In the last week we've seen some impressive milestones reached by a pair of hall of fame coaches. Geno Auriemma led the UConn women's basketball team to its 89th consecutive victory and Mike Kryzyzewski passed Dean Smith to become the 2nd all time winningest coach in men's college basketball. Amidst all the hoopla and fanfare you have to ask yourself one simple question, are they really better coaches than everyone else?
It could be argued that with the talented players that come to Duke and Uconn respectively any number of coaches could duplicate the same accomplishments. How hard is it to win when you have Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Grant Hill, Carlos Boozer, and Christian Laettner? It could also be argued that these coaches wouldn't be half as successful if they didn't always have the best players.
I'm right on the fence with this debate. Great coaching is not so much about X's and O's as it is about putting players in a position to succeed and setting a tone. The top players gravitate towards Geno and coach K because they can get the most out of them and help them reach their full potential. They provide a mindset and a structure that facilitates winning and they do it better than everyone else. Of course I'm also a believer that talent ultimately prevails and the great players that have attended Duke and UConn would have been great wherever they went. Coaches don't have THAT much influence over a players abilities.
In the end Geno and coach K can't turn water into wine, but if you give them some of those Napa Valley grapes they can create an award winning vintage Merlot. It's all about their ability to orchestrate the maturation process. You go to UConn and Duke to be great, but don't go there if you're an average player to begin with. They're not miracle workers!