Duke’s Coach K, protector of the college basketball status quo.
Halfway through the 1989-1990 college basketball season, Mike Krzyzewski’s secretary contacted the Duke Chronicle’s sports department. She said the coach wanted the student journalists to come for a meeting, so they could get to know the players better. When the newspaper staff showed up, Krzyzewski reamed them in front of his basketball team, claiming the Chronicle team had not “enjoyed what was going on” and advising them to “get their heads out of your way. buttocks”.
Krzyzewski had this fit because the school newspaper had published an article he didn’t like. The offensive headline: “Solid overall play makes Duke ACC favorite.” In this story, a Chronicle writer gave men’s basketball Duke a mid-season rating of B +. Krzyzewski called this “an insult to me”. He believed his Blue Devils – who would reach the Final Four and then get knocked out by UNLV – deserved an A +.
We know all of this because a Duke Chronicle reporter secretly recorded the meeting, and the newspaper ran a front page account of Krzyzewski’s tirade. The Chronicle’s sports editor called the coach’s reprimands “humiliating” and said of Krzyzewski “he treated us like we were working for him.” Krzyzewski then apologized for the language he used, but not for the message he delivered. Two years later, in an article titled “Blue Angel,” he told Sports Illustrated that he was still upset that the Chronicle students never apologized to him.
The Duke’s enemies cite this ancient story as proof that Krzyzewski is inauthentic, that the holy Coach K is secretly a profane jerk. I’m talking about it now, as 74-year-old Krzyzewski announces his intention to retire after the 2021-22 season, to make the opposite point. The man we’ve come to know in public over the past 40+ years – the five-time NCAA Champion, namesake of Duke’s Fuqua / Coach K Leadership and Ethics Center – didn’t have to. all two faces. This is the exact same guy who privately waved to a group of undergraduates under false pretenses to show them how to behave.
Before forging his own identity, Krzyzewski was known as Bob Knight’s protégé. Knight, who coached Krzyzewski at West Point, is famous for winning many games, enforcing a strict discipline code and being a huge jerk. While acknowledging Knight’s influence, Krzyzewski long rejected the idea that he was inspired by the legend with the red face and the chair. The differences between them, however, have more to do with style than substance. The two coaches saw and presented themselves as shapers of men. Both also strongly championed an NCAA system that Taylor Branch memorably described as carrying “an unmistakable scent of the plantation,” in which coaches (most of them white) enrich themselves through the work of unpaid athletes (most of them black).
Perhaps this is an indication that Krzyzewski supports players’ rights as long as they don’t make his job more difficult or complicated.
Krzyzewski is a very good basketball coach. He’s a Hall of Fame member and corporate icon because he’s good at selling his program to both teenage basketball stars and advocates of the status quo. Krzyzewski went 38-47 in his first three years at Duke and would have lost his job without a talented recruiting class that changed the fortunes of the Blue Devils on the pitch. Once Duke won, Krzyzewski completed his coaching contract with a multi-million dollar Nike deal and started earning six figures per speech on the white collar speaking tour.
Krzyzewski is “one of the great leaders, motivators and humanitarians in sport,” broadcaster Jim Nantz once said. “I think executives like me aspire to be his peers, and I’m not saying that irony,” Bear Stearns president Alan D. Schwartz said of Duke’s 2006 coach. to play for Coach K and at the same time get a Duke diploma, then it’s definitely your loss, ”a Duke alumnus wrote to Elton Brand after leaving school early to join the NBA. She added: “I just wish you had spared us the idea of continuing the tradition of being a Duke student-athlete, with an emphasis on excellence both in study and in athletics. . ” Brand is said to earn more than $ 165 million in salary. He is now the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Krzyzewski, for his part, encouraged Brand to move to the NBA after his second season, calling the move “absolutely obvious.” In one of his many leadership books, the coach described this as an example of “confidence in action”. Brand came to him, Krzyzewski explained, because “he knew I wanted what was best for him”.
It should be noted that Krzyzewski’s players, both at Duke and on the US National Team, truly revere him. And Krzyzewski is undoubtedly sincere when he says he wanted the best for Brand, and everyone who suited him. But as Coach K, his cronies and business partners will tell you, his project extends far beyond the confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I don’t think of myself as a basketball coach,” he said in an American Express ad that ran continuously during the 2005 NCAA tournament. “I consider myself a leader who coaches basketball. ball. “
A leader who coaches basketball is someone whose area of influence extends beyond the court and into the boardroom and, if so inclined, into the student newspaper office. A leader who coaches basketball treats people who are not in his service as if they work for him. A leader who coaches basketball knows what’s best for everyone.
This passage “happens to the coach” is a well-ordered misdirection – an assertion that its role as the public face of so-called amateur sports is of no consequence to its larger mission. The truth is, Krzyzewski is rich, famous and revered because he sold the idea that college basketball is, in good hands, that is, in his hands, a deeply honorable business.
“The Duke basketball has come to represent the godly version of the public service announcements of varsity athletics,” Sports Illustrated’s Alexander Wolff wrote in 1992, in the same article where Krzyzewski complained that the student journalists he shouted in the locker room never apologized. to him. “It’s the most collegiate program, in part only because virtually every player who goes through Durham ends up graduating.” Krzyzewski, Wolff continued, “has such a relationship with the students he could chew them for not cheering enough after a close home win over Maryland.” What a report indeed!
Beginning in 2010, Krzyzewski actively embraced unique players like Kyrie Irving and Zion Williamson. He also spoke out in favor of athletes being compensated for their name, image and likeness rights, saying that “we in varsity athletics must continually adapt, albeit in a reasonable way.”
Even so, Krzyzewski did more than any other figure to substantiate the NCAA’s ludicrous claim that top men’s basketball is less a profitable business than an opportunity for young men to learn valuable lessons from. life. During his 41 seasons at Duke, he has strived to preserve a system in which coaches accumulate power and profit while some of the world’s greatest athletes are branded as selfish ungrateful for exercising the few. autonomy they have. “Kids don’t stick to the school they choose and they want instant gratification,” Krzyzewski said in 2012, denouncing the increase in transfers in college play.
Thursday, the stadium Jeff Goodman reported that a “source close to Coach K” said he was retiring in part because of the “uncontrollable transfer portal”. That same source told Goodman that Krzyzewski’s retirement was also inspired by “the name, image and likeness of college basketball.” This claim seems puzzling given the coach’s public support for the NIL reform. But, if that’s true, maybe it’s an indication that Krzyzewski supports players’ rights as long as they don’t make his job harder or more complicated.
Krzyzewski actually thought about quitting the college game in 1990, when things got complicated following his setback with the student newspaper. At the time, he listened to the Boston Celtics’ call, but ultimately decided to stay at Duke. “I realized that I’m not just a basketball coach,” he explained. “And if I was in the NBA, this is what I would be. I want to be a teacher, work with children and watch them grow. The good thing is that I can win a lot of basketball games while doing this.
A few decades and a handful of Duke Championships later, Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils found themselves knocked out by Oregon in the 2016 Sweet 16. Within seconds, Dillon Brooks of the Ducks took it and scored a score at 3 points when the shot clock expired. . After the game, the losing coach pulled Brooks aside to tell the winning athlete that he had acted out of the line – that Brooks was “too good a player to do that.” When Brooks revealed the contents of this exchange, Krzyzewski initially denied saying anything of the sort. He didn’t tell the truth until after the audio was broadcast.
He is, in public and in private, the man who built the most successful program in modern college basketball, and who built himself to be the sport’s most enduring brand: a vicious competitor, a referee. self-proclaimed morale and a basketball coach prone to blowing the whistle over anything but the twisted hobby he’s made his own.
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