Caulton Tudor

ACC's aging lions still ruling the room

Posted February 13

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina coach Roy Williams prior to the Blue Devils' game versus North Carolina on Thursday, February 9, 2017 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC.  Duke won 86-78.  (Photo by Jack Morton)

Mike Krzyzewski turned 70 on Monday, but the Duke icon isn’t the oldest head basketball coach in the ACC. At 72, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim has that distinction.

There was a time, and not all that long ago, when 70-year-old, top-level college coaches were hard to find and those having consistent success at that age were even more unusual.

Dean Smith was 66 when he coached his last game at UNC in 1997. Everett Case, then 64 and considered the founding father of ACC basketball, was in failing health when he stepped down at NC State in the mid 1960s.

Vic Bubas won 213 games and was 106-32 in ACC regular-season games at Duke when he retired from coaching after only 10 seasons in 1969. At the ripe old age of 42 he went into academic and athletic administrative work.

Terry Holland followed the Bubas career route and was only 47 when he coached his last game at Virginia. Holland, 72, retired as ECU’s athletic director two years ago but one of his top former assistant coaches – Miami’s Jim Larranaga – is 67 and going strong.

College basketball coaching has changed a lot obviously. The demands are far greater than only a few years ago, but so too is the money and the incentive to keep winning continues to generate motivation.

In the 2016-17 ACC race, sideline experience is trumping relative youth again. Here’s a look at the conference standings by coaches ages after Virginia Tech’s 80-78 win over Virginia on Sunday:

1. Roy Williams, UNC, 66

2. Leonard Hamilton, FSU, 68

T3. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke, 70

T3. Rick Pitino, Louisville, 64

T3. Tony Bennett, UVa, 47

T6. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse, 72

T6. Mike Brey, Notre Dame, 57

T8. Jim Larranaga, Miami, 67

T8. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech, 44

T8. Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech, 39

11. Danny Manning, Wake Forest, 50

T12. Kevin Stallings, Pitt, 56

T12. Brad Brownell, Clemson, 48

14. Mark Gottfried, NCSU, 53

15. Jim Christian, Boston College, 52

To an extent, those standings reflect reverse logic, but they also underscore the importance of program preservation in almost all college athletics but especially basketball, football and baseball, the three primary team sports.

It’s turning out to be a cruel irony for State’s Gottfried and Wake Forest’s Manning, who seemed to be positioned to make quick program strides as Krzyzewski and Williams moved toward presumed retirement.

Instead, the aging lions are showing no signs of making quiet exits and continue to tend their deep-rooted systems with the same expertise they did 20 years ago.

There are still goals to chase, but the Wolfpack (14-12, 3-10) is backing up, rather than progressing, in Gottfried’s sixth season. Starting with UNC on Wednesday (8 p.m., WRAL-TV), followed by Notre Dame (Feb. 18) and Virginia (Feb. 25), State could bag some big wins in its remaining home games. But with trips to Georgia Tech (Feb. 21) and Clemson (Mar. 1), it’s practically impossible to imagine the Pack doing enough to avoid a Tuesday first-round game in the league tournament for the second year in a row.

State’s season is tracking much like that of a year ago, when its 16-17 overall record (5-13 ACC) wasn’t good enough for a postseason spot anywhere beyond the league event. Then it’s probably roster patchwork time again for Gottfried. Talented point guard Dennis Smith Jr. probably will move on to the NBA and No. 2 scorer Terry Henderson is a senior. Abdul-Malik Abu, the best big on the roster, is a junior but likely will revisit his pro options.

Last March in the tourney first round at Washington, State and Wake met with the Pack winning by three. The Deacons have improved with some age, but State has not.

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