It seems fairly straightforward to say that Mike Krzyzewski, who announced yesterday that he’ll retire after the upcoming season, is the most successful Division I men’s college basketball coach of the past 42 years. In that span he coached Duke’s men’s teams, never a powerhouse prior to his arrival, to five national titles, 15 ACC tournament championships, and more men’s Division I wins (1,170) than any other coach in history.
Give or take however much credibility you wish to extend to the 10 national titles John Wooden’s UCLA teams won in 12 years across the 1960s and ’70s, playing mostly against 5-foot-6 stone-fingered scrubs who shot underhand and couldn’t take two dribbles in any direction without staring down at the ball the whole time, this gives Coach K at least some claim to being the preeminent men’s college basketball coach of all time. That may not mean what it once did to a culture now more aware than ever of the inequities and corruption inherent to big-time college sports, but it’s certainly something.
He is also, inarguably, the greatest self-promoter in the college game’s history, a thin-skinned and vicious bully, a sanctimonious scold, and petty sore loser who has (mostly) successfully portrayed himself as a humble and principled educator and molder of honorable men over the nearly half a century during which he reaped fortune and acclaim beyond measure off the work of unpaid laborers. Which of these two represents the greater accomplishment is at least up for debate; most of the hosannas he’ll receive between now and his career’s official end next spring—not accidentally, he gave everyone a full season to sing him out—and also likely after he finally leaves the stage, will treat his real and unparalleled coaching accomplishments as the product, and therefore the vindication, of a set of admirable personal qualities performed for cameras, reporters, and hagiographers by a canny cynic who possessed none of those qualities. That takes some doing!
Anyway, as a fond remembrance, here’s video of the time Coach K went out of his way to make sure the amateur who’d just led his underdog squad to an upset victory over Duke in the NCAA tournament wouldn’t walk away without feeling at least a little bit bad about it:
And here’s what Coach K said when a reporter asked him about it after the game:
“I didn’t say that,” Krzyzewski said. “You can say whatever you want. Dillon Brooks is a hell of a player. I said, ‘You’re a terrific player.’ And you can take whatever he said and then go with it, all right?”
Farewell, wise teacher!