This marks the first preseason in 48 years in which Mike Krzyzewski is not a Division I men's college basketball head coach. The legendary Duke coach left the game in April after having recorded a rather staggering 1,202 career victories.
Then again, "staggering" doesn't mean "unreachable." On the women's side of the college game, for example, Stanford's Tara VanDerveer (with 1,157 career wins) and UConn's Geno Auriemma (1,149) are both fast approaching Coach K's mark.
In men's college hoops, conversely, no one's quite that close to catching Krzyzewski just yet. Nevertheless, with Coach K now retired at age 75, his coaching peers at least have a stable number to target.
How Coach K did what he did, numerically speaking
Krzyzewski was hired as a 28-year-old head coach at Army in 1975. For the moment, set aside his 40-plus seasons at Duke, where Coach K averaged 27 victories per year. (Ho-hum.)
Note instead that the 73 wins he recorded in five years at West Point alone will keep any would-be pursuer working another two-plus seasons or so above and beyond what would otherwise be required. If you want to set a career mark, it's vitally important to start young.
This importance is illustrated perfectly by two current head coaches who, as chance would have it, were both born on Dec. 27, 1962. Bill Self (Kansas) and Mark Few (Gonzaga) are both leading lights of the game, both have more than 600 wins under their belts, and they're the same age almost down to the hour. Wild.
Yes, but Self got a head start. He was named head coach at Oral Roberts as a precocious 30-year-old in 1993 when Few was still toiling as an assistant under Dan Fitzgerald at Gonzaga. Few's win rate with the Bulldogs has of course been excellent for 23 seasons, but, in effect, he's been playing catch-up behind Self for his entire head-coaching career.
With that in mind, let's look at which coaches started the earliest, won the most games and thus have the best chance to equal Coach K's mark. To project each coach's win rate over the next decade or more, an average was derived from the past five seasons that were not shortened by the pandemic. In other words, 2019-20 and 2020-21 were not used to arrive at these average win rates.
We'll start with the leaders in career wins among active coaches. It will become apparent that having the most wins so far isn't the same thing has having the best chance at this particular record going forward.