Knight's pupil may put the win record out of reach

Originally Published: December 28, 2006
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Dean Smith's career wins record stood for nearly 10 years. Bob Knight's may not last more than five.

It all depends on how long Knight coaches. If he decides to cut his tenure short in the next year or so, his successor on the all-time Division I wins list -- who may very well be his pupil -- could pass him early in the next decade.

"I don't think the record will last very long, certainly not as long as it did until Dean caught up [with Adolph Rupp 15 years after Rupp retired]," Arizona coach Lute Olson said. "There are more games being played in a season, so I don't think you'll see the record being there very long."

The odds are Duke's Mike Krzyzewski will be the one who breaks Knight's record at some point. If Knight, who is 66, retires sooner rather than later, it could happen in fewer than 10 years -- possibly even half that. Entering Thursday's Texas Tech-UNLV game in Lubbock, Texas, where Knight is poised to break Smith's mark of 879 wins, Krzyzewski stands within striking distance at 764.

Krzyzewski, who will turn 60 in February and, like Knight, got his first coaching job -- also at West Point, in 1976 -- in his 20s, doesn't show any signs of slowing down. In fact, he may be picking up the pace -- his Duke teams have averaged 30.4 wins a season over the last decade and haven't had fewer than 26 wins in any season since 1996-97 (when Duke finished 24-9). If he maintains that pace, he could clear 900 wins, and possibly pass Knight, by the end of the 2010-11 season.

Mike Krzyzewski
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesIf Mike Krzyzewski keeps coaching long enough at Duke, no one might be able to catch him.
"I do think Mike can do it," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, a former Duke assistant. "No. 1, Mike has many years left at Duke and he's got young legs and a young mind. I wouldn't be shocked if he's in Durham for a long time.

"I know the NBA stuff comes up all the time, but he really enjoys the college life and the challenge of the whole Duke thing. If he's there, he'll be ringing in 22-26 wins every year. So you do the math."

Among active coaches, Krzyzewski isn't the one with the most wins after Knight. Olson currently is ahead of Coach K by five. But Olson is 72 years old, and while he has given no indication about retiring in the near future, the odds are still against Olson's reaching 900 or more wins.

Behind those two, Connecticut's Jim Calhoun is at 744 and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim at 736. But Calhoun is five years older than Krzyzewski and Boeheim is three years older than Coach K, making them a lot less likely to claim the record.

"For [Krzyzewski], that's four or five seasons, depending on his health," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who at 61 has won 571 games. "There's no reason why he can't win the same amount of games [that he has averaged in his career] at Duke. I think he's in a great position to do it."

The bigger question is if that's where the record might stop. For reference, Wisconsin's Bo Ryan has 508 wins (not all Division I), but he just turned 59 and would probably need at least another 400 just to pass Knight. Kansas State's Bob Huggins just notched his 577th career win, but 71 of those came at NAIA Walsh College (now Walsh University), and he's 53 and has had health issues. North Carolina's Roy Williams, 56, is at 503 wins. Getting another 400 isn't out of the question, but he almost certainly would need more than that to break the record.

The biggest issue in chasing Knight (and eventually Krzyzewski) is that coaches don't land head coaching jobs in their mid-20s anymore -- and the pressure at many of the schools where you could win big every year is much greater than it was decades ago.

"I'm 61, and when I went into coaching, nobody went into it to make money," Gary Williams said. "Now you make good money if you're a relatively successful coach. Because of that, people put more stress on you and they feel they can justify being critical. It's going to get tougher, tougher to stay in one place for a long time."

If you're looking for a long-range dark horse, there is Gonzaga's Mark Few. Few is leading the country in active winning percentage, having notched 197 wins in eight seasons in Spokane. Gary Williams mentioned him as someone who could one day come close to the eventual all-time mark, but that's still asking a 44-year-old to stay on top for a remarkable amount of time.

"Let's say he coaches 25 [more] years and averages 20 wins a year, that gets him another 500 wins -- and he's still at 700," Williams said. "If he gets 25 wins a year, then that's closer to 800. Everything has to go right and you have to sustain it."

When Few was asked this question, he shrugged it off, saying that he could coach into his 70s. The reality, though, is that Few's not driven solely by coaching and winning. He has other outside interests, like fishing and spending quality time with his wife and children, so there could come a time when he doesn't want to coach well into retirement age.

If that's the case, is there anyone out there who could snap the record that likely will eventually be Krzyzewski's? The answer appears to be no -- at least not for a very, very long time.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com