Shocker! An actual basketball coach wins the Bracket Fiasco!

Your new Bracket Fiasco champion. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Koudele)

Your new Bracket Fiasco champion. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Koudele)

In the first 22 years of Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco, we’d had an actual rock star — Mike Mills, bassist/keyboardist/vocalist for R.E.M., 1999 — win our contest but never anyone who makes his living coaching basketball. In Year 23, things changed. Our new champion and recipient of the coveted Final Four sweatshirt is Ryan Koudele (pronounced Koo-DELL), and he’s the boys’ basketball coach at North Springs High in Sandy Springs.

Given the permutations of this NCAA tournament, it makes sense that our winner had inside knowledge. Koudele, who’s 36 and who just finished his third season as the Spartans’ coach, served as a student coach at Kansas State, from which he graduated in 1996. He worked under head coaches Dana Altman and Tom Asbury and alongside a young assistant named Mark Fox, who has since found gainful employment in Athens, Ga.

The Fiasco drew 5,376 entries. Not one contestant picked the correct Final Four. (Your Fiasco founder got just one of the four, and that only by picking West Virginia over his alma mater.) Nineteen got three teams right, and Koudele won on the first tiebreaker by tabbing seven of the eight regional finalists.

But get this: Being a loyal K-Stater, he had the Wildcats going to the Final Four. And that was the one regional Koudele missed. Not that he has anything against Butler for beating his Wildcats in the West regional final. “I actually know Coach [Brad] Stevens,” he said. “He recruited one of my players when I was coaching in junior college [in Kansas]. He was just an assistant back then.”

One thing being a K-State alum did for Koudele: It kept him from falling into the trap that ensnared almost everyone this spring. He had Kansas going out in Round 2, though not at the hands of Northern Iowa; he had UNLV, which is coached by fellow K-State alum Lon Kruger, doing the deed.

“I always pick against the Jayhawks quick,” Koudele said, “and I do it at the risk of not winning [any bracket contests].”

This time reward overrode risk. The Midwest Regional, which was supposed to belong to Kansas, was won by Michigan State, as Koudele sagaciously surmised. “I liked the experience of them being there before,” he said, “and Coach [Tom] Izzo does a phenomenal job. But we all did our picks before they lost [point guard] Kalin Lucas, and when they did I had my doubts.”

Koudele chose West Virginia to take the East Regional because of another K-State tie. Bob Huggins spent a year coaching in Manhattan before heading home to West Virginia. “Part of [that pick] was from following Kansas State; I’ve come to appreciate Bob Huggins. His guys always play hard, and from watching the Big East tournament they seemed to be peaking at the right time.”

As for Duke in the South: “I’ve been a big fan of Duke’s. I actually went to Coach [Mike] Krzyzewski’s coaching clinic this year and watched the team practice. I was really impressed with how focused and how talented they were. And they hadn’t been to the Final Four in a while, so they were due.” (Tidbit: At North Springs, Koudele is known as Coach K.)

In his bracket, this Coach K picked K-State and West Virginia to reach the final. (K-State winning, natch.) Without his Wildcats in the mix, Koudele is going with West Virginia, “though I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Butler or Duke win it.” Whoever prevails, he’ll be there to see it. He’s flying to Indianapolis on Thursday for the annual coaches’ convention that runs concurrent with the Final Four.

And now you’re asking: With a seer for a coach, how did his Spartans fare this season? “We were 5-22,” Koudele said. “We started 0-14. But we defeated Marist, which was a huge win for North Springs and our alumni, and we upset Lakeside. We struggled some, but we had a whole new team. We were pretty young.”

A personal note: I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the kind folks at the ol’ AJC who did all the real Fiasco work — Cynthia Daniels, Emily Merwin and Carolyn Warmbold — and our new pals at Upickem in Milwaukee. And if you’re wondering where our Coach K ranks in the nationwide Upickem contest … he’s ninth out of 155,249. Yowser!

52 comments Add your comment

Michael in Dunwoody

March 29th, 2010
4:35 pm

First! Two Michaels, two winners in the same blog, I say Double Kudos are in order, Mark!

Michael in Dunwoody

March 29th, 2010
4:38 pm

For the record, my Final Four of Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky and Villanova would NOT have won anything in the Fiasco, so I’ll take a trophy (kudos) of another kind, so to speak.

Mark Bradley

March 29th, 2010
4:40 pm

Kudos, Michael. My Final Four — KU, Nova, Syracuse and West Virginia — was among my worst ever, which is saying quite a bit.

Reid Adair

March 29th, 2010
4:45 pm

Congratulations to Mr. Koudele. Anyone who even came close with this year’s bracket either knows either stuff, got really lucky – or a little of both.

Michael in Dunwoody

March 29th, 2010
4:46 pm

Not too surprising Villanova went down so early, given how they finished their regular season, a factor I neglected to consider when filling out my bracket. Happy to see Kansas lose, given that my bracket was busted at the time. At least you got one correct, Mark, WVU should be considered the favorite. Anyone but Duke, preferably Butler, for the ‘ship.


March 29th, 2010
4:48 pm

Does the sweatshirt say, “I won a NCAA basketball pool of over 5000 people and all I got was this lousey sweatshirt.”?

She Shevs Ski Shells

March 29th, 2010
4:55 pm

Figures that the shakiest 1-seed would be the only one to make the Final Four. Go you Devil Dookies !!

Clint Castleberry

March 29th, 2010
5:02 pm

I had Ohio State beating Kentucky in the final. Other two teams were Villanova and Pitt.
So, basically I was 0 for 4.

special K

March 29th, 2010
5:05 pm

……………..GO DUKE…………

B. Knight

March 29th, 2010
5:13 pm

Holy cow, and you have Clint Castleberry reading your blog … well, that is, assuming it’s the real Clint Castleberry.

B. Knight

March 29th, 2010
5:16 pm

And, my-oh-my, and you have Clint Castleberry reading your blog … well, that is, assuming it’s the real Clint Castleberry.


March 29th, 2010
5:39 pm

so the winner says he visited Coach K’s camp at Duke and said they were due….maybe next time Coach Koudele could visit Hewitt’s camp and say they’re due…since both were there in 2004…hahahaha

Bristol Palin 2012

March 29th, 2010
5:40 pm

Congrats Coach Koudele!

Can Izzo coach or what?


March 29th, 2010
5:59 pm

I was in a pool of 12, only 3 got one final four pick, noone left now.


March 29th, 2010
6:15 pm

13rd or close. I’ll recount.


March 29th, 2010
6:29 pm

I have one team in the Final 4 – Duke. My winner, Kansas went out the first night. Next year I will just sit in the rocking chair.


March 29th, 2010
6:29 pm

4932nd place for me. I couldn’t even beat Mark


March 29th, 2010
6:35 pm

my daughter will be 7 next year so i’m gonna let her make my picks. i’m sure she will do better than i did


March 29th, 2010
6:41 pm

Well I’m glad somebody at my alma mater won SOMETHING involving sports…go Spartans!


March 29th, 2010
6:42 pm

No doubt my worst brackets ever … but fun to watch the real fiasco unfold (unwrinkle/unravel). My best ever Bradley contest was the year all the online entries were kiboshed … I really hit all four. As a former colleague intoned – Selah. Looking forward to next season. Thanks, Mark.


March 29th, 2010
6:46 pm

I had my 4 in the final 8, but this weekend was a blur.


March 29th, 2010
6:47 pm

same final four mark, same terrible result

Jimmy O

March 29th, 2010
6:59 pm

Coach Koudele looks like a dead ringer for a younger John Lithgow,the actor.


March 29th, 2010
7:31 pm

So, your contest declares a winner before the final 3 games are played?

Fungus McGee

March 29th, 2010
7:38 pm

What a weird Final Four we have this year!

Dub Vee

March 29th, 2010
8:03 pm

Let’s Go, Mountaineers!!


March 29th, 2010
8:10 pm

Hoping for Duke to win out….the only final four pick I got right…bringing back memories of Laetner and Hurley.


March 29th, 2010
8:20 pm

Congrats COACH!!! You could be the UGA or GT Coach too. Damn shoot HIGH you could be the President. You know more than us all.


March 29th, 2010
8:21 pm

Um, I had Butler in my Final Four in the fiasco. Ohio State, Butler, Duke, and West Virginia


March 29th, 2010
8:25 pm

PS my parents live just across Roswell Rd off Dyremple. Dated an 89 NSHS grad but I havn’t been to a NSHS game since the 80’s. The Steppe yrs.


March 29th, 2010
8:30 pm


Nice pics, but it looked like Ohio State was tired from playing Tech:))


March 29th, 2010
8:32 pm


March 29th, 2010
8:57 pm


The headline is not true. I had both Butler and West Virginia in the Final Four. Had I picked Duke, I would’ve been close to the top. Anyway, thanks for the annual contest. It’s great fun.


March 29th, 2010
9:29 pm

I do declare, I would be remiss

[...] Shocker! An actual basketball coach wins the Bracket Fiasco! [...]

Close but no cigar

March 29th, 2010
10:49 pm

I didn’t see the Butler pick coming, but I did get 3 of the final 32 right, so all in all not too bad.


March 29th, 2010
11:00 pm

In the unlikely event I ever win this contest — made more unlikely by the fact that I’ve yet to play it — you’re gonna be sore frustrated from interviewing me, Mark. Because there won’t be near this level of thought that goes into it. We might as well talk about the Braves’ chances in the coming season, because there won’t be any intelligence to share on the Final Four.

Hoops Dawg

March 29th, 2010
11:27 pm

My worst bracket ever–0 for 4 re the final 4. One of the best NCAAs ever to watch. I often found myself rooting against my own picks. Gooooo Butler!!!!

Dr. Warren

March 30th, 2010
1:42 am

Michigan State–6 out of 12 final fours–rivals the Braves’ 5 out of 8 World Series.


March 30th, 2010
6:08 am

Geez, Jason...

March 30th, 2010
6:31 am

…read the rules for the “Fiasco” – it is to PICK the “FINAL FOUR” – not the winner of the championship – DUH…….


March 30th, 2010
6:59 am

okay! the guy can pick a bracket. but if i read this right, he really was just the “closest” to the the correct bracket. this was all based on the first/second degrees of separation to the coaches and their programs. you would think that he would have picked up some coaching tidbits during this time. let’s hope that with all this knowledge he can garner some wins next year. if not, he’ll be at next year’s tourney looking for a job and if we are lucky hewitt will be with him. i heard he did well with his tourney picks also.

Walker, Texas Ranger

March 30th, 2010
7:21 am

Mark, when Mike Mills won the fiasco, it really made your contest relevant…..My question, was that by design? Either way, that was Classic. You couldn’t have scripted that.

Gen Neyland

March 30th, 2010
7:42 am

Final Four Group Session : I admit to the following : Kansas (me and a gazillion other losers), Pittsburgh (my darkhorse that went dark), West Virginia (Hooray) and Duke( easiest road)…Have WV and Kansas in the Final so I can still win, or lose, one more. And congrats to the Tennessee men for a pretty good run. Alas, I had them beating MSU and losing to Kansas.

Gen Neyland

March 30th, 2010
7:45 am

Correction : Misread my bracket: Had tham losing to Kansas.Period. No MSU matchup…


March 30th, 2010
7:46 am

well i got three of the four some how. i have butler, w. va and duke remaining. i too had kansas making it to the final four. but i had them losing to butler–with w. va beating duke in the other semi–which than i have west virginia knocking off butler for the championship.

this is my best bracket ever–and guess what–i never turned it in. it’s sitting right here beside me as i type this…but i have my kids to vouch for it.

Tube Steak Shapiro

March 30th, 2010
8:30 am

I had 3 of the final four. Butler, West Virginia & Duke. I LOVE DUKE more than Dukie Vitale. I will now be known as Tube Steak Dukie Shapiro. I am a front runner, notice I fell off the Mark Richt bandwagon.

George Foreman 3:16

March 30th, 2010
11:12 am

Congrats, here’s your year’s supply of Super Colon Blow and the AJC sports section to clean up with….


March 30th, 2010
12:55 pm

could you mention the names of the ones who lost on a tiebreaker? might be nice to see your name (and its not me!)

Matt the Brave

March 30th, 2010
12:56 pm

Go Spartans! Nice to see North Springs basketball having a coach that actually knows something. I just hope he did this on his own time. :D