses and are so thoroughly instructed in preseason practice that, he said, "We don't expect to face anything during the season that we haven't talked about before it starts".
McGuire is the ultimate maverick. He says his coaching philosophy is "Keep it simple, stupid." He hates X's and O's but loves to match wits with the opposition during games. "When I get on the court," he said, "something snaps. Let's face it, you're a gladiator out there. It's your show."
McGuire's way is what he calls "wearing your own number and remembering you can't relive a moment. You've got to make the most of each moment when you can." Smith's way is $200 suits, selective recruiting and dictator like control over his program.
That's what makes this matchup so fascinating. North Carolina represents the basketball establishment; Smith, along with Bobby Knight, inherited Wooden's mantle of genius when Wooden retired. Marquette represents what McGuire says is the iree spirit in all of us.
Maybe, McGuire said, this is the year for free spirits. "I'm the problem, not the team," he added. "I've got to keep things under control.
"No one is impressed with us. The last four teams we beat think they are better than us. But I'll tell you this: we're good. If you beat Marquette, you've done a hell of a job."