DURHAM, N.C. - Mike Krzyzewski feels fortunate to still be the coach at Duke, and it has nothing to do with his brief flirtation with the Los Angeles Lakers last summer.
In his first three seasons with the Blue Devils, he compiled a 38-47 record and failed to reach the NCAA Tournament. Still, Coach K maintained the support of his bosses, and he never came close to losing his job.
He wonders if the same would be true today, considering the instability of the coaching profession.
"If I had started out that way here, during this period of time, I probably would not be a head coach right now," he said. "It takes a team commitment to be successful in anything."
Krzyzewski put those early struggles behind him, and now, in his 25th season at Duke, he is one victory away from becoming the sixth active coach to reach 700. He gets his first chance at the milestone tonight when the Blue Devils (5-0) play host to Toledo.
At 699-240, the 57-year-old Krzyzewski would be the second-youngest to reach the mark, falling just short of his college coach, Bob Knight, who was 56. The others with at least 700 are Lou Henson, Eddie Sutton, Lute Olson and John Chaney.
"For me, every win, every game has been precious, and this is a result of that," Krzyzewski said. "That's what I've tried to do during my 30 years, and we've won a lot of games. I'm shocked that we've won that many, but, you know, that's the way it is, that's just the way it is."
His coaching career started at Army, where he had been a point guard on teams led by Knight. Coach K went 73-59 at his alma mater before coming to the Blue Devils, and he took them to the NIT in his first season.
Two lean years followed - Duke won a total of only 21 games - but Krzyzewski got the time he needed to turn around the program.
"It's not so much just giving time," he said. "I think it's forming a team with a coach. During my 25 years here at Duke, whoever the president or athletic director is, and our administration, we've been on the same page.
"I'm not sure that takes place every place."
Since that humble beginning, Krzyzewski has led the Blue Devils to three national championships, 10 trips to the Final Four, nine outright Atlantic Coast Conference regular season titles and eight conference tournament titles, including an unprecedented run of five straight.
That success led the Lakers to pursue him as a replacement for Phil Jackson, about eight years after the Boston Celtics made a similar run at Krzyzewski. Both times, he decided to stay at Duke.
"It made me even appreciate more what I'm doing here and the people I'm doing it with," he said.
This year's Blue Devils have only eight recruited players on the roster, including freshmen David McClure and DeMarcus Nelson. Luol Deng decided to leave after only one year and go to the NBA, where he was joined by prized Duke recruit Shaun Livingston.
With so much talent not coming back, the Blue Devils were picked to finish fourth in the ACC.
It's the first time in five years they weren't the favorite.
"Most definitely, it's motivation," guard Daniel Ewing said. "Since my first three years here, I've never seen anything like that. Most of the time, Duke was at the top."
So far, Krzyzewski and his team appear up to the challenge. They have won their first five games by an average margin of nearly 30 points, with Ewing and backcourt mate J.J. Redick leading the way.
"We know we're a good team," Ewing said. "We don't care what anybody else says about us."
Krzyzewski is happy with the start of the season, even if he knows Duke hasn't really proved anything yet.
"I'm pleased with my guys thus far, they've worked hard," he said. "We haven't played an ACC schedule, which we're trying to prepare for, but we're moving along."