Before they became legendary basketball coaches, Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski had to withstand harsh criticism.
At North Carolina, Smith was hanged in effigy on campus after a stinging 107-85 loss at Wake Forest in early January 1965.
Roughly 20 years later, Krzyzewski's second and third seasons at Duke were marked by such opposition that the struggling coach was hounded by a posse of "concerned Iron Dukes" who wanted athletic director Tom Butters to make a change to save the program. For unknown coaches with modest resumes, such hostility is fairly common in athletics. And that is exactly what Krzyzewski and Smith were when they arrived here.
They were deemed by fans to be ordinary guys with ordinary abilities, rather than sure-shot future basketball icons. Over time, Krzyzewski and Smith each won 879 games, and they have six national titles between them. With a win Wednesday night against North Carolina-Greensboro at Greensboro Coliseum, Krzyzewski will move past Smith into second place on the all-time wins list behind only Bob Knight. But early on, neither seemed assured of success.
Lee Shaffer was a star North Carolina player when Frank McGuire brought in Smith as an assistant in the late 1950s. A longtime Durham resident, Shaffer also closely followed Krzyzewski's career at Duke.
Shaffer saw both men's early struggles.
"They weren't star players during their careers, and they definitely weren't big-name coaches when they got here," Shaffer said. "They were just young fellows with big hopes who I think were hired on hunches.
"But they were taking over a couple of programs with great histories of success. Folks expected a lot and a lot fast."
Former North Carolina chancellor William Aycock, acting on a recommendation from the exiting McGuire, played the hunch on Smith and was roundly rebuked for doing so in 1961.
Compared with the criticism Aycock heard, Butters escaped with relative ease when he picked Krzyzewski in 1980.
Folks merely laughed at Butters for bringing in a kid coach with an unpronounceable name to engage the likes of Smith, Maryland's Lefty Driesell and Virginia's Terry Holland.
"People thought I was crazy, and they thought Mike was from another planet," Butters said some years later.
Krzyzewski was coming off a couple of 14-11 and 9-17 seasons at Army.
These days, an Army coach with a 9-17 record would be highly unlikely to get a phone call, much less a job offer, from Duke.
It didn't take long for some hardcore Blue Devils fans to rebel, either. By the middle of the new coach's third season, Butters was hearing from a growing number of Duke supporters who wanted Krzyzewski shipped back to West Point.
That 1982-83 Duke team went 11-17. The '81-82 Blue Devils had gone 10-17 when Smith won his first NCAA title ('81-82) at UNC, and third-year N.C. State coach Jim Valvano won it all the following season.
"There is definitely a similarity there," Krzyzewski said. "I wasn't there to follow his first few years, but to hear somebody hung something in effigy, asked for him to be fired, I can identify with that.
"There are people around here that wanted me fired during my third year. His school stuck with him and my school stuck with me, and they got stuck with us for 30-something years. But it was a good stuck. And I think it gave both of us an edge.
"You start out poor. I think when you start out poor -- when you're perceived to be rich, you're never that far away from being poor. And when you are born rich, sometimes you may never have empathy for poor. We had the advantage of having that happen to both of us, and then having the resources of two great universities and a great conference to give us an opportunity to build two outstanding programs."
At North Carolina, Smith, shy and unassuming, was a 180-degree change from flamboyant, outspoken McGuire.
Not only that, Smith took over a program on probation and in a brief period of de-emphasis following a gambling scandal.
Elliott Murnick was the only student manager for Smith's first team.
"I think that Dean really was a little surprised to get the job, but I know he was very grateful for getting that chance," Murnick said. "It was a tough situation for him, too. Following Frank McGuire wasn't easy, even for someone with Dean's understanding of the game and ability to teach."
That first team (8-9 overall, 7-7 ACC) tested Smith's nerves as much as his coaching potential, Murnick said.
"We didn't have a lot of size, and we didn't have many players," Murnick said. "Looking back on it now, it's pretty amazing he won as much as he did those first few seasons.
"Players were different then, too. Dean wasn't much older than the players. We had a team clown -- Hugh Donohue. Larry Brown had a big temper. Billy Cunningham came along later, and he was kind of a free spirit plus being a great, great player.
"There was something different every day, but Dean earned everyone's respect. The guys drove him crazy at times, I know, but everyone knew Dean was a coach to be listened to."
Cunningham and those early teams fiercely stood behind him in difficult times. Cunningham pulled down the hanging likeness of Smith and had to restrained by teammates from confronting a nearby group of hecklers.
Years later, Cunningham reflected on the incident, saying that Smith handled the situation in much the same manner he handled difficult game conditions.
"Things like that never rattled or got to Coach Smith," Cunningham said. "He knew what he could do if the school and fans gave him the time. Now, of course, everybody knows."