Vaught's Views: Coach K won't leave Duke

July 02, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Having a high-profile college basketball coach in "serious discussions" with a NBA team is not a new story in Kentucky.

However, this time it's not Tubby Smith or Rick Pitino doing the flirting. Instead, it's Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who has won three NCAA championships and made 10 Final Four appearances with the Blue Devils.

The Los Angeles Lakers apparently think Krzyzewski could be the right replacement for Phil Jackson, who didn't have his contract renewed even though he won three NBA championships from 2000-2002.

NBA teams often have been infatuated by successful college coaches. Just ask Kentucky fans.

Rick Pitino built a powerhouse at Kentucky. He won a national title in 1996 and finished second in 1997 in his fourth Final Four appearance in six years. He had a solid nucleus for 1998, too, when he finally decided to return to the NBA and coach the Boston Celtics. Pitino had flirted with the NBA earlier in his UK career, but finally couldn't say no to Boston.


Obviously, that was a horrible decision for both him and the Celtics, which is why he's now coaching the Louisville Cardinals.

Smith won a national title in 1998, his first year at Kentucky, as Pitino's successor. Since then, he's been mentioned in conjunction with NBA openings in Denver, Philadelphia, Charlotte and others, even though he signed a $20 million contract extension after the 2003 season.

NBA has not been a good career route for successful college coaches

Smith was smart enough to understand that while coaching in the NBA might pay well and seem glamorous, it has not been a good career route for successful college coaches to take.

Jerry Tarkanian was a flop in the NBA, lasting just 20 games, only two years after he won the 1990 national title at UNLV. Lon Kruger, John Calipari and Leonard Hamilton, the former UK assistant, weren't any better than Pitino.

It's just a different game. Jim O'Brien came to Kentucky as Pitino's assistant after he lost his head coaching job at Dayton. He went with Pitino to Boston. When Pitino left, he took over and won more games than Pitino. He walked away from the job and is now the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The one exception has been Larry Brown. He won a national title at Kansas and then led Tayshaun Prince and the Detroit Pistons to a championship series win over Los Angeles that probably cost Jackson his job and likely will send Shaquille O'Neal to a new team next year.

Yet Krzyzewski didn't turn down a chance to talk with the Lakers. Maybe it's because he's finally started having players leave early for the NBA draft, a problem the Blue Devils had not encountered until a few years ago. Maybe it's because he had a high school signee this year opt for the NBA over the Duke experience.

He's on a roll similar to the one Pitino was on

He's had a team ranked No. 1 in 12 different seasons, including the last seven. He's on a roll similar to the one Pitino was on when he left Kentucky - a move the Louisville coach now admits was a big mistake because of what he had built at Kentucky.

Why would Krzyzewski leave Duke, where he's the king, to coach overpriced players with egos bigger than Cameron Indoor Stadium?

He won't. It's nice to feel wanted. It's nice to have others tell us how good we are and what a good job we are doing. But the love, and stability, he has with the Dukies is way too good to trade for a spot in the NBA.

Coach K's fling with the Lakers won't take long. Besides, if he did take the job, rumors would start flying that Pitino and/or Smith could be a candidate for the Duke job and that would send the Bluegrass into a state of paranoia even though there's no way Duke would ever look to the Bluegrass for a coach.

Of course, it was only a few years ago that no Kentucky fan could ever have imagined Pitino at Louisville. But when next basketball season starts, Krzyzewski is going to be right back at Cameron where he belongs.

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