Ask anyone who is even slightly familiar with college basketball about the best coaches over the past two decades and there is little doubt that Mike Krzyzewski will be one of the first names mentioned. This is obvious. The Duke Coach is a no-brainer. But what might be most impressive about Coach K isn’t just that what he’s done with the Blue Devils in his career, but who he’s done it with.
According to the US News & World Report, Duke University is the tenth best school in the United States, just behind Columbia and the University of Chicago, but ahead of Northwestern, Johns Hopkins and Brown. And while these rankings are entirely subjective and for the most part, irrelevant, this much is clear when it comes to recruiting top-notch athletes: The elite universities won’t just admit any kid with a nice jumper or a fast forty-yard dash time on to campus.
Krzyzewski doesn’t have the luxury of being able to focus on recruiting only the latter half of the student-athlete. Unlike many of his rivals, especially the public schools who are more willing to lower their admissions standards, he can’t bring in a kid who excels on the basketball court but avoids English class at all costs. Yet still, he’s got a resume that stacks up with the likes of John Wooden and Dean Smith. His eleven ACC Titles, ten Final Four appearances and three National Championships put him on the shortlist of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport.
The same can’t be said for Notre Dame Football head coach Charlie Weis, who was already on the hot seat even before his team’s loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday night. Notre Dame also appears on the US News & World Report’s list, at No. 20, and there are many people who point to the school’s strict admissions standards as the reason Weis has been a colossal failure in recent years.
To his credit, Weis has never complained publicly about the admissions policy at Notre Dame. But he’s also never defended the school in the face of constant criticism from fans, media and especially, former players. In August, former quarterback Joe Montana said there was no way for Weis to be successful year in and year out without some leniency from the admissions office.
“You can’t ask any football coach here to be constrained like that on the academic side and to have a consistent team,” Montana said. “Unless you try to relax some of that for the athletic programs here, it’s hard to consistently compete with the programs that have different standards.”
There is no question that Weis has a more difficult job than coaches like Urban Meyer at Florida or Randy Shannon at Miami. While both Florida and Miami are also ranked among the top 50 schools in the country, their higher-ups have embraced a win-at-all-costs mentality for athletic programs. But unlike what Krzyzewski has done at Duke, Weis hasn’t figured how to compete with the top programs in America by not competing for recruits.
What I’ve always found fascinating as a UConn Basketball fan is that even as a perennial powerhouse, the players who end up in Storrs rarely list Duke as one of their final choices. Usually, it’s Maryland, Arizona and Oklahoma. The same can be said for the type of kids John Calipari at Kentucky recruits. These coaches are examples of guys who are allowed to recruit based solely on talent. But rather than fight for the same player, Coach K has managed to corner the market on the top athletes who can also perform well in the classroom. Sure there are less of these types of kid around, but they’re more likely to go to Duke in the end.
Weis still takes it personal when someone picks Florida or USC over Notre Dame. What he should be doing is making sure that the best players that schools like Stanford, Cal, Northwestern and Michigan are recruiting are all signing on to play for the Fighting Irish. That’s not too much to ask and it would make all the difference.
Unfortunately for Weis, it might be too late to start now.