Mike Krzyzewski and Gregg Popovich each recently reached lofty plateaus – Coach K became the first Division I men’s basketball coach to record 1,000 career victories, “Pop” became the ninth NBA coach to record 1,000 regular-season victories.
Arguably, Krzyzewski is the best college coach of his generation and Popovich is the best pro coach of his generation.
But who is better?
Who has succeeded under extra adverse circumstances?
Whose achievement is more impressive?
Couch Slouch has spent many a sleepless night pondering these seemingly unsolvable mysteries.
Thankfully, there is a sabermetric model that unravels the layers of complexity swirling about the Krzyzewski-Popovich conundrum. So, with the help of Neville Schreckengost – third cousin twice removed to legendary stat savant Nate Silver – I ran the numbers in eight major categories and, somewhat shockingly, this baby wasn’t even close.
Not to disparage the legacy of Krzyzewski, but Popovich routs him in a head-to-head meta-analytical abstract measuring coaching effectiveness rating, team clustering coefficient, turnover probability theory and certain cutting-edge algorithms that cannot be reprinted in a family newspaper.
Here are our findings:
(Footnotes can be accessed at our website numbersdontlieandtheycan bedamnsexytoo.com.)
WAR: Popovich’s WAR – Wins Above Replacement – is an astounding 156.2. Krzyzewski’s WAR is an equally astounding -3.141589; translated to layman’s terms, this means that a mid-level pastry chef with a basic understanding of butter-based frostings and man-to-man defense could’ve led Duke to as many 25-win seasons in the past 25 years as Krzyzewski has.
Player pool: Popovich has to deal with the salary cap, plus the vagaries and vicissitudes of spoiled pro athletes. Meanwhile, Krzyzewski hand-picks his players from an endless line of wide-eyed high school student-athletes who stand outside his office, waiting for The Oracle to touch them on the head with his right hand and declare, “You, son, are now a Duke Blue Devil for life, unless you’re one-and-done.”
Quality of opponents: After taking over the Spurs 18 games into a 20-62 season in 1996-97, Popovich has never had a losing season, competing against the world’s best. Krzyzewski coached five years at Army, picking up 73 victories against the likes of Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, National Guard, Stony Brook, Binghamton, Sacred Heart, Faber College, DeVry Institute of Technology and the University of Phoenix.
NBA vs. NCAA: Sure, Popovich earned almost all his victories under the autocratic, tyrannical rule of serial despot/former NBA czar David Stern. But Krzyzewski has had to operate under the umbrella of the NCAA, a byzantine organization accountable to no one with sweeping and confounding regulatory authority operating like the fourth branch of government – that’s a tougher trick, and Coach K’s only ‘W’ here.
TV analyst tree: Popovich has only imposed one ex-Spur onto the national broadcasting scene, Sean Elliott. On the other hand, Krzyzewski has foisted an inexhaustible array of yapping Dukies onto Sports Nation, including Shane Battier, Jay Bilas, Mike Gminski, Grant Hill, Jim Spanarkel and Jay Williams.
In-game distractions: Popovich often must do between-quarter, on-air interviews that take him away from strategizing. Krzyzewski has no such obligation, plus with the abundance of media stoppages in college, he’s got enough time on the sideline to diagram block/charge plays and get his suit pressed.
Hair: Popovich has gone gray naturally, complicating his task in communicating to pampered youth. Krzyzewski – no matter what he says – dyes his hair jet-black, enabling him to more easily relate to the younger set.
Referees: Popovich has had to deal with Joey Crawford, Bennett Salvatore and company for 19 seasons. Duke, of course, travels with its own officials.
Ask The Slouch
Q. So they stripped that Little League team from Chicago of its national title. Who was their manager, John Calipari? (John Finnegan; Kansas City, Missouri)
A. Hindsight is 20-20, but when I saw A-Rod starting at third base for that team, I knew something was hinky.
Q. I know The Slouch is NBA-literate: Is Mo Williams the final piece in the Hornets’ puzzle? (Stephen Woodson; Indianapolis)
A. Trading for Mo Williams to push for a playoff spot is like buying a lava lamp to finish off your home office.
Q. I have no question, but the dog you use for that dog-show journal writes better than you do. (Stan Berman; Washington, D.C.)
A. I have no answer, and you get no money.
Q. Based on the recent NCAA/Joe Paterno reversal decision, are you and your crack legal team considering asking the court to reclassify your divorces as “wins” instead of “losses?” (Perry Clark; Princeton, West Virginia)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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