Coach K’s 903rd isn’t crowning achievement of his career
NEW YORK - This morning, every website you go to is going to have story up about Mike Krzyzewski’s 903rd career win, and rightfully so.
The narrative is perfect. Coach K sets the all-time wins record at Madison Square Garden in an event called the Champion’s Classic with his mentor and previous record-holder Bobby Knight sitting courtside as he called the game for ESPN with one of K’s former players in Jay Bilas.
If, 30 years down the road, a movie gets made about the life of Coach K and this scene is included, it won’t be believable; everything fits together too well.
Which is why when you read thousands and thousands of exquisitely written words -- stories that have been planned since the summer, when it became clear that Coach K was on pace to set the record in this fashion -- about how impressive a feat this is, or how this all but solidifies Coach K’s standing as the greatest college basketball coach of all-time, or how this is a record that may never be broken.
I’m not here to argue any of that.
Krzyzewski’s 903rd victory, in photos
What Coach K has accomplished is truly incredible. Think about it like this. Winning 25 games in a single basketball season is considered an accomplishment for any coach at the collegiate level. This is Coach K’s 37th season as a head coach, meaning that in order to get himself into this position, he averaged -- averaged -- 25 wins a year for 36 years. That includes the 1994-1995 season where he left the team 12 games into the year to get back surgery and deal with exhaustion.
The only guy that most people believe even has a shot of breaking this record Brad Stevens. Stevens has amassed 117 wins through his first four years at Butler, roughly 29 wins a year. If he kept up that pace -- which, keep in mind, is nearly impossible and bolstered by 10 wins in the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons -- he would have to coach into the 2037-38 to set the record. That’s assuming Coach K retired today. He’s obviously not retiring today, which means that Stevens will need 27 seasons in which he averages 29 wins per year starting after Coach K retires to catch him, something that doesn’t appear to be coming anytime soon.
My grandchildren will be alive to see Coach K’s wins record get broken. And I don’t even have kids yet. Less than a month ago I finally decided I was responsible enough to get a cat.
So yeah, it will be awhile before someone approaches the number 903 again.
But what does it mean? What is the significance of passing Bobby Knight to move to the top of the career-wins list? Does this vault Krzyzewski atop the college coaching pantheon? Does this one win -- a 74-69 victory over an over-matched Michigan State team -- really change Coach K’s standing alongside the likes of John Wooden, Adolph Rupp or Dean Smith? Can one win truly make that much of a difference?
“I don’t know yet,” Krzyzewski said when asked what the milestone means. “I just coach ever game the same and they just start adding up. I think it will mean a lot when its all over, but I don’t know when that’ll be.”
Milestones are a tricky subject in sports. Being the career leader doesn’t necessarily equate to being the greatest. Sometimes it does, but its just as likely the result of being really good for the longest time. Pete Rose is Major League Baseball’s career hits leader, but how many people consider him the best hitter of all time? Emmitt Smith is the NFL’s career leader in rushing yards, but would take him over Barry Sanders or Jim Brown in their prime.
The same can be said for Coach K. Does the fact that he has more wins than Bobby Knight mean that he was a better coach than Bobby Knight? Does it mean he’s a better coach than Jim Calhoun? Or Tom Izzo?
Krzyzewski has his own standards for how to measure a season.
“I wanna win a championship with each team that I coach,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m more into that, because that’s the moment you want for a group.”
Krzyzewski’s had plenty of those moments in his time at Duke. He’s won four national titles and been to eight title games out of the 11 Final Fours that his team’s have reached. He’s won 25 different ACC titles -- 13 tournament titles and 12 regular season championships. He’s won the Gold Medal in both the 2008 Olympics and the 2010 World Championships. He’s a member of both the College Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Hall of Fame. He’s won a national coach of the year award in six different seasons and won five ACC coach of the year awards.
Whether or not that resume makes Mike Krzyzewski the greatest college basketball coach of all-time is debatable and a different post for a different day. What isn’t debatable is that his list of titles and award is a hell of a lot stronger of an argument than simply stating that he is the career wins leader.
As for Coach K, he’s not worried about any of that. He simply wants to move past this moment and get on with the season..
“Maybe now they’ll take specials on me off TV,” he said. “I’m getting tired of see me on TV.”