Originally Published: July 1, 2014

Top 50 coaches: No. 4 Mike Krzyzewski

By ESPN.com

Editor's note: Over five weeks, we will reveal the top 50 coaches in college basketball as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. Today we unveil No. 4: Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. On Wednesday, we will release No. 3.


Sometimes, when a career is especially lengthy or especially brilliant or both, it's easier to understand it by carving it up into arbitrary chunks.

Here's one such chunk: Since 2006-07, the Duke Blue Devils have won exactly one regular-season ACC title. In six of those eight seasons, Duke failed to progress past the Sweet 16. In three of those seasons, they lost their first NCAA tournament game. In two of the past three years, they've been sent home right away, by a No. 15 and No. 14 seed, respectively.

This is -- if you choose to look at it this way -- the most fallow period in Duke hoops history since Coach K's first three seasons, 1980-81 to 1982-83, when the young former Army coach was still laying the relevant groundwork. By the mid-'80s, Duke was already getting dominant. After back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992, the program was officially lofted into the college basketball firmament.

Here's another arbitrary chunk: From 1997 to 2006, the Blue Devils won seven ACC regular-season titles. They appeared in three Final Fours. They won one national title. They averaged 30.4 wins per season. They were, more than any program since John Wooden-era UCLA, omnipresent.

It is only in this context -- held next to the remarkable decades that preceded it -- that you could call Coach K's past handful of seasons "subpar."

Even then, it's pretty hilarious. After all, Duke won the national title in 2009-10, a 35-5 season that ended with a storybook final against upstart Butler. They've been seeded lower than No. 3 just once in the past 13 seasons; they've finished the season ranked in the top 10 in overall adjusted efficiency in nine of those seasons.

And then there's this: From Nov. 26, 2007, to Jan. 6, 2014, Duke never once ranked outside the Associated Press top 10. Not once! The Blue Devils spent 122 straight weeks without falling below No. 10, the second-longest such streak in college basketball history. The longest belongs to those vintage UCLA teams, who from 1966 to 1976 put together 155 straight weeks in the top 10. That was a different era in college basketball, when the game's grass roots were less developed, the talent less widespread.

Think about it: Duke fell 23 weeks shy of that unreachable mark in the modern era ... in a period that falls far short of the dominance of Duke's previous decade.

Few statistics sum up just how crazy good Coach K has been as well as that one. That he isn't No. 1 in our ESPN Forecast of the top 50 coaches is a perfect example of the nature of this exercise: We asked our panel to rate current performance as of the 2014 offseason, not lifetime achievement. That K ranks No. 4 proves the panel took the scope of the question to heart. It's also a testament to just how good the man still is, even at age 67, that he doesn't need the weight of his own reputation to factor in.

Mike Krzyzewski
AP Photo/Nell RedmondWhy is Mike Krzyzewski smiling? Wouldn't you be smiling if you had his success -- and incoming recruiting class?

There have been some frustrating ends in the past few years, of course. The 2013-14 season ended with Mercer Nae Nae-ing and the subsequent NBA draft's No. 2 overall pick, brilliant freshman Jabari Parker, despondent. Two years ago, Duke was likewise undone by shaky defense (and Lehigh star C.J. McCollum). But the Blue Devils were in the Elite Eight two years ago and were a weird Kyrie Irving toe injury (and a difficult late-season reintroduction) from what could have been a national title run in 2010-11. Jon Scheyer & Co. added that aforementioned fourth national title to K's résumé in 2010. Even with the early exits and occasional schadenfreude, that's a pretty great five-year period. Upsets happen. High-single-digit seeds and viable national title contenders are a luxury a select few programs can expect every season. Duke is still one of them.

There are no visible signs of Coach K slowing down. (That he's managed this alongside his universally acclaimed work for USA Basketball is especially impressive.) The best indication might be still to come. In 2014, Duke welcomes the best recruiting class in the country and arguably the best of Coach K's career, which is not a statement you can lightly make. In one fell swoop, K will integrate No. 1-ranked center Jahlil Okafor, No. 1-ranked point guard Tyus Jones, No. 5-ranked small forward Justise Winslow and No. 6-ranked shooting guard Grayson Allen. They'll join a team that already has two high-level backcourt players in Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook and a pair of developing big men in Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee. The youth and inexperience on hand will make the 2014-15 Blue Devils K's most interesting coaching challenge in years. But is there any real question it will work?

It's easier to understand a career such as K's when you break it down into chunks. We can more easily process the milestones, the changing eras, the contours and composition of all those seasons and all those wins.

The most recent chunk of Coach K's career is better than almost any other coach in the sport and just sort of OK for him. How crazy is that?

-- Eamonn Brennan


Previous: Nos. 50-25 » No. 24: McKillop » No. 23: McDermott » No. 22: Amaker »
No. 21: Brown » No. 20: Matta » No. 19: Wright » No. 18: Fisher » No. 17: Few »
No. 16: Williams » No. 15: Hoiberg » No. 14: Bennett » No. 13: Smart »
No. 12: Boeheim » No. 11: Miller » No. 10: Ollie » No. 9: Beilein » No. 8: Marshall »
No. 7: Ryan » No. 6 Self » No. 5 Pitino »

Full Top 50 Coaches List

No. 50: Tie -- Randy Bennett, Saint Mary's; Scott Drew, Baylor

No. 49: Richard Pitino, Minnesota

No. 48: Stew Morrill, Utah State

No. 47: Bob Hoffman, Mercer

No. 46: John Thompson III, Georgetown

No. 45: Mike Brey, Notre Dame

No. 44: Rick Barnes, Texas

No. 43: Chris Mack, Xavier

No. 42: Josh Pastner, Memphis

No. 41: Ed Cooley, Providence

No. 40: Bruce Weber, Kansas State

No. 39: Tubby Smith, Texas Tech

No. 38: Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech

No. 37: Rick Byrd, Belmont

No. 36: Steve Alford, UCLA

No. 35: Phil Martelli, Saint Joseph's

No. 34: Tad Boyle, Colorado

No. 33: Fran McCaffery, Iowa

No. 32: Tim Miles, Nebraska

No. 31: Lon Kruger, Oklahoma

No. 30: Bob Huggins, West Virginia

No. 29: Jim Crews, Saint Louis

No. 28: Jim Larranaga, Miami

No. 27: Mick Cronin, Cincinnati

No. 26: Archie Miller, Dayton

No. 25: Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh

No. 24: Bob McKillop, Davidson

No. 23: Greg McDermott, Creighton

No. 22: Tommy Amaker, Harvard

No. 21: Larry Brown, SMU

No. 20: Thad Matta, Ohio State

No. 19: Jay Wright, Villanova

No. 18: Steve Fisher, San Diego State

No. 17: Mark Few, Gonzaga

No. 16: Roy Williams, North Carolina

No. 15: Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State

No. 14: Tony Bennett, Virginia

No. 13: Shaka Smart, VCU

No. 12: Jim Boeheim, Syracuse

No. 11: Sean Miller, Arizona

No. 10: Kevin Ollie, UConn

No. 9: John Beilein, Michigan

No. 8: Gregg Marshall, Wichita State

No. 7: Bo Ryan, Wisconsin

No. 6: Bill Self, Kansas

No. 5: Rick Pitino, Louisville

No. 4: Mike Krzyzewski, Duke

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.