Mike Krzyzewski's first Final Four team in 1986. He played 19 minutes and had five assists (but four turnovers) in Duke's 71-67 semifinal victory in Dallas.DURHAM, N.C. - Mark Turgeon, who took over for Gary Williams at Maryland last spring, can remember playing point guard for Kansas against
"That's kind of weird," Turgeon said when asked about that game. "He was a young coach when he did that. It shows you what he's sustained over time."
What Krzyzewski has sustained is the winningest career of any Division I men's basketball coach in history. Duke's Coach K claimed the record for career coaching wins Tuesday night when the Blue Devils defeated Michigan State in Madison Square Garden.
It was the 903rd victory in a career that is now in its 37th season.
His peers are dazzled by his ability to sustain excellence over such a long period.
"Anybody that lasts as long as he has and has had the success - it's not like he was at a low level of Division I or Division II," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "He's done it in an elite league. It's impressive. You don't last in this day and age unless you are about the right things. Certainly he's had a great staff and great players, but from my observations, he actually simplifies things and gets his teams to play with a reckless abandon that's impressive. He certainly has the passion to do what he does. And obviously, if you last this long, you are pouring yourself into guys' lives. I would imagine that the relationships he has formed with his players are pretty strong. It's remarkable to do it in one conference for that long."
Bennett is himself the son of a legendary coach. He can appreciate what K has sustained at Duke.
"To last that long - you talk about Bobby Knight who has done that, Wooden," Bennett said. "I think in some ways, it's even harder in today's day and age to do it. My hat goes off to him. He's done a lot for the game of basketball - for younger coaches like me. I respect that."
In his first 31 seasons at Duke, Krzyzewski averaged 26.7 wins a year. How significant is that? Well, in the 75 seasons before his arrival, the Blue Devils managed to match his average victory total just twice - when Vic Bubas won 27 games in 1963 and when Bill Foster won 27 games in 1978.
Krzyzewski set a new school victory record in 1986 when his fifth Duke team won 37 games. Over the last 15 seasons, his Duke teams have averaged 30.5 wins a year. He's topped 30 wins 12 times in his career - more than any coach in NCAA history.
Of course, teams play more games in this era than Eddie Cameron's teams played in the '20s and '30s or than Bubas' teams played in the '60s. But it should be noted that his winning percentage at Duke - now at .787 after his 3-0 start this season - is the best in school history, surpassing Bubas (.761), Cameron (.695) and Bill Foster (.638).
It's also better than the .767 winning percentage that Dean Smith recorded in his 36 seasons at North Carolina.
Second-year Clemson coach Brad Brownell is another ACC rival who is dazzled by the prospect of coaching against the Duke Hall of Famer.
"I got to see him during my time at UNC-W," Brownell said. "I certainly watched his teams with great interest. I'm a small twig on the Coach Knight family tree, having played for a coach who worked for him. So I was always a Duke fan in some ways, wanting his teams to do well because of his ties to Coach Knight. The longevity part of it ... that seems forever to me and that was only six years ago, since my 12 years at Wilmington. To watch him for those 12 years, was really interesting to see. He had a little time when it didn't go well for a year or two. But over the course of the time he's been coaching, it's remarkable."
Brownell expects Krzyzewski to demonstrate his consistency with a young Duke team this season.
"He's going to have great turnover this year - losing Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler - and they're going to be really good," the Clemson coach said. "I know they have great players and he has a great freshman coming in. But those other guys in the program get better and when it's their turn, they're ready. When it's time for the Plumlees to be ready, they're ready. When it's time for the other guys - Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly - they're going to be ready.
"That's coaching. To win at that high level is remarkable. To do it the right way ... whew!"
Turgeon pointed out that K's success was built on a foundation of great players. That's an observation that Krzyzewski would gladly acknowledge. He's coached seven national players of the year - the most of any coach in history. He's coached six national defensive players of the year, also the most by any coach. He's had 38 All-America selections and 23 first round NBA draft picks.
"I have nothing but respect for Coach K, but I fear his players a lot more than I fear him," Turgeon said. "He's had great players year in and year out because he's a great recruiter. He coaches them up and makes them better. The thing I really respect about Coach K is that his teams are always a team. It's never an individual. They're always together. And they always play great defense and they always play with toughness"
And they've been doing it for 36-plus years.
The West Point Connection
Mike Krzyzewski's first career victory didn't earn any headlines, but it was a monumental first step along the path that would lead to the all-time wins record.
That was all very far in the future on the night of Nov. 28, 1975, when Army beat Lehigh 56-29 in the 1975-76 season opener for both teams. It might not look like much now, but in context, it provided a pretty clear clue that the 28-year-old Army coach was going to be something special.
"I always smile when some people say, 'They hired a 9-17 coach to be the Duke coach," Krzyzewski said last month. "Well, they hired a 73-59 coach who took over a program that was 9-40 the two years prior."
Army was coming off a 3-22 season under coach Dan Daugherty.
"To me, when we held Lehigh to 29 points with a team that had won nine and lost 40 [in the two previous years], we sent a statement as to who we were going to be," Krzyzewski said. "That was a huge win."
Krzyzewski would win 73 games in five seasons at Army, including some that still make him smile.
"Our Army team played in the Sun Bowl in [December of 1977]," he recalled. "We beat Kansas State there when [Jack] Hartman coached the team. Then we played [Memphis] in the championship game and we were beating them in overtime and we got screwed. They shot an air ball with a few seconds to go. I had this very good player named Gary Windom. It was an air ball and it missed the rim by so much. He caught it by the net and they called goaltending. And we didn't even have a guy who could goaltend. That was the winning basket."
Krzyzewski won 20 games in 1977 and 19 more in 1978. But by 1980 - which would turn out to be his last season at West Point - the talent dropped and the team struggled. The young coach didn't help matters by overscheduling.
"We went to the Cable Car Classic on our way to Hawaii for the Rainbow Classic," he said. "You talk about bad scheduling! So we lose in the first round and we play the consolation game against Virginia which had been upset and they had a center named Ralph Sampson on the team. I think the record for the most blocked shots by a Virginia player is in that game by Ralph Sampson. One of my former players is now the head of Fort Benning. Bob Brown is a two-star general. He kept throwing it up and Ralph Sampson kept knocking it back."
Indeed, Sampson blocked 12 shots in that game. It's still a Virginia record and the third-highest blocked shot performance in ACC history. But that's not the end of Coach K's story.
"We go to Hawaii and we play Illinois and Purdue. Are young kidding me? We get our fannies waxed," he said. "We play Princeton in the seventh place game and I think we beat them 49-48. There are like four people in the stands and after we won, we were jumping up and going crazy."
Actually, Krzyzewski's memory is a little off. After losing to Illinois in the first round of the Rainbow Classic, Army edged Princeton 53-52 in the second round, then lost to Wisconsin (not Purdue) in the 5th place game. Still, it's clear that his victory over the Tigers in Honolulu meant a lot to him. So did the 1980 season finale as an 8-17 Army team closed the season against Navy. Krzyzewski finished his Army tenure the way he started it - with a strong defensive showing. The Cadets beat their rivals 53-48 to send Coach K off with a win.
"That team had won only five games going into the last month and we ended up winning four of our last five," Krzyzewski said. "And our ninth win that season, we beat Navy at home and we ended up 9-17 and it was a hell of a year!"
Krzyzewski said his experience at Army made him the coach that would win 830 (and counting) more victories at Duke.
"That's why I appreciate every win we have and try to coach every game like that," he said. "I can remember being the Army coach. Those wins are etched in ... they are every bit as big as a Final Four win. Because you don't have the Final Four wins unless you feel that way about those wins.
"When I stop feeling that way about it, I'll know I'm through coaching. That's the best indicator."
Coming to Durham
Just as he did at Army, Mike Krzyzewski won his first game at Duke, beating Stetson 67-49 (career victory No. 74).
But he came to Duke at a tough time. True, the Blue Devils had won the ACC title and reached the NCAA Elite Eight in Bill Foster's last season, but graduation claimed All-America center Mike Gminski and starting point guard Bob Bender. He returned two senior stars in forwards Gene Banks and Kenny Dennard and a superb junior in Vince Taylor, but it was a very shallow team - Foster liked to recruit one standout a year ... and he had misfired two years running before his departure.
Making it even tougher, Krzyzewski was entering a league that was loaded. In Coach K's first four seasons at Duke, neighborhood rivals North Carolina and N.C. State each would win national championships, Virginia would play in two Final Fours, Wake Forest would reach the Elite Eight and Maryland would finish in the top 10.
Duke's Coach K was just one of three young coaches to enter the league. He was hired a couple of weeks before N.C. State lured Jim Valvano from Iona to Raleigh and a year before Georgia Tech hired Appalachian State coach Bobby Cremins. They were matched against such established coaching stars as Lefty Driesell at Maryland, Terry Holland at Virginia, Carl Tacy at Wake Forest, and of course, the giant of the era, UNC's Dean Smith.
"I remember when Cremins, Valvano and I came in the '80s, the coaches who were already here taught us well," Krzyzewski said. "I know when we were building our program, it was an advantage to play North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland ... an advantage for Georgia Tech and us. Take a look at our records and Georgia Tech's record for a couple of years."
It took Krzyzewski time to get his program off the ground at Duke. Brownell, who is hoping for time to get his own program rolling at Clemson, pointed out the coincidence that the two greatest coaches in ACC history - Smith and Krzyzewski - got off to rough starts.
"If you wouldn't have given Coach K five years, we wouldn't have Coach K," Brownell said. "What he's been able to do at Duke is incredible."
First-year Miami coach Jim Larranaga got to see Krzyzewski's early years up close. He was on Holland's staff at Virginia, where Ralph Sampson was terrorizing opponents - especially young, undermanned teams like the Coach K's first Duke teams.
"I remember recruiting against Duke in those first few years," Larranaga said. "Virginia and Duke were both recruiting Chris Mullins and Bill Wennington. They both ended up going to St. John's. Coach K was quoted [in Sport Magazine] saying, 'We finished second, that's never going to happen again.' I was thinking to myself, 'Wait a minute, we finished second.' But I talked to Chris Mullins recently and he said, no, we didn't."
Krzyzewski would lose his first seven matchups with Virginia. The seventh was especially painful. In the opening round of the 1983 ACC Tournament, Sampson and the Cavaliers absolutely destroyed a Duke team starting four freshmen. Afterwards, Sampson ripped young Duke center Jay Bilas for his dirty play.
Coach K was furious. Later that night, when he and his staff gathered at an Atlanta Denny's for dinner, sports information director Johnny Moore offered a toast, "Here's to forgetting tonight." Krzyzewski countered, "No, here's to never forgetting tonight." When practice opened the next October, the players saw the score of that Virginia loss on the Cameron scoreboard.
Duke would win the next 16 games against the Cavaliers. By the time the streak ended, Krzyzewski had coached in three Final Fours and was established as one of the nation's best coaches.
"I watched first hand as the guy built a championship caliber program," Larranaga said. "There are only a few coaches in the history of the game ... John Wooden was a master - a master teacher, strategist, coach, recruiter. He developed all different aspects of his basketball program. Frank McGuire was doing the same thing on the East Coast and that was followed by Dean Smith.
"The difference between Coach Krzyzewski and all of those coaches is that he's taken all of the lessons that he learned from them and Coach Knight and he's taken it to a whole new corporate level. He's the symbol of what college basketball is all about. The way he's done it is the role model for all college coaches, for all high school coaches, for anybody who's trying to develop as a coach. He's not only a great recruiter. He's a teacher of the game. He's a guardian of the game. He's a great leader for his university. He's a great leader for his community. He's a great spokesperson for the corporate world. He's the leader of our national team. He's coached them to gold medals. He didn't have instant success in the ACC, which makes what he's done even more incredible.
"You have to give credit to Tom Butters for giving him the opportunity to implement his philosophy, not in the short run, but in the long run. There was patience and understanding that what Coach K was building was very, very special."
Passing the Mentor
In the end, it's ironic that the last coach Krzyzewski had to pass on the victory ladder was Knight. After all, it was Knight who recruited Krzyzewski from Chicago and turned the high-scoring schoolboy guard into a defensive specialist at West Point. It was Knight who gave Krzyzewski his first college coaching job as a grad assistant on the 1975 Indiana team that spent most of the season unbeaten and ranked No. 1 before an untimely injury to Scott May delayed Knight's first national title for a year.
By that time, Krzyzewski had returned to West Point as head coach - thanks to Knight's recommendation. Over the years, their paths would cross on a number of occasions, most notably in the 1987 Sweet 16, when the Hoosiers edged Duke en route to Knight's third national title, and in 1992, when Duke rallied past Indiana in the NCAA semifinals just before Coach K won his second national title.
The first matchup was a collegial affair that ended with Knight almost apologizing for beating his protégé. The second NCAA encounter was a much more bitter moment that ended with Knight snubbing Krzyzewski after the game, leading to a period of estrangement between the two friends.
Their relationship healed in time for Knight to introduce Krzyzewski at his Hall of Fame induction in 2001, not long after the pupil matched the master with his third national title.
"The example that he gives all of us of teamwork, the example that he gives us all of playing the game ... the example that Mike has set in his leadership, particularly during these last 10 years -- I don't think anybody has ever put all of these ingredients together," Knight said that night in Springfield. "That, more than anything, I think is Mike's legacy."
Since retirement from coaching, Knight has been even more fulsome in his praise. Last spring on ESPN, he was asked about Krzyzewski's pursuit of his record, answering: "There is nobody I would have liked to have seen do it more than Mike."
Krzyzewski was also asked about the irony of his pursuit of Knight's record. He equated it to his achievement last December, when he passed his old rival, North Carolina coach Dean Smith, for second place on the win list.
"I didn't know how I'd feel that day playing in Greensboro and we ended up winning one more game than Dean has won," Krzyzewski said. "I really had a really good feeling about us sharing that day together because we had shared a lot of games together and I respect him immensely. I like Dean a lot. He's been a good friend.
"I know I'll feel the same way about doing that with Coach Knight," he said. "The basketball gods will be happy."
Breaking Down 903 Wins
Mike Krzyzewski's record 903 wins have come against 195 different teams.
His top 15 victims:
1. Maryland - 51
2. Virginia - 50
3. (tie) Georgia Tech - 49
Clemson - 49
5. N.C. State - 46
6. Wake Forest - 39
7. North Carolina - 36
8. Florida State - 29
9. Davidson - 23
10. Miami - 15
11. (tie) Michigan - 14
St. John's -- 14
13. (tie) Notre Dame - 12
Boston College - 12
-- 73 of Coach K's wins came at Army; 830 at Duke
-- 79 wins have come during the NCAA Tournament
-- 52 wins have come in the ACC Tournament
-- Against top 10 teams:
1 - 8 wins
2 - 13 wins
3 - 12 wins
4 - 10 wins
5 - 9 wins
6 - 15 wins
7 - 15 wins
8 -- 9 wins
9 -- 13 wins
Total - 113 wins vs. top 10 opponents
Overall: 146 wins vs. ranked opponents
-- 25 of Coach K's 903 wins have come against non-Division 1 competition. Just two of those have come at Duke (1986 vs. BYU-Hawaii; 1997 vs. Chaminade). The other 23 non-Division 1 wins came when he was at Army.
-- Coach K has beaten 12 teams both at Army and Duke: Air Force, Colgate, Davidson, Florida State, Kansas State, Lehigh, UMass, Navy, New Hampshire, Northeastern, Princeton and Seton Hall.
-- Coach K has faced seven teams without beating them: he is 0-1 vs. Pittsburgh, Virginia Commonwealth, Eastern Michigan, Providence and Tennessee; 0-2 vs. Stanford; 0-3 vs. Louisville. Note: he is also 0-1 vs. Wagner at Duke, but defeated Wagner when he was at Army.