AUTHOR’S NOTE: I wrote this as a newspaper editorial in January of 2015 when Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski gained career win No. 1,000. i post it today as stories are unfolding about the looming retirement of Coach K after the 2021-22 season. My any accounting, he’s compiled a remarkable record, even since this piece was written five years ago.
At the time Mike Krzyzewski was hired, largely by surprise, as Duke University’s new men’s basketball coach in March 1980, Dean Smith was still two seasons away from his first NCAA title at the University of North Carolina. Carl Tacy was calling the sideline shots at Wake Forest. And Charles “Lefty” Driesell — a scion of Duke University himself — was working diligently — and fruitlessly we might add — to make Maryland the “UCLA of the East.” Meanwhile over at North Carolina State another rookie coach was selected that same month as a replacement for Norm Sloan. His name? Jim Valvano.
ESPN? The self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports” was just two years old. Its primary source of programming was still Australian Rules Football.
Yes, Mike Krzyzewski, the man most in ACC basketball country always referred to simply as “Coach K,” has been around for a while, a good long while now. By modern-day standards of one-and-done players and here-and-there celebri-coaches, he’s a marvel of dedication to the school that hired him as an unheralded coach at Army to take over a successful basketball program rebuilt but beginning to fray by the time Bill Foster departed into oblivion at Northwestern.
And after a few early bumps — a sure-fire lesson for college administrators too quick to pull the plug on a coach’s career in our what-have-you-done-lately culture — Coach K has been a marvel of consistency.
The milestone the man from Chicago reached Sunday by way of West Point and the guidance of legendary coach Bob Knight is testament to it and then some. How else does a coach on any level reach 1,000 career victories?
Stop and think about that for a while: A thousand victories. Averaging 30 wins a season for 30 years would still leave a coach 100 short of this mystical number. Krzyzewski did it in 40, the first five at Army, the last 35 at Duke, where his teams competed in the often brutal Atlantic Coast Conference. In-between he coached U.S. national teams to Olympic gold medals twice. Those Team USA wins, by the way, aren’t part of the 1,000.
It’s a daunting figure made more impressive by how far it eclipses the seemingly impossible numbers posted by the giants who came before, during and even after Krzyzewski’s tenure in Durham. John Wooden, the “Wizard of Westwood,” checked in with more national titles, but a mere 664 total wins for his UCLA career. Gary Williams of Maryland? 668. Louisville’s Rick Pitino? 709. North Carolina’s Roy Williams? 740. Driesell? 786. Consider the incredible record posted by Smith, the one-time leader in career wins after his incomparable run at North Carolina where he was Krzyzewski’s greatest rival. His win total hit 879 before retirement. And then there’s Knight, Krzyzewski’s mentor, at 902.
Such sustained excellence is difficult to comprehend. Krzyzewski, after the 1,000th win was secured with a 77-68 Duke win against St. John’s on Sunday in New York City’s venerable Madison Square Garden, did the expected thing and congratulated his players, past and present, for their vast contributions to what’s always a team effort. He was correct in doing so. But the common denominator is the coach himself. It takes a gifted teacher, dynamic leader and tenacious dedication to accomplish what Krzyzewski has done at Duke and continues to do at age 68.
Now, standing on a record of 1,000-308, Coach K’s journey continues. Only Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim at 962 is within sight of his mark. Odds are, few will get much closer.