Friday, December 24, 2010

It's really impossible to accurately compare Coach Smith and Coach K but...

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski will pass former UNC coach Dean Smith Wednesday in most coaching victories. I’m already tired of the “Who’s better” articles. The fact is, while the careers overlapped, you can’t really accurately compare coaches from different eras.

The blogs are burning up with childish banter between supposed fans of each team. The ugliness aimed at either coach is unnecessary.

It’s a good parlor game I guess. Smith has a better winning percentage. K has more wins. Both have one Olympic medal and 11 Final Four appearances. K has a 4-2 edge in national championships while Smith has a 24-14 edge in head-to-head competition.

If I had to play the game, I’d go with Smith.

Here are reasons why:

1) Smith led his Tar Heels to 33 straight years of finishing in the ACC’s top three teams and 20 straight years in the top two. Coach K would have to coach the Blue Devils until 2028 just to tie the 33 straight year mark.

2) Smith took over a basketball program under scandal. As a result of point-shaving, North Carolina de-emphasized basketball just as Smith took over whereas Coach K took over a program that had impressively averaged more than 24 wins a year over the previous three seasons.

3) For much of Smith’s coaching career, only the winner of the ACC tournament got to go to the NCAA tournament. That’s never been the case for Coach K. As a result, he’s had more opportunities to make noise nationally and has coached more games per season.

4) Smith put in place many innovations in college basketball from the Four Corners to the Jump defense and from getting players to display a tired signal to huddling at the free throw line. Smith was employing trapping press defenses and the fastbreak running game before everybody else.

And 5) I still have a hard time ignoring head-to-head competition. Some argue that Carolina was established and Duke was rebuilding early in Coach K’s career. Even if you throw out the first four years of direct competition, Coach Smith still holds a 16-13 edge.

To play devil’s advocate, had Coach K been put in the same situation as Coach Smith, perhaps he would have been able to do just as well… and vice versa. So, again, it’s difficult, if not impossible to say which coach is better.

But the hoopla of Smith passing Adolph Rupp for most wins is a bigger deal than Coach K passing Smith – or even when he passes his mentor Bobby Knight. Rupp had the all-time record for something like 35-40 years before Smith broke it. Smith had it for fewer than 10 years before Knight broke it and Knight will have it for three or four years before Coach K breaks it.

Regardless, those four, along with UCLA’s John Wooden have to be on anybody’s short list for the best college basketball coach of all time.

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