Tom Izzo is softer around the edges. Bob Knight, his mentor long ago, is older and gruffer. Phil Jackson made more money and coached better players.
But with the death of John Wooden three years ago, no one better plays the role now of America’s paternal coach than Krzyzewski, the go-to man on the values of the game Naismith invented.
He will tell you why Maryland never should have left the ACC and the reason he will no longer schedule the Terrapins; why the NBA needs to raise the minimum draft age; what Terp he would have really loved to have called Cameron Indoor Stadium home; the two greatest opponents who ever dunked on Duke; if and when the NBA still beckons; and, finally, why at 66 he doesn’t plan to step away for at least three more years.
“I haven’t given it that much thought,” Krzyzewski said. “I know I’m going to coach the Olympic team in 2016. So I’ll be coaching until then. I’m in good health. I love what I do. I’m in a place where I love it. But no one can ever predict health. Right now I don’t have an exit plan.”
Good. In a world of too many recruiters and not enough teachers of basketball and life, he’s still sorely needed.
On a night when two of his former players (Grant Hill and Tommy Amaker) were inducted into the Washington Metro Basketball Hall of Fame, along with former Washington Bullet Phil Chenier, Krzyzewski was the biggest draw. He received the Nell and John Wooden Leadership in Coaching Award at the Omni Shoreham hotel in Woodley Park, presented by Nan Wooden, daughter of the late, legendary UCLA coach.
For all the grief Krzyzewski gets locally after years of being the perfect villain in College Park — bringing that pristine program from Durham to play Goliath to Gary’s little Hickory High — his legacy is secure.
Four national titles and 34 years at Duke later, Krzyzewski is 43 wins short of 1,000 for his career. There is no one more successful since Wooden. Not Knight. Not Dean Smith, his Tobacco Road rival.
Even Smith, a person genetically predisposed to despise everything Coach K and Duke, would be hard pressed to feel contempt for the two Olympic gold medals Krzyzewski guided the United States to in Beijing and London.
At a time when America’s game was reeling internationally amid the perception the best team players in the world were suddenly from Europe, Krzyzewski went the old-fangled route: getting LeBron, Kobe and 10 other CEOs of their own companies to sacrifice for the good of the group.