Published in print Apr. 15, 2015
Prior to 1980, the Duke Basketball history started and concluded with a couple of successful years in the 1960s.
Aside from that, the Duke basketball story completely ended with their greatest product, Dick Groat. Groat was an eight-time All-Star and two-time champion, in Major League Baseball!
However, since hiring Mike Krzyzewski following the 1979-80 season, Duke has been synonymous with the greatest of basketball programs. From the early 1990s era with a veteran team led by Christian Laettner and Grant Hill to this year’s championship guided by freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Justice Winslow, Coach K had been able to win continuously for more than three decades. In this season, with becoming the first NCAA Men’s Division One coach to reach 1000 wins, the coach of Duke won his fifth national champion.
The only question left to answer for the already fabled legacy of Coach K becomes, is he the greatest basketball coach in history?
Unlike the debate of the greatest players in team sports, when deciding the greatest coach, the conversation is heavily weighed on winning.
Based solely on championships, John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, would be the greatest coach of all time. With his UCLA Bruins during a twelve-year stretch, he led his teams to ten NCAA championships, and an 88-game winning streak. Based solely on winning, Geno Auriemma, who also coached the UConn Women Huskies to another championship this year, has matched Wooden’s ten titles, and also broke Wooden’s own winning streak record with his own 90-game winning streak during his tenure with the UConn women’s basketball team.
Even professional coaches like Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson have won more titles than Coach K.
But, for professional coaches, I automatically take them out the argument to be number one. Especially when comparing them to collegiate coaches. Collegiate athletes have a narrow amount of time before eventually leaving. Phil Jackson never had to worry about Michael Jordan graduating.
Also, something people never seem to bring up in these arguments, is that if the NCAA tournament mirrored the NBA or WNBA postseason, making it a series instead of one and done tournament, then who knows how many championships some coaches would have based on the better teams. For sometimes, it is not the talent of the team, but the coaching. In recent times, if college followed the professional level, John Calipari would win a title almost every year since a series takes away the uncertainty of a do-or-die contest.
The lack of any parody in the women’s game takes Auriemma and Pat Summitt out this argument. Since winning his first title with the Huskies in the 1994-95, Auriemma had lost a total of fifty-three games. As impressive as that is, it shows a lack of competition in the women’s game. In the end, it becomes a competition between Wooden and Coach K.
And speaking to you as an advent fan of John Wooden and the UCLA teams of that era, I am more impressed with what Krzyzewski has done.
First of all, the size of the tournament had expanded greatly from when Wooden coached to today’s game. When Wooden’s UCLA team won their first title in 1964, the tournament featured only twenty-two teams. By his last title in 1975, it had expanded to thirty-two teams. Today’s tournament involves sixty-eight! The fewer games meant fewer teams for UCLA to lose to in the tournament.
Also, in today’s game that is following the strategy of “one and dones” as usually the best players on the roster, Coach K has to constantly find new players and teach them his style of play in a single year. Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul Jabbar stayed all four years while at UCLA. Jahlil Okafor just declared for the NBA Draft after a single season. The final point is simply the longevity of his run. Wooden won all ten of his rings in a twelve-year period. Over the span of more than three decades, K has won fewer titles, but has far and away more wins and titles spread out, winning across eras.
Basketball fans have a nasty habit of placing their legends on the most elevated of pedestals. Do not believe me, whatever LeBron James does this postseason, even if he won his third championship, you can be sure all the Michael Jordan worshippers will come out the woodworks to bash James as they “defend” their idol. The same can be said for fans of coaches like Wooden, Jackson, and Auerbach. But with what he has done in today’s era, Mike Krzyzewski is the greatest basketball coach in the sport’s history.