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Ranking The Best Coaches In Duke History

#1 is going to cause some arguments

Mike Krzyzewski
A young Coach K on the sidelines

After our list of the Top 20 21 best players in Duke history, it got us to thinking about ranking some of the coaches.

It got tricky quickly. The first thing you have to consider is who to include. If you include assistants who went on to other things, it gets really interesting because several of them have met great success in the NBA.

And that sets up the first dilemma: who's the best coach who ever worked at Duke?

You could obviously make a case for Mike Krzyzewski. However, you could just as easily make an argument for a Duke assistant from the 1949-50 season: Arnold Auerbach.

Better known as Red, Auerbach worked at Duke when Gerry Gerard was the coach and ill with cancer. Auerbach was supposed to replace him but ultimately he found the situation impossible, verging on immoral. Waiting for someone to die, he remarked, was no way to get a job.

Of course he went on to a legendary career with the Celtics.

We don’t need to say a whole lot about Coach K here. He was at Duke for 42 years and completely redefined the program. Five national championships, 13 Final Fours, 15 ACC championships, three Olympic gold medals and 1,202 career wins screams greatness.

Auerbach had some major advantages obviously: first, he had his best players for a decade or more. Second, he could hire help as needed. And third, he had Bill Russell.

You could pick either coach and we could agree. They were both stunningly successful.

After that, we’d be tempted to go with Chuck Daly, who worked for Vic Bubas at #3. He rose to greatness with the Detroit Pistons in the Bad Boy era and also coached the Dream Team. He was widely respected throughout the basketball world and had a reputation as a player’s coach. The fact that he could deal with Dennis Rodman was pretty amazing in and of itself.

At #4, we’d go with Vic Bubas. He led Duke to three Final Fours in the 1960’s, when you had to win the ACC Tournament just to make it.

After Bubas we’d go with Hubie Brown at #5. Like Daly, Brown was hired by Bubas and also like Daly, went on to a fine NBA career. He is widely respected for his deep knowledge of the game and his talent for getting the most out of his players.

At #6, we’d take Bill Foster, who came to Duke in the mid ‘70’s when Duke was still in a post-Bubas funk and also trying to adjust to a recently integrated ACC.

There was a lot of work to do but Foster built Duke into a serious powerhouse in a short period of time. He was only at Duke from 1974-1980 but got Duke to the national championship in 1978 and back to the regional finals in 1980.

#7 Quin Snyder was good at Missouri until things fell apart, then he worked his way up the NBA ladder from the G-League. It’s not a path everyone would take, but it worked out great for him. He had a stellar run with Utah and was hired by Atlanta this winter to replace Nate McMillan. He should do well there too.

This obviously leaves out a lot of people. Bucky Waters did well at West Virginia before returning to Duke to replace Bubas and he did well for a year or two before things went south.

Bobby Hurley was terrific at Buffalo and has been up and down at Arizona State, but recently got an extension.

Chris Collins has done something no one else has ever done in getting Northwestern to the NCAA tournament - twice actually.

Jeff Capel did very well at VCU and then at Oklahoma before things went south there. He’s had some struggles at Pitt but appears to have the program on solid footing now.

Greg Paulus is building steadily at Niagara (Brown’s alma mater, incidentally) and

And let’s not forget Mike Brey, who had such a memorable run at Notre Dame that ended earlier this year, or Johnny Dawkins or Tommy Amaker, who have also found success.

Lou Goetz, Bob Wetzel, Bob Bender - the list could go on for awhile and like initially missing Grant Hill on the list Saturday, we are probably overlooking someone. But the main guys are listed above. Whether head coaches or assistants, Duke has been incredibly fortunate.