Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski triumphs through staying power
There is no one way to establish a legacy.
You have win-and-run nomads like Larry Brown, who can’t sit still in a chair for 10 minutes. Yet, Brown has won titles in the NCAA and the NBA and could, in two weeks, take your ragtag local youth team and win the YMCA title.
You have guys like Don Nelson who have never won it all in coaching but have made enough horrible teams competitive to compile more coach-of-the-year trophies than Phil Jackson.
Or you can be Jackson, align yourself with four or five of the all-time greatest players and Zen your way to 10 championships.
There is an ideal way, though, to get a sculptor to chisel your bust: plant roots.
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski — like Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, Dean Smith and John Wooden before him — is now a full-grown sequoia.
You never have to wonder, with these guys, which hat they’re wearing into the hall of fame.
They stayed in one place and outlasted everything — temptation, criticism, administrations, illness, envy, U.S. presidents, playing styles and rule changes.
Some coaches with this potential didn’t see it through.
John McKay left USC for the hapless temptation of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Steve Spurrier should never have left Florida.
Paterno might never have become Paterno had he succumbed, in the 1970s, to an offer from the Washington Redskins.
Krzyzewski, wrapping up his 30th season at Duke with a chance to win his fourth national title, has played it right.
He has faced career crossroads, but ultimately realized things could never be better than where he was at.
In the summer of 2004, the Lakers wanted to make him Coach K-ching, offering Krzyzewski a five-year, $40-million deal. Kobe Bryant, who would have attended Duke had he not skipped college, made a personal pitch on behalf of General Manager Mitch Kupchak.
“I was more than tempted,” Krzyzewski said Sunday. “I seriously considered it. One, because it was the Lakers. Mitch is great. It would have been an opportunity to work with Kobe. He and I are very close.
“I guess because I did not accept it, it really speaks to, you know, how much I love Duke and college basketball, but especially Duke.”
Krzyzewski might have won big with the Lakers, or failed, at a cost to his reputation.
By enduring at Duke, he was able to navigate through a college basketball sea change, the odorous era of one-and-done, and get to the precipice he has reached tonight.
If Duke beats Butler, Krzyzewski will have surpassed the three national titles won at Indiana by his mentor, Bob Knight.
Krzyzewski will have tied Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp on the all-time list, separated in history only from Wooden’s 10 titles.
Krzyzewski will have done it with his least talented title team, with juniors and seniors not quite good enough to have left early to the NBA.
A win tonight sends Coach K’s legacy straight to the time capsule.
Take a look at the team picture of Duke’s 2001 national champion. Look at that lineup: Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy, Chris Duhon, Carlos Boozer, Jason Williams.
Duke’s title teams of 1991 and ’92 had Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and Thomas Hill.
This year’s Duke team might not beat those teams if they got spotted 10 points per half.
“I have a group now, there isn’t a Jason Williams here, they are not Laettner or Grant Hill,” Krzyzewski said.
The way to win big now is to rent one-year players (think Kentucky) or take slightly less talent and mold it into juniors and seniors.
Duke is in the title game with Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek. These are nice players, but maybe not future NBA All-Stars.
In some ways, though, that makes tonight extra special. Krzyzewski has been prickly all year in defense of a team labeled by some as substandard — by Duke’s standards.
Duke, though, has played marvelously in this tournament and the Blue Devils’ 21-point destruction of West Virginia on Saturday may have been the most close-to-perfect game Duke has played in years.
This has only enhanced Krzyzewski’s stature and advanced the mutual-love-affair narrative.
“Duke has been committed to me when I wasn’t with Knight and Rupp and those guys,” Krzyzewski said. “They were committed to me when we were 38-47.”
In the legacy time line, those early years were the Dark Ages.
Duke was there in January 1995, when Krzyzewski took a leave of absence to deal with a back injury and the team went 13-18 that season.
“I was even thinking of not coaching,” he said. “So that’s another time where Duke was really committed to me and helped me.”
Hang around one place long enough and you become the face. Krzyzewski is the face of Duke, the one defiled in a newspaper illustration last week.
Being the face means taking the barbs personally — because you are as invested in the school as it is in you.
“I think it’s really easy to talk about not liking us because we’re a private school,” Krzyzewski said, “We’re not a state. We don’t have a state press. You know, people wouldn’t take the shots at us that they do if we were a state school because the people of that state wouldn’t like it . . . that’s just the way it is, and I’m OK with it. I think it helps us keep our edge.”