Mike Krzyzewski is, plain and simple, the face of NCAA Basketball. Said face can inspire poetic verse like “someone has taken a diamond cutter’s tools to a chunk of marble,” as written by Sports Illustrated’s Alexander Woolf. However, as supporters of a certain other North Carolina college basketball team might agree with, others may argue his face “looks like a rat” (a point made by then future UNC player Reggie Bullock in 2010).
So which is the real Krzyzewski? Love him or hate him, he is the man who led his “Dukies” to 5 National Championships, 12 Final Fours (as many as John Wooden), and heck, even three consecutive Olympic Gold Medals for the US National Team (the only basketball coach in the world, literally, to have done so).
It would be easy to blame jealousy then as to why so many NCAA fans absolutely hate Duke, its famous coach, and his “rat” face. But would envy alone inspire someone to write a book with the title “Duke Sucks: A Completely Evenhanded, Unbiased Investigation into the Most Evil Team on Planet Earth” (published in 2012)?
No, there’s just something about the team and the university that makes stories like this year’s controversial single-game benching of Grayson Allen, after he had been suspended indefinitely by the team for his third tripping incident feel… predictable. And when you pick at those little scabs, those little special treatments or looking-the-other-way behavior, Mike Krzyzewski’s proverbial marble pedestal does indeed start to crack.
Here are the 15 Things Duke Doesn't Want You To Know About Coach K.
15 He’s 70
OK, granted this is hardly a secret, nor is it damning for a person to reach 70 years of age. Heck, its worth celebrating really. So what did Mike Krzyzewski say on his big day, this past February 13? “It’s absolutely incredible,” Coach K raved. “This is the most balanced the [Atlantic Coast Conference] has ever been from top to bottom.”
See what we did there? The ACC indeed deep and dangerous, with six teams in the Top 25 as of this writing. And the aging coach has just four years remaining on his contract beyond this season and if this year has proven anything, its that Duke may not be the same without him. Earlier this season assistant Jeff Capel took over for Krzyzewski and a 13-1 squad suddenly stumbled to a 4-3 record. Coach K came back and the team has since won 5 straight (again, as of this writing.) That’s a crystal clear impact if there ever was one.
Its conceivable by the time next year’s freshman are seniors, the dominant Dukies might slide back to the pack, with a retired legend’s era behind them.
14 His Team Has Been Blowing Key Games To Lesser Teams In Recent Years
The Duke Blue Devils have been knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round by double-digit-seeded teams twice in five years. Worse, the losses to #15 seed Lehigh University and #14 seed Mercer in 2012 and 2014 respectively were both upsets that occurred with the “home court” advantage of being played in brackets hosted in North Carolina. This is a disturbing trend for a coach with the prestige and reputation of Coach K.
By comparison, rival Roy Williams of the University of North Carolina is a perfect 26-0 in the first round, including his time at the helm with at Kansas. Kentucky’s John Calipari is 16-1 (including entries with UMass and Memphis.) This shouldn’t be happening to the man who is supposed to be the best.
13 Dean Smith Owned Him
Duke seems to own UNC recently, with Coach K 17-11 against his rival Roy Williams since the latter was hired in 2003 (with their next rematch scheduled for March 4). The university is most likely hoping this will help us forget how unfriendly trips down Tobacco Road used to be for Krzyzewski and his squad. Legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith finished his career with 24 wins to only 14 losses against Coach K. The wins weren’t just in Krzyzewski’s infancy of his time helming at Duke either (when he inherited a thin squad, albeit one with three All-Americans, in 1980-81); Smith closed out his career 6-1 before retiring in 1997.
Coach K has an impressive .607 winning percentage against Roy Williams. Dean Smith bowled over him to the tune of .632. Bragging rights still fall Dean’s way.
12 Not A Donald Trump Fan
North Carolina’s 15 electoral college votes went to now President Donald J. Trump in the 2016 election, as he beat challenger Hillary Clinton by nearly 200,000 in the popular count (though Duke’s Durham County did go 77.7% to the Democratic candidate). Earlier this month, Krzyzewski made a not-so-subtle jab at Trump’s quick Twitter trigger finger. “When one thing happens, that's the story,” he said in reference to today’s “line item” society. “It's a good thing leaders don't lead that way. I hope they don't. I know one uses Twitter a lot.”
While undoubtedly increasing his popularity on campus for his political opinions, Coach K’s comments can’t be great public relations for Duke to promote to its broader fan base and alumni. Contrast his statement with Indiana University’s retired legend Bob Knight (and Krzyzewski mentor) who delighted state crowds with his wholehearted Donald Trump endorsement during the campaign, even once enthusiastically emoting “that son of a b-tch can play for me!”, and its clear Coach K may be stepping into potentially image damaging territory.
11 Saying He Cusses Frequently Would Be An Understatement
What do you expect by someone who was mentored by Bob Knight. Still, its not widely known that Mike Krzyzewski has a blue streak. "I guess the thing that surprised me the most was you don't realize how much he curses and how much he's on the refs all the time," says former UNC guard Bobby Frasor. "I remember someone telling me about [former Duke player] Taylor King during his freshman year and how he thought his name was ‘motherf---er,’ because that's how Coach K got his attention.” A New York Post reporter in 2005 described the experience of listening to Krzyzewski as “an unfiltered Chris Rock concert.”
“You don't want kids sitting behind the bench, that's for sure," added former UNC guard Dewey Burke. Given that adoration of Dukie basketball is passed from generation to generation, the un-family friendly element of Coach K’s style is probably not an aspect the school wants highlighted.
10 Cussed Out The Entire Staff Of The Duke Student Newspaper
Coach K invited ten staffers from The Chronicle to meet with him late in 1990 after they dared to give the Blue Devils Men’s Basketball Team a B+ rating for their performance at the season’s midway point. What unfolded next was a eight-minute long tirade that, unluckily for Krzyzewski, was recorded by the responsible young reporters.
He called their work “full of s—t,” then adding “you don’t appreciate what the f--- is going on and it pisses me off… get your head out of your ass.” He later apologized, but not for his attitude, solely his use of naughty words. “I’ve got to be clearer,” he noted, though a lack of clarity hardly seemed the issue. “'People on campus were surprised he would act like that, he would use profanity like that, he would act like that toward students,'' said Craig Whitlock, then editor of The Chronicle. ''I think it hurt Coach K. somewhat.’'
That last point is questionable, as Krzyzewski went unpunished for his actions and all was seemingly forgiven when months later he led Duke to their first national championship.
9 Impeccable Career Winning Percentage Has Benefitted By Questionable NCAA Decision Making
Duke ended the 1994-95 season with a miserable 2-14 ACC record, the worst in the tenure of Mike Krzyzewski. This, after four appearances in the National Championship Game in the previous five seasons, including two National Titles. With the graduation of star Grant Hill in 1994, the reconstructed Dukies peaked with a 9-3 record and No. 11 ranking under Coach K’s watchful eye before he ceded his reign to long-time assistant Pete Gaudet, citing back pain and exhaustion, and the team ended with a disastrous 4-15 finish.
“I think I should have been credited with all the losses,” Krzyzewski argued in 2007, but to no avail, as Gaudet was listed as coach of record, despite being a temporary fill-in. Examples abound, from the NCAA with George Blaney stepping in for Jim Calhoun at UConn in 2010 to the NBA with Luke Walton filling in for Steve Kerr in 2016, to support Coach K’s claim.
If those games had counted, Coach K would drop from 17th all time in NCAA D-1 history for career winning percentage to 25th.
8 Receives Special Treatment, And By Proxy, His Players And Program Do Too
In 1992, Christian Laettner had one of the definitive single game performances of NCAA History when he went 10-10 from the floor and 10-10 from the free throw line before hitting a fall-away game winning shot in the Blue Devils’ regional final against Kentucky. Too bad the Duke forward probably shouldn’t have even been in the game at that point, having maliciously stomped on Aminu Timberlake’s chest in the second half of the game, for which he somehow only received a technical foul (instead of being ejected from the game).
Meanwhile, off the court, after leaving Duke in 2000, one-and-done star Corey Maggette admitted to accepting thousands of dollars from summer-league coach Myron Piggie. The NCAA not only didn’t strip Duke of its Final Four appearance despite the freshman’s presumed ineligibility as a result, they didn’t punish the university in any way. In 2003, point guard Chris Duhon’s mother was revealed to have been given a job working for a Duke booster that was never posted and for which she was unqualified and overpaid, and star forward Carlos Boozer’s father earned a job at a company run by close friend of Coach K only to be laid off just six months after his son left the university for the NBA in 2002. The league’s response? Silence.
7 The Amity Quickly Disappears Should Players Want To Leave
Coach K draws praise for encouraging and winning over his students, from Christian Laettner to Grant Hill to J.J. Redick, to stay at Duke for a full four year education. But in 1999, when guard William Avery decided to leave after his sophomore year, Krzyzewski allegedly told his mother “your son is going to f—k my program” (though she later recanted that he had cussed in front of her), and she further noted that Coach K “lied to us about where William would go in the draft.” He also reportedly berated Avery himself and antagonized freshman Corey Maggette, who had declared as well.
'When I recruited them,'' Krzyzewski explained, ''I promised to always tell them the truth as I see it.’' Those two, along with Elton Brand, became the first three players from Duke to leave early. Along with Senior Trajan Langdon, their decisions were redeemed by each being drafted in the first fourteen picks of the first round, though, to be fair, Avery only lasted three seasons in the NBA.
6 Players Also Dare Not Turn Him Down When He Recruits Them
As Nick Collison recalls it, when he made the decision to go to the University of Kansas over Duke, despite heavy recruitment efforts from Mike Krzyzewski and his staff, he had the respect to personally call and let Coach K know of his decision. The response surprised him, and was at the very least cold, if not plain rude. “He was like, ‘I don’t care. We got a commitment from Casey Sanders anyway,” Collison remembered.
Never mind that it was completely understandable, that Collison, a Midwest boy who had grown up in neighboring Iowa, would want to stay close to home. By the time the recruit was a senior, Krzyzewski had significantly changed his tune, praising Collison as “the best player in college basketball” and then watching from the sideline as he poured in a career high 33 points to go along with 19 rebounds to knock the Blue Devils out of the NCAA tournament. Maybe Coach K should have cared after all.
5 Chastises Players On Opposing Teams
In a strange chain of circumstances following Duke’s Sweet 16 loss to the University of Oregon in last year’s NCAA tournament, Mike Krzyzewski chastised an opposing team’s player in the postgame handshake, seemingly lied about it when questioned by reporters following the game, and then apologized about both actions.
After Dillon Brooks celebrated following a late three in the Ducks’ 82-68 victory, he noted that Coach K came up to him following the game to say he’s “too good of a player to be showing off in the end.” He replied that the coach was right, but then Krzyzewski oddly denied the exchange to a reporter, and the next day audio surfaced that confirmed Brooks’ account nearly word-for-word. The coach then acknowledged “it’s not my place to talk to another team’s player” and noted he “reacted incorrectly” in acting as if the interaction hadn’t happened.
4 Almost Left For The Boston Celtics In 1990 And The Los Angeles Lakers In 2004
While he was busy discouraging his players from leaping early to the NBA, Mike Krzyzewski found himself heavily recruited by the Los Angeles Lakers following Phil Jackson’s departure after the 2003-04 season. He met with general manager Mitch Kupchak, talked the team up into a reported five-year, $40 million deal, spent nearly a week very publicly mulling it over, and only after university officials said they were “able to do some things for Mike in his contract” did he re-affirm his commitment to Duke.
Even more damning, his rival Roy Williams was approached by the Lakers prior to Coach K, and according to him he immediately turned them down, saying “I couldn't tell Coach [Dean] Smith that after one year I'm leaving.” Point UNC.
3 Unfair Recruiting Advantage
In 2005, while other coaches were sitting on their hands during the so-called “quiet period” at the end of the NCAA tournament (during which they are not allowed to talk to potential recruits), Mike Krzyzewski was beamed into homes across the US as the face of American Express. His 30 second commercial aired throughout March Madness and featured Coach K saying he wants his players “armed for life. I want you to develop as a player. I want you to develop as a student, and I want you to develop as a human being.”
While most major coaches declined or skirted comment on the topic, the company Tar Heels Moments, which sold lithographs of UNC basketball, were not so polite. They decided to stop accepting a certain Green credit card.
2 What If His Career Began Today?
Coach K was 38-47 his first three years at Duke from 1980-1983, and 13-29 in the ACC. This, after taking over a team that had made the NCAA tournament three years running, achieving at least a .700 winning percentage each season, and even making a championship game just years before his arrival, in 1978. Krzyzewski finally made it into his first March Madness when his preliminary recruiting class were seniors, but even then didn’t pull of a winning record in-conference.
Despite a strong dissatisfaction voiced by fans and alums alike, former Athletic Director Tom Butters stuck with Krzyzewski. In contrast, Rutgers University made Eddie Jordan the latest Division 1 coach to be gone after just three seasons with the team last spring, despite him having starred there is a player and having NBA coaching experience to boot. Its highly doubtable the far-less-experienced Coach K would have been given a longer leash.
1 Lost The Most Lopsided Championship Game In NCAA History
No matter what success lies in the future for Krzyzewski, the 103-73 loss to UNLV in the 1990 National Championship Game will be a record that may never be broken. Even John Wooden’s dominant UCLA teams of 1964-1973, which won nine of ten possible championships during seasons in which they never lost more than two games, never forced such a clunker for the ages. At best, they defeated their opponent by 23 points (1968 over North Carolina). The Blue Devils were dominated from beginning to end by a team that included future NBAers Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon, and Larry Johnson.
Like most of this list, it will merely serve as a foot-note to the great Coach K’s career, but for those who would like to see the legend cut down a notch or two, at least its something.
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