I’ve never met Duke Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski. I saw him once at his grandson’s lacrosse game at the Duke University fields. My younger brother was playing in the same rec league tournament. Coach K was just sitting there in his camping chair on the sidelines, like a normal supportive grandparent. I could’ve easily gone up and shook his hand, but I didn’t. On that Saturday he may have just been a grandpa watching his grandson, but to me Coach K has always represented something much bigger.
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Farewell to a legend
At the beginning of this 2021-2022 season, Coach Mike Krzyzewski announced that this would be his last year at Duke. I knew it would happen eventually, he’s been here since before I was born, but it didn’t make it any easier. It felt surreal. He’s been on the sidelines ever since I started watching the Blue Devils back in 2001, and he was there long before. To me, Coach K is Duke basketball.
While some don’t agree with the way he announced his retirement, claiming that he is distracting the players while embarking on his “Farewell Tour”, I think this was the best possible way to handle something so shocking.
He did this for us. He did it for the fans, his players, both current and former. He did it for future recruits, for the coaching staff, but he did not do it for himself, or to boost his ego. I think anyone who has watched him address the media this year would agree and looking at his resume would understand that he doesn’t need more recognition. People need time to process and adjust to such impactful news. He did it for us, because Coach K is more than just a coach.
Coach K inspires me in more than just basketball
Although I’ve obviously never played for Coach, that didn’t stop him from being a coach and mentor in my life. This extends far beyond basketball. I’ve always appreciated his “fist” analogy: “There are five fundamental qualities that make every team great: communication, trust, collective responsibility, caring and pride. I like to think of each as a separate finger on the fist. Any one individually is important. But all of them together are unbeatable.”
This has become my personal mantra as both a husband and father, something I feel like Mike Krzyzewski excels at. I love seeing his wife, Mickie, at the games. I know how anxious some of the games get me so I can only imagine how she must feel. It is obvious that he has her full support, and they have the same collective goals. His success is her success, his failures are her failures.
He also adores his daughters and their children and has always reminded us that he loves them more than he loves basketball. Some things are bigger than the game. I put my family before everything so I appreciate his example.
Coach K is committed to his faith and his country
I’ve always admired Coach K’s commitment to God and his country. He prays before and after each game, a habit he has made over the 42 years he has been at Duke. I know he is no saint, but neither are most of us. Like most people in his profession, he can use some colorful language to get his points across. But the important thing is he remembers to be grateful for what he has and knows that it all comes back to something much bigger than himself.
Coach K is a true patriot, in the best sense of the word. He loves and is proud of his country but acknowledges that it is not perfect and can always improve. Graduating from West Point and serving as an Army Officer has given him a sense of respect for the United States and those who strive to protect it.
Years later he led the US Men’s Basketball National Team, nicknamed the “Redeem Team” to 3 consecutive gold medals and back to their rightful spot at the top of the podium.
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Coach K isn’t afraid to take a stand
After recent events in this country regarding social justice occurred, he released a statement that really resonated with me. He emphatically and repeatedly declared that Black lives matter, and that they always have.
I agree with coach when he says that this is not a political statement, but a human rights statement. He then recites a prayer from his time at West Point that reads “help me choose the harder right, over the easier wrong”.
It would be easy for him, as a white, successful, male with military ties to ignore the ugly imperfections within this country that don’t directly affect him. But he admits that we need to do better; that we have to do better. His words and explanation helped me put my thoughts and feelings on these issues into words, when I couldn’t previously express myself adequately.
He doesn’t give up on his players
One of his former players, JJ Redick, has a podcast and invited Coach K on for one of the episodes. I highly recommend checking it out because it’s a great listen. They had some meaningful discussions about Redick’s experience at Duke and how Coach K helped him realize his potential and never gave up on him.
While Coach K is all about discipline and responsibility, he also knows when to show he cares. He never gives up on his guys and believes in them 110%, even when they don’t believe in themselves. I hope my own children can feel that belief in themselves from their dad.
Coach strives to better his community
Coach K cares not only for his players, but for the community. In 2006 his family created the Emily Krzyzewski Center which helps students excel in and out of school, be admitted into college, and break the cycle of poverty. He also is extremely involved in the Duke Children’s Hospital, Children’s Miracle Network and the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
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So long, Coach
If you’ve read this far, I’m honestly impressed. Being the greatest coach of all time is going to earn you plenty of haters, but I hope that the haters can put rivalries aside and recognize Mike Krzyzewski for his greatness alone.
I’ve been lucky enough to go to a few Duke games during the Coach K Era. The last one was in 2019 sitting right behind the visiting team bench at Cameron Indoor. As I saw him walk through the tunnel onto Coach K Court, I thought back to him sitting to watch his grandson’s lacrosse game a few years earlier; two versions of the same great man, husband, father, grandpa and coach. I know both games were important to him, because that’s just who he is.