All jokes aside, we here at THF would like to offer our good wishes to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski for tying Dean Smith's career coaching record of 879 wins. Love him or hate him, there is no doubt Krzyzewski rates as one of college basketball's all-time greats. In addition to his victories, he has four national titles and Olympic gold on his resume.
Krzyzewski and Smith are inexorably linked not only because of their on-court battles but because of their similar career arcs. Like Smith, Krzyzewski was an unknown when he assumed the reins of the Duke program in 1981, and like Smith, he struggled early. Krzyzewski led Duke to a Final Four in his 5th season, Smith took the Tar Heels in his 6th. Smith and Krzyzewski both reached the milestone in their 36th year of coaching. They also share a modest, Midwestern upbringing, and both played for masters of the game; Smith for Phog Allen (who himself played for James Naismith, the inventor of basketball) and Krzyzewski for Bobby Knight, who remains college basketball's all-time wins leader (until Krzyzewski passes him late this season or early next season).
Smith and Krzyzewski also challenged the entrenched status quo early in their careers. Smith had to unseat Everett Case at N.C. State as the resident legend, and Krzyzewski faced a similar challenge in Dean Smith. The great irony, of course, is that Krzyzewski has become the Dean Smith of his time - the elder statesman who seems to operate by his own rules.
For all their similarities, however, the two legends could also not be more different: Krzyzewski loud and profane, Smith reserved and stoic. And it's hard to believe they coached against each other for 17 years, with the battles between UNC and Duke highlighting Krzyzewski's rise and Smith's twilight.
In the past 15 years, ACC fans have been treated to two legends still at the top of their games as they passed the once-thought unattainable mark of 877 wins set by Adolph Rupp. Smith led UNC to the Final Four in his final season, and Krzyzewski's Devils are the defending national champions.
And speaking from my own personal experience with Coach Smith, I'm willing to bet one of the first things he did this morning was to write a note of congratulations to his one-time rival. And if not today, then I'm sure he will next week when Krzyzewski will likely surpass Smith when Duke takes on UNC-G (which will no doubt cause THF consternation at knowing K passed Dean against his alma mater). THF: Not as much as for that freaking hyphen you put in UNCG. ;)
So congratulations, Coach K on this fantastic milestone. You are truly a worthy adversary.
Now the rivalry hatred can resume in 5...4...3...2...1