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The ACC Coach of the Year Debate

As the end of the regular season approaches the debate over who will receive what accolades from the media. In the ACC the dominance of Duke's J.J. Redick and UNC freshman Tyler Hansbrough have essentially silenced any debate on Player and Freshman of the Year. Coach of the Year is a different story. The debate has settled, more or less, on three coaches. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, North Carolina's Roy Williams, and Virginia's Dave Leitao.

Leitao is getting his due credit for pulling Virginia from their predicted 12th place finish to the middle of the ACC pack. Much like Virginia Tech's Seth Greenburg last season who exceeded expectations, Leitao has taken what the media though would happen and turned it around into a 7-6 conference mark thus far with a real chance to get to 8-8 or even 9-7.

Roy Williams won a national title last season and proceeded to lose his seven top players to graduation and the NBA draft. No one, including perhaps Williams himself, would have thought that two walk on seniors, a little used junior, and a bunch of freshman would go be at 18-6 and 9-4 in the ACC at this point in the season. UNC was picked sixth, presently they are tied in the loss column for second with NC State whom they swept.

It seems as though Mike Krzyzewski is always considered for this award which is not entirely out of bounds because Duke is always near the top of the league. The chief argument in favor of Krzyzewski for Coach of the Year is if Duke goes 16-0. The logic is that if a team can run the table their coach must be the best coach that year.

While I think what Leitao has done at Virginia is incredible, I am not sure you simply reward him just because the media did not expect UVa to beat anyone. Obviously Pete Gillen was a horrible coach and Leitao has been able to harnass the talent which was there last season to create a winner in Charlottesville. Is this COY material? Somewhat, but not to the threshold the award was intended.

Duke's perfection seems to be an awfully thin standard to use to give someone COY. In considering Krzyzewski there are two key issues: The first is the fact that Duke almost lost to Va Tech to being the conference season. Why does almost losing matter? Because it required a 40 foot buzzer beater from Sean Dockery against the 10th placed team in the league to avoid a huge upset. It is not as though Krzyzewski's genius won the game, quite frankly they got lucky. Also, it is not as though Krzyzewski had to rebuild his team either. He had J.J. Redick, the reigning Player of he Year and Shelden Williams. Both were preseason All Americans and both were expected to be the best players in the ACC at their respective positions. It tends to contradict what everyone says about Redick and Williams to assume that Krzyzewski needed to perform a miracle coaching job to get to 16-0 in the ACC. Yes, Duke does have a young point guard and a freshman at forward, but with Williams and Redick, it is difficult to assume that this was some kind of extraordinary coaching job. Also, there is a historical element to this. During the course of ACC history a team has gone undefeated 3 times: UNC twice in 1984 and 1987 and Duke once in 1999. Only in 1999 was the coach of the undefeated team named COY and that year it was well deserved because Duke ran through the conference without so much as a close game. Dean Smith, while winner of the award on other occasions was never awarded for going undefeated in the ACC.

The case for Roy Williams is simple and it is not based on an expected finish but rather on rebuilding a program which had lost everything. David Noel averaged 3.9 points a game in 2004-2005. Junior forward Reyshawn Terry rarely saw the floor, Quintein Thomas was suspect at point guard, and the rest of the roster was made up of unproven and inexperienced freshman. He has managed to get huge numbers from Tyler Hansbrough, senior leadership from David Noel, fairly consistent performances from Reyshawn Terry. He has leaned heavily on a walk on guard name Wes Miller and freshman Bobby Frasor is not a true point guard nor do either one of them have the speed to keep pace with a lot of other guards in the ACC. UNC is 18-6 despite multiple 20+ turnover games and if there is one defining moment that attests to Williams prowess it was the moment in the Duke game with UNC trailing by 17 in which he pulled the starters in favor of his second string. The subs reeled off a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 11. Williams was seen on the bench working his starters over for their lack of effort and when they returned they rallied to take a five point lead on Duke. UNC went on to lose the game but a gutsy call like that is indicative of the stellar job Williams has done pulling a bunch of unknown components together and put on their way to 20 wins.

No disrespect to Dave Leitao and Mike Krzyzewski who are successful coaches, but Roy Williams is the ACC Coach of the Year. He took a team in tatters and made them a serious contender.