Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski earned what was advertised as his 903rd career victory in Madison Square Garden last night, setting a new NCAA record. Odd as it is to imagine the Duke/Coach K publicity machine underselling something, it's worth noting that the 74-69 win over Michigan State could also be counted as Krzyzewski's 907th career victory. He could have celebrated his record-breaking win eight months ago, when the Blue Devils beat Michigan 73-71 in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
But the tribute videos all aired last night instead, because during the Blue Devils' lackluster 1994-95 season, Krzyzewski bailed out on his team, citing back pain and exhaustion, and Duke dumped the last 19 games onto the record of assistant coach Pete Gaudet (pictured sitting to Coach K's left in a photo from Dec. 1994). Krzyzewski would continue coaching the squad the next fall. The players and plays were all his work. But for a span from January to March, the team's 4-15 record was officially Gaudet's fault.
The bookkeeping was particular to Duke. When George Blaney filled in for an ailing Jim Calhoun at UConn during the 2010 season, Calhoun still got credit for the three wins and burdened by the four losses. (To put it another way, Blaney did not get credit for coaching the Huskies to their first home win against a No. 1 team in school history.) In 2007, Coach K told reporters that he thought he "should have been credited with all the losses" from Gaudet's stretch (Mike Brey and Tommy Amaker, since departed, were also assistants at the time). It must be difficult for Mike Krzyzewski to influence the Duke athletic department, because the losses stayed where they were.
Pete Gaudet left Duke after that season. It wasn't a good time for him. A former high school teacher in New Hampshire, he'd first joined Coach K's ranks as an assistant at Army in the mid 1970s; when Krzyzewski left for Duke in 1980, Gaudet stayed on as head coach for two losing seasons (a 12-41 record) in West Point. He'd eventually rejoin Krzyzewski, who'd just endured two 17-loss seasons, in Durham in 1983.
"[Krzyzewski] called me and said he'd like me to go there," Gaudet told Fall Rivers' Herald News (Mass.) two and a half years ago. "They had just gone 11-17 and I'm thinking ‘will he stick around?'"
Coach K stuck around until the Blue Devils were two months into the 1994 season, when back pain took him out for the remainder of the year. At the time, Duke was 9-3 and ranked No. 11 in the country, but it had just lost its first ACC matchup of the young season, falling 75-70 to Clemson. After Krzyzewski left, the team lost five more games in a row and fell out of the national rankings, ending up 13-18. It was the first season since 1982-83 that the Blue Devils did not make the NCAA tournament. Just a month into Gaudet's brief tenure, a headline in the Charleston Post and Courier declared that Duke, then 0-9 in the ACC, was "lost without its heart and soul."
After Duke lost its first game without Krzyzewski on the sideline on Jan. 7, 1995—75-68 at Georgia Tech—a reporter from the Durham Herald-Sun asked Gaudet to speculate on how the coach's absence might influence the remainder of the season. He didn't want to:
"We'll never be able to tell that,'' he said. "It's just like the absence of a key player. I'm sure there were times when there was a little bit of confusion out there. I didn't sense any lack of courage or any sign our players were holding back.''
Gaudet also told the paper that he wasn't aware of Coach K's condition because "[t]he last thing he said to me was 'Don't call me'—and I didn't."
(A January 1995 Sports Illustrated article includes an anecdote from Vince Carter, then a Duke prospect, who'd visited Krzyzewski at his home Jan. 15, 1995: "He was up and about," Carter said of the coach. "He didn't seem like a guy who has had all these back problems. He's just anxious to get back.")
Gaudet's time at the helm for Duke was also miserable for a reason unrelated to losses: He was getting paid a pittance for one of the most stressful positions in college sports. For his first nine seasons with the Blue Devils, he'd made a respectable salary with the Blue Devils, but by the time he took Krzyzewski's place on the sideline, Gaudet was in his third year as the team's "restricted-earnings" coach, which had a max salary of $16,000—about $300 a week. That year, he told the Greensboro News & Record, he had to teach "a couple of courses in the physical education department to help make ends meet."
Gaudet filed a lawsuit against the NCAA over the limits on coaches' earnings that was dismissed in January of that year. In 2009, Gaudet told the Herald-News that it would lead to his "biggest win ever" in basketball:
"My biggest win ever wasn't in a game, but when I was at Duke, I sued the NCAA for restricted earnings," Gaudet said. "I lost the suit. We sued in state court and lost, but it opened a lot of eyes. We sued again and it became a class action suit against the NCAA. It wound up giving us freedom to go out and earn a living. I guess that's my contribution to basketball."
He resigned from his assistant-coaching position eight weeks after Duke's season had ended (on a 17-point loss to Wake Forest).
"It's nothing I had or will dwell on," he told the AP of the difficult season.
Gaudet, known for his skill in developing big men, stuck around Durham for a bit to continue helping out with Krzyzewski's summer camps. He eventually went to Vanderbilt, where he once again assisted the men's squad, then the women. He started as an assistant for the Ohio State women's team in 2003, and was named the team's video coordinator for the 2005-06 season. He was still in Columbus until May of this year, when the Basketball Federation of India—calling him the "epitome of an accomplished basketball coaching veteran"—hired Gaudet as head coach of the Indian Women's Senior Team. It's hard to say whether or not this was an upgrade from his position at the time.
And so Krzyzewski, depending on your view, got his 903rd or 907th career victory last night. Officially, it's 903, and that breaks Bobby Knight's record and makes him the most successful coach in men's college basketball history (Pat Summitt has 1,071 career victories). It's not a stretch to guess that the 64-year-old might still break 1,000 in his career, which would be a nearly impossible mark to break for any other active coach. If he comes close, maybe Duke will reconsider those games in early 1995. Till then, close to the bottom of the all-time wins list is Pete Gaudet: The man who got restricted-earnings coaches a better deal.
And got four wins for Duke basketball.