20 Questions: Is Coach K the Greatest Coach in NCAA History?

Posted by mpatton on October 31st, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Coast Conference and an ACC microsite staffer.

Question: Coach K will become the all-time winningest coach soon. Is he the greatest coach in NCAA basketball history? If not, where does he rank?

Yes, but with a disclaimer. Mike Krzyzewski is the greatest coach of the modern era. You can define that era in many ways: the expansion of the NCAA Tournament (either when in 1975 it expanded to 32 teams, or when in 1985 it expanded to the truly modern 64 teams); the adoption of the shot clock (1985-86); the addition of the three-point line (nationally in 1986-87); or the advent of ESPN (1979 NCAA Tournament).

Truthfully, the best interpretation is somewhere in between, for all four of these events led to the game we know and love today. The expansion of the Big Dance made the NCAA Tournament more difficult both because more games separated teams from the championship and because at-larges increased the overall talent of the field. The shot clock redefined offenses and frankly made the game more exciting. The three-point field goal introduced statistical “noise” that created large swings in performance and allowed for more upsets (basically, a 40-minute game is a small enough sample size that even a horrendous shooting team like Florida State to go 9-19 from three and a good shooting Notre Dame team to go 7-30 from downtown). Finally, ESPN’s consistent coverage of college basketball symbiotically raised the popularity of both ESPN and men’s hoops.

Krzyzewski Will Pass Bob Knight for the Most Wins in Men's Division I History Early this Season

But to suggest that Coach K is a better coach than John Wooden would be too presumptive. There are plenty of arguments, but no sound logic can definitively put Krzyzewski over the Wizard of Westwood: Wooden won ten national championships in 12 years including an 88-game winning streak that is without a doubt the most dominant stretch of college basketball ever. If you still want to try to argue Coach K over John Wooden, read that one more time. I am not saying that Wooden would see that success now, but it is not like we are dealing with similar resumes. Wooden has as many titles as Coach K, Jim Calhoun, Roy Williams, and Tom Izzo (or Bill Self) combined.

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September 15th Will Be “Mike Krzyzewski Day”

Posted by nvr1983 on August 24th, 2010

The past two years have been very good for Mike Krzyzewski. In addition to taking Duke back to the top of the college basketball world last April, he also led Team USA back to the top of the international basketball world (not that there was any doubt as long as we brought the “A team”) in Beijing. An inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, he has won almost every title (four NCAA championships, 12 ACC championships in both the regular season and conference tournament, and an Olympic gold medal) and received almost every award (three Naismith College Cach of the Year Awards, two Basketball Times National Coach of the Year Awards, a NABC National Coach of the Year Award, and five ACC Coach of the Year Awards) that he could be expected to win.

K: Best in the Business

To add to that, earlier today the city of Chicago announced that it would make this September 15th into “Mike Krzyzewski Day” (over/under on misspelled signs and posters: 130) on the same day that he will be inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame and receive the Ray Meyer College Coach of the Year Award. [Ed. Note: We aren't expecting Chicago great and Duke-hater Michael Jordan to be in attendance.] Coach K, a native of Chicago, graduated from Archbishop Weber High School before matriculating to the Army where he played under a fairly decent coach named Bob Knight. A solid but unspectacular guard at Army, he served in the Army for three years and coached at a prep school for two years before joining Knight as an assistant at Indiana where he left just before the 1975-76 season (the last undefeated Division I team) to take over as the head coach at Army. Although he compiled a 73-59 record at Army, he went 9-17 in his last season before getting an offer from Duke to become their head coach (a classic case of failing upwards). His first three years at Duke were not much more successful as after a merely mediocre rookie campaign he went a combined 21-34 over his second and third seasons. At that point many critics suspected Krzyzewski’s days in Durham were numbered, but little did they know that the freshman class that season (Johnny DawkinsMark AlarieDavid Henderson, and Jay Bilas) would wind up being one of the greatest classes in the school’s history. After that group made it to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament in their sophomore and junior campaigns they took off as seniors in what is widely considered one of the finest seasons in college basketball history. That group entered the championship game with a 37-2 record against a Denny Crum-led Louisville team before falling by three points to freshman sensation “Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison and the Cardinals.

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The Argument for the 96 Team Tournament? 31 Fewer Hot Seats

Posted by nvr1983 on March 16th, 2010

Since the whispers started about the NCAA expanding March Madness to 96 teams opinion on the issue has been divided into camps: the traditionalists (bloggers) and the radicals (coaches). Wait a minute. What?!? Yes. That’s right. Bloggers want to stay old school and coaches want to throw a wrench into the established system. . .

While coaches like to pontificate about expanding tournament to let more “deserving” teams in and give more players a chance to play in March Madness it is pretty clear to most neutral observers that the real motive is quite clear–keeping their jobs. With the recent spate of firings the coaches will continue to lobby hard for expansion. Since the season ended just a few days ago the list of coaching unemployed has grown to 6 coaches (and growing. . .):

  • Ernie Kent, Oregon (235-173 overall, 16-16 this season)
  • Jeff Lebo, Auburn (96-93, 15-17)
  • Todd Lickliter, Iowa (38-58, 10-22)
  • Bobby Lutz, Charlotte (218-158, 19-12)
  • Bob Nash, Hawaii (34-56, 10-20)
  • Kirk Speraw, UCF (279-233, 15-17)

Although a NCAA Tournament bid would not have guaranteed that these coaches kept their jobs, it would have most likely kept the boosters off their backs for some more time. And that’s all that a coach wants, right? Another year or two to collect a paycheck doing a substandard job and hoping to reach the longevity bonuses before they decide to get the booster funded golden parachute. Basically think of a college basketball version of investment bankers wanting to tweak the scoring metrics (adjust earnings in that case) to make themselves look better. Everyone knows how that turned out for the financial markets and the entire country.

Credit: Joel Pett (Lexington Herald-Leader)

You may see some familiar faces in the unemployment line

Now you’re probably asking yourself why the big-name coaches would care and that is a perfectly reasonable question with a perfectly reasonable answer. While the Mike Krzyzewskis and Jim Boeheims of the college basketball world will never have to worry about getting fired they have are plenty of their friends who are not quite as successful and that is not even talking about the dying branches on their coaching tree. Let’s take a look at some of their most famous branches:

  • Krzyzewski: Mike Brey, Tommy Amaker, Quin Snyder, Tim O’Toole, Bob Bender, Chuck Swenson, Mike Dement, and David Henderson
  • Boeheim: Rick Pitino, Tim Welsh, Louis Orr, Wayne Morgan, and Ralph Willard

Outside of Brey and Pitino that is a pretty mediocre group of coaches. Some of the others have had a modicum of success too, but overall that group has used more than its fair share of U-Haul trucks. And if the coaches don’t get their way they might be following in the footsteps of the late ODB.

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