Coach K cements place among the greats

Mike Krzyzewski's four national championships ties him for second on the all-time list. Bob Donnan/US Presswire

INDIANAPOLIS -- After a coaching career that has spanned more than three decades, and includes multiple national championships and an Olympic gold medal, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski had nothing left to prove in Monday night's national championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

But Coach K once again showed what we learned a long time ago: There aren't many coaches better than him, regardless of the sport.

Krzyzewski won his fourth national championship after the Blue Devils defeated Butler 61-59 in one of the more epic finals of all-time.

The first three titles came much easier than this one, as the upstart Bulldogs had two chances to win the game in the final seconds. When Butler star Gordon Hayward's final half-court heave bounced off the rim, Coach K cemented his place among college basketball's greatest coaches.

If there was an expanded Mount Rushmore for college basketball, Krzyzewski's face would be next to those of UCLA's John Wooden, North Carolina's Dean Smith, Kentucky's Adolph Rupp and Indiana's Bob Knight.

"I've been fortunate enough to be in eight national championship games, and this was a classic," Krzyzewski said afterward. "This was the toughest and the best one."

This championship season might have been Krzyzewski's best coaching job. Two years after he led the U.S. Olympics team to a gold medal in Beijing, he guided a Blue Devils team short on depth and frontcourt stardom to a 35-5 record and a share of the ACC regular-season championship. Duke won 18 of its final 19 games and took home the league tournament title.

Then there was the biggest title of them all. After guiding Duke to its first national championship since 2001, Krzyzewski joined a very select few in college basketball history:

  • His four national championships tie him for second with Rupp. Only Wooden won more national titles, winning 10 at UCLA from 1964-75.

  • His 11 Final Four appearances are tied with Smith for second-most among coaches. Wooden guided UCLA teams to 12 Final Fours.

  • He has coached in 19 Final Four games, tied with Smith for second-most, and his 12 Final Four wins are second only to Wooden's 21 victories.

  • He holds the NCAA tournament record for winning percentage (.778, 77-22) and is first in tourney history with 77 victories and 99 games coached.

  • He is the first coach to win national championships in three consecutive decades (1991, '92, '01 and '10).

  • Under his guidance, Duke has played more games ranked as the No. 1 team (190) than it has as an unranked team (144).

  • At some point in the next two seasons, Krzyzewski will probably surpass Knight as major college basketball's winningest coach. His 868 career victories are 34 behind Knight, his coach at the United States Military Academy from 1966 to '69.

But after guiding Duke to another national championship, Krzyzewski wasn't ready to reflect on his accomplishments.

"Tonight is not about that," he said. "That's like 10 years from now or whatever. Tonight is all about these guys."

Krzyzewski's team probably wasn't the most talented in the NCAA tournament. No. 1 seeds like Kansas and Kentucky had more NBA-ready players.

But the Blue Devils were the team cutting down the nets at season's end.

"It's hard, you know?" Krzyzewski said. "I've said throughout the year they were good, then they were really good, then they were really good with great character. Before coming to the press conference, I told our team that. It's because we always wanted to keep them chasing something. But I told them before we came here and before we said a prayer, 'You are a great team. You are a great team.'"

As told by a great coach.