DURHAM, N.C. — Mike Krzyzewski has never counted wins. Now on the verge of history, he isn’t about to start.
The Duke coach’s first attempt at becoming the winningest men’s coach in Division I history comes Tuesday night.
A victory by the sixth-ranked Blue Devils over Michigan State in New York would leave Krzyzewski alone atop the list with 903 - and counting - for his Hall of Fame career.
“I’d rather go out and try to win this game for the right reasons, and the residual is you get 903,” Krzyzewski said Monday. “I mean, that’s another perk you get from it. That’s not the perk. The perk is beating Michigan State, going 3-0 and becoming a better team. And then things add up.”
He said he’s “not trying to hide the significance” of the record, but he can’t put the pursuit of it ahead of molding his latest team into a title contender.
Krzyzewski is 902-284 in his 37th season as a college coach, matching the total held by his mentor Bob Knight on Saturday with a rout of Presbyterian.
Knight - who coached Krzyzewski at Army in the 1960s - is scheduled to be on hand at Madison Square Garden for his protege’s attempt to pass him. He’ll work alongside former Duke player Jay Bilas as ESPN analysts.
And the coach Krzyzewski will try to beat for the milestone, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, called the occasion “pretty neat” and said Krzyzewski “deserves the spotlight.”
“I told my guys, ‘This is about our chance because we’re playing the game, too,’ ” Izzo said. “Really, it’s neat to be playing a game like this.”
Krzyzewski never has been shy about praising Knight, saying he “was able to understand the game totally by being his point guard.”
During a speech last month at Butler University, Knight joked that when he coached Krzyzewski, he told him to distribute the ball, to play with intelligence, to play tough defense - and to never shoot.
“I think that’s what has made him such a great coach,” Knight said. “He understood strengths and weaknesses and he was disciplined, and I’ve really enjoyed watching his teams play because they play that way.”
When the record-breaking win inevitably comes - whether that’s Tuesday or sometime after that - Krzyzewski said it will take on more significance once he retires, which he insists he isn’t doing any time soon.
There’s no specific number of wins he wants, not even a set number of seasons he plans to coach. He said his retirement “probably will not be as planned. I’ll know. I’ll just know.”
The only time Krzyzewski said he ever gave serious thought to retiring was when he left his 1994-95 team during the season to deal with back surgery and exhaustion and the Blue Devils went on to finish 13-18. He said he offered resignation to then-Duke athletic director Tom Butters, but the AD refused to accept it.
“When I did that, I knew I couldn’t lead my team, and I just think that comes from the military,” Krzyzewski said. “If you’re not [able], there should be a different leader … and Tom Butters said, ‘We’re not doing that. That’s not appropriate.’ And he was right.”
Krzyzewski led the Blue Devils to plenty of highs during three-plus decades in Durham - four national championships, 11 Final Fours and 13 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament titles.
But what drives him, he says, is avoiding the lows. His record during his first eight years as a coach was a pedestrian 111-106. He painted the bleachers gray at Army because there wasn’t anybody else there to do it. He took over a Duke program he described as “a house of cards” and built it into one of college basketball’s most powerful brand names.
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