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K's Closest Pursuers

By Al Featherston

Claiming the all-time wins record is one thing. Holding it is another.

Sooner or later, another coach will make a run at Coach K's title.

Just look at his predecessors.

When Phog Allen retired in 1956, his 746 career victories were far and away the most for any major college coach.

He held the record for 10 years.

Kentucky's Adolph Rupp passed Allen late in the 1966 season - his victory over Duke in the Final Four that year was career win No. 749. He retired in 1972 with a record 876 wins.

Interesting to note that Rupp came very close to adding to that total as Duke's head coach. When Bucky Waters resigned in September of 1973, athletic director Carl James reached a verbal agreement with the retired Rupp to coach the Blue Devils for one season while he looked for a permanent replacement. At the last minute, the death of Rupp's farm manager caused him to change his mind and Waters' assistant Neil McGeachy got the interim job for the 1973-74 season.

As it was, it was a quarter-century after Rupp's retirement - and 31 years after he secured the record - that the Baron of the Bluegrass gave up his title to North Carolina's Dean Smith.

Smith, who played for Phog Allen at Kansas, broke the record in the second round of the '97 NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heel coach added two more wins in the tournament and retired the next fall with 879 wins.

That record stood for 10 years before Bob Knight, who had coached Krzyzewski at Army, took over the all-time victory title in his next-to-the-last season at Texas Tech. Knight returned midway through the 2008 season with 902 wins.

His record didn't last four years.

Now Krzyzewski owns the title. How long can he hold it?

That's impossible to answer for the simple reason that Krzyzewski is still coaching and we don't know how much longer he will continue. Last summer, the Duke coach said emphatically, "if I have my health, I'm going to coach for a number of years." In an interview last year, former player and K assistant coach Tommy Amaker predicted that Krzyzewski would not stop short of 1,000 wins.

Obviously, the longer he coaches, the harder he's going to make it on his pursuers. But there's more to it than simple longevity. The fact is that Krzyzewski is still winning games at a faster rate than anybody else in college basketball. Over the last three years, he's won 97 games - significantly widening his lead over such pursuers as UConn's Jim Calhoun (81 wins), Syracuse's Jim Boeheim (85 wins) and UNC's Roy Williams (83 wins).

So in a very real sense, the pursuit of K's record can't even begin until he retires - and that day is not yet in sight.


Nine other active major college coaches have more than 600 wins, but just two are over 700.

Jim Boeheim, who might be Coach K's best friend in the coaching profession, is in second place on the active list with 856 victories (starting the 2011-12 season) … one more than UConn coach Jim Calhoun.

All either coach has to do to catch and pass Krzyzewski is to coach two seasons beyond the retirement of the 64-year-old Duke coach.

The problem with that is that both challengers are older than Coach K.

Boeheim (born Nov. 17, 1944) is about to turn 68. Calhoun is even older (born in May of 1942) - he'll turn 70 this spring and has had some serious health issues in recent years.

Anything is possible - as 84-year-old Joe Paterno proves - but it's going to be tough for either Boeheim or Calhoun to outlast the Duke coach. And, remember, the longer he coaches, the wider the gap becomes.

The No. 4 active coach on the wins list is West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. He is a mere child of 58, but he's also more than 200 wins back (691 wins to enter this season). Even at 25 wins a season (and he's actually averaged 23.8 wins a season for his career), he'll need more than eight seasons to get where Krzyzewski is now - and by then, he'll be 66.

The No. 5 coach on the list is an oddity. Rollie Massmino has 658 career wins. He's currently coach at Northwood University in Florida - an NAIA school.

But NCAA rules allow a coach with 10 seasons at a Division 1 school to add wins attained at a small college and to make this list. Thus, Jim Phelan (830 wins before his retirement in 2003), who coached 34 years at Mount St. Mary's when it was a Division II school, gets to count all those wins to his total because he also coached 15 more years at Mount St. Mary's when that school moved up to Division 1.

So Massimino, who won a national title at Villanova, can add to his total with NAIA wins at Northwood. But he's 77 years old and isn't going to get the 200-plus wins he needs to catch up to Krzyzewski's current total.

No. 6 is UNC coach Roy Williams, who has a chance to match or maybe even better Coach K's rate of wins over the next few years. But the 61-year-old Williams is just three years younger than his Duke rival and with 643 career wins is more than 250 wins off the pace. He simply got started too late.

No. 7 is Valparaiso coach Homer Drew, who came out of retirement in 2004 to resume his tenure at the Indiana school. He has 640 wins, but just turned 67 years old.

No. 8 is Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who has 625 wins (counting 15 years of victories at Division II Wisconsin-Platteville). But he's the same age as K.

No. 9 is former Clemson coach Cliff Ellis, now at Coastal Carolina. He has 614 wins - but he's two years older than Krzyzewski.

Mike Montgomery, currently at California, is No. 10 with 611 wins. He's exactly two weeks younger than the Duke coach - both were born in February of 1947.

Two other coaches are closing in on 600 wins. Louisville's Rick Pitino (599 wins) is five years younger than Krzyzewski, but more than 300 wins behind. Western Carolina's Larry Hunter, who spent five years at mid-career as Herb Sendek's top assistant at N.C. State, also has 599 wins as a head coach. He's three years older than Pitino and just two years younger than Coach K.


Rating the challengers is a matter of balancing age and current win totals.

A coach with 600 career wins is still 300 wins behind what Krzyzewski has now. At the best, such a coach would need 10 more seasons of 30-plus wins to get to where Coach K is at age 64. And Coach K is the only coach in America who has sustained a 30-win per season average for more than a decade.

When you look at the coaches short of 500 wins … or 400 wins, it gets even tougher.

But there are some solidly established coaches who are piling up wins at a high rate. Let's examine the best candidates to challenge Krzyzewski:

1. Bill Self, Kansas: Probably the best positioned to make a run at Coach K. Self has compiled 444 career wins going into this season - and he's just 48 years old (he turns 49 next month). He's averaged just under 30 wins a season since going to Kansas in 2003.

Still, he's not even half way to Krzyzewski's victory total. If he can sustain a rate of 30 wins a season for the next 15 years, he'll be at 894 when he's 64 years old … very close to where K is now. A long shot, but not impossible.

2. Billy Donovan, Florida: He turned 46 years old last spring with 395 career wins. He's actually slightly ahead of Self's pace, but has two years farther to go to catch Krzyzewski. His biggest problem is that he's only topped 30 wins twice (in his back-to-back national title years) and has averaged "just" 26 wins a season since getting Florida to the 2000 Final Four. As good as 26 wins a season is, it's not enough - he's going to have to increase his average win total to make a run - or else coach significantly longer than Coach K.

3. John Calipari, Kentucky: The controversial coach won a lot of games in Memphis and has won a lot in his first two seasons at Kentucky, averaging just over 33 wins a year for the last three years. That's if you count the 38 games he won in 2008 that were subsequently vacated by the NCAA. But he has demonstrated the ability to average 30-plus wins and the way his recruiting will going, he should be able to sustain that. Calipari, who will turn 53 in February, officially has 467 wins (not counting the four he had vacated at UMass and the 38 he had vacated at Memphis). Even if he sustains 30 wins a season, he'll have right at 800 wins when he's Krzyzewski's current age. Even with the 42 vacated wins, he would still be far off Coach K's pace.

4. Tom Izzo, Michigan State: Only Krzyzewski and maybe UNC's Roy Williams have had more consistent NCAA success than the 56-year-old Izzo. But with just 383 wins in 16 seasons, he's not close to coach K's pace.

5. Thad Matta, Ohio State: He has 292 career wins at age 44 and should win at a high rate for the near future. But it would take 20 more years of 30 wins a season to get close to K's current total.

Others: Jay Wright, Villanova: He'll turn 50 in December. With 346 career wins, he's not in the picture; Ben Howland, UCLA, is in even worse shape - four years older with one less career win; Jamie Dixon, Pitt, is just 46 years old, but has just 216 career wins; Mark Few, Gonzaga, has compiled 315 wins in 12 seasons, but he'll turn 49 years next month. If he averages 25 wins a season for the next 15 years, he'll still be short of 800 wins when he reaches Krzyzewski's age.


The fact is that Krzyzewski's eventual successor as the all-time wins leader is probably not on the immediate horizon.

It would take an unusual combination of circumstances - a premature end to Coach K's career, coupled with unusual longevity by a challenger - before any of the current win leaders to catch the Duke Hall of Famer.

That's not to suggest that any number of young coaches might work themselves into contention, given consistency and staying power. For instance:

-- Brad Stevens: After back-to-back Final Fours, the Butler coach is the hottest young coach in the country. He's off to a fast start with 117 wins in five seasons as head coach. At age 35, he's certainly got a lot of good years ahead of him. But consider this, if he continues to average 23.4 wins a season for the next 30 years, he'll have 803 career wins at age 65. He's got to start winning at a better rate in the future to make a run at Krzyzewski's record.

-- Shaka Smart: A hot property after guiding VCU to the Final Four last season, Smart has won 55 games in his first two years as head coach. But he's just six months younger than Butler's Stevens and has less than half as many career wins. He's facing the same hurdles in mounting a challenge that Butler faces in Indianapolis.

-- Josh Pastner, Memphis: Just 34 years old, but just 49 career wins. Still, 30 seasons away from making a run.

-- Sean Miller: The 43-year-old Herb Sendek protégé has 166 wins in five seasons at Xavier and two at Arziona. Even 20 straight seasons of 30 wins doesn't get him close.

-- Tony Bennett, Virginia: The youngest ACC coach has 100 career wins at age 42. That's not going to get it done. Clemson coach Brad Brownell is just six months older and had 189 wins going into this season, but he's not close to K's pace either.

Looking at the candidates, it's hard to see a coach who is well positioned to get to where Krzyzewski is now - 903 wins at age 64 (and he'll get over 920 by the time he turns 65 in February). His closest challengers are older than he is. The top coaches in the game at the moment can't match his pace. And the young coaches are too far away to judge at the moment.

So does that mean Krzyzewski will never be caught?

Well, when Muhammad Ali was in his prime, destroying every challenger with ridiculous ease, a reporter asked him if there was anybody in the world who could beat him. The cocky champ said, sure there is - somewhere in the world, he suggested, there is a 12-year-old boy who will grow up and beat an aging version of him.

That might be true for Krzyzewski - his challenger might be a 12-year old boy who hasn't even reached college yet. It might be a current player or a 22-year-old unknown assistant.

Sooner or later, another coach will top 900 wins and make a viable run at whatever astronomical number of victories Coach K winds up with.

But Krzyzewski should keep the record for a long time - certainly longer than Phog Alle, Dean Smith or Bob Knight held it … and probably at least as long as Rupp's 31-year tenure at the top.


-- It's possible the game will change to allow teams to play significantly more games a season. That's possible, the rate of games per year has risen slowly over the years. Allen averaged 20.8 games a season for his 498-year career (that started in the first decade of the 20th century). Rupp averaged exactly 26.0 games a season. Smith averaged 31.5 games a season similar to his contemporary, Knight (30.3 games a season). Kryzewski has averaged 32.9 games a season in his 36-year career.

Realistically, the number of games per season peaked in the 1990s and has been slowly squeezed by rulemakers in recent years. The current climate seems to indicate a shorter season and slightly less games. That could change, but it's hard to see any significant increase.

-- It's important to note that Coach K is the leader in career wins for Division 1 men's basketball coaches. He's not the winningest NCAA men's coach - that honor goes to Don Meyer, who coached 38 seasons at such small colleges as Hamline, Lipscomb and Northern State, winning 923 games before his retirement in 2010. At least Meyer held the record going into the season. Herb McGee, who has coached 44 years at Philadelphia University (formerly Philadelphia Textile) started the season with 922 wins. He's still active.

There is also Harry Statham, who had 1,022 wins in 44 seasons at McKendree University - an NAIA school - in Lebanon, Ind. He retired in 2009.

Then there's Pat Summit, who started this season with 1,071 career wins - all at Tennessee.