Terry Holland beat Dean Smith in an ACC tournament final, Bob Knight for a berth in the Final Four and Mike Krzyzewski the first eight times they played. So few, if any, are more qualified to discuss the last three coaches to own the Division I career victories record.
Smith broke Adolph Rupp’s mark in 1997; Knight surpassed Smith in 2007, and Tuesday night Krzyzewski passed Knight with his 903rd win. Smith won two national championships at North Carolina, Knight three at Indiana, and Krzyzewski has won four at Duke.
Holland coached Virginia from 1974-90, and during those 16 seasons he was 10-28 against Smith, 9-16 versus Krzyzewski and 1-0 against Knight.
“I’m sure there are characteristics they have in common, but as a coach you do tend to focus on their differences, and the style of play, rather than the commonalities,” Holland said from East Carolina, where he serves as athletic director. “They were all meticulous in their expectations of their teams.
“Knight kept it a lot simpler. Dean was at the other end of the extreme. His defenses and his offenses were very complicated. Mike was more in-between but very focused on making the kids play hard. Certainly Dean’s teams played hard, and Knight’s teams played hard. Krzyzewski’s took it to a whole different level.”
Smith’s Tar Heels were 25-2 and ranked fourth nationally when Holland’s Cavaliers, led by Wally Walker, stunned them in the finals of the 1976 ACC tournament in Landover, Md. That remains Virginia’s lone ACC tournament championship.
The highest-stakes game between Holland Smith came five years later at the Final Four in Philadelphia, where Carolina and Al Wood defeated Virginia and Ralph Sampson in the semifinals.
Holland’s only game against Knight was the 1984 NCAA East Regional final. Indiana had defeated North Carolina in the semifinals, Michael Jordan’s final collegiate game, while Virginia had barely squeezed into the field after a pedestrian regular season. The Cavaliers defeated the Hoosiers 50-48 to reach the Final Four in Year 1 of the post-Sampson era.
“Preparing for Dean’s teams was difficult from a coaching standpoint,” Holland said. “Preparing for Knight’s team and/or Mike’s teams was … preparing for war, an all-out fist-fight the way Duke played it.
“Indiana was tough, but they were only tough from 18 feet in. Mike’s teams were tough as soon as you got the ball.”
The war analogy is apt, since Krzyzewski played for Knight at Army and later coached the Cadets. In fact, Holland’s first glimpse of Krzyzewski came in the last of Krzyzewski’s five seasons guiding Army.
It was the 1979 Cable Car Classic, and Virginia dusted Army 84-60 in the consolation game. After Krzyzewski went to Duke, his Blue Devils lost their first seven games to Virginia.
The seventh was at the 1983 tournament, where the Sampson-led Cavaliers rolled 109-66 to end Duke’s season at 11-17 and hand the Blue Devils their most lopsided loss ever.
“Here’s to forgetting,” a dinner companion said to Krzyzewski that evening.
“Here’s to never forgetting,” Krzyzewski replied.
The following October, when the Blue Devils walked into Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first day of practice, the scoreboard read 109-66.
Duke subsequently won 16 consecutive games against Virginia, a streak that lasted until 1990, Holland’s final season. Led by Bryant Stith, the Cavaliers defeated the No. 4 Blue Devils at University Hall.
Krzyzewski’s skills were apparent to Holland from the beginning.
“In every area,” Holland said. “He was a relentless recruiter. We went head-to-head with them on kids for a long time, and in the early days we got a lot of those kids, and obviously he got most of them after that. We recognized him as a very serious competitor (right away).”
That 1990 team was the third of Krzyzewski’s five straight Final Four squads, a streak that concluded with NCAA championships in 1991 and ’92, college basketball’s first repeat since UCLA and John Wooden won seven in a row from 1967-73.
“I wrote (Mike) a note,” Holland recalled, “and told him what he had done was, I thought, comparable to what Wooden had accomplished.”
For a college basketball coach, for any coach, can there be any greater compliment?
Here's my print column on Krzyzewski's record-breaking evening.
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