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Keidel: Why Does Coach K Put Up With This?

By Jason Keidel

It’s time for Mike Krzyzewski to go. Just Google the (formerly) great coach, the iconic coaching lord of Tobacco Road.

From The Big Lead…

“Blame Coach K For Duke’s Complete Failure This Season”

From SB Nation…

“Duke’s preseason juggernaut turned into Coach K’s greatest bust ever”

Holy knee-jerk reaction, Batman. It’s true that it’s time for Coach K to join mentor Bobby Knight on the golf course. But not for those reasons.

Or maybe it is.

Why would Coach K, five championship trophies bulging from the glass case, put up with this?

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Why endure the rigors of recruiting 17-year-olds who already think they’re millionaires? Why promise parents you’ll adopt their gifted kids, knowing you only get them for 12 months? Why go into the business of hardwood rentals, the one-and-done divas who merely see college as a chalkboard funnel for their fist sneaker deal?

You hear folks say that Coach K, by dint of his dominance, character and cachet, doesn’t have to pine for the same divas and difficult personalities that find their way to John Calipari.

Ever heard of Christian Laettner? The former Duke forward was so polarizing that an entire 30 for 30 documentary called “I Hate Christian Laettner” was dedicated to him.

If you’re too young to recall the truculent Laettner, how about the current roster? Grayson Allen, one of their star players, has a physical or emotional tic unlike any we’ve ever seen. He compulsively trips players so often and so egregiously he was suspended by his own coach. And not even Coach K is beyond critique. His “indefinite” suspension lasted all of one game, drawing the ire of fans who didn’t need another reason to bash Duke, the blue-bloods of college hoops, who are also regarded as the moral beacon of basketball.

Coach K can’t climb the historical ladder any higher. Indeed, the only name above his on the NCAA totem pole is the master, himself — John Wooden — the Wizard of Westwood, who won 11 titles in 13 years, including seven in a row, and 88 games in a row.

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Since Wooden, has anyone mentored more great players and people? Think of the roll call of fine players and respected people to emerge from Coach K’s campus. Johnny Dawkins. Tommy Amaker. Bobby Hurley. Elton Brand. Chris Collins.

Amaker is only coaching some small-time academic program, called Harvard. Likewise, Dawkins was at Stanford for eight years, and now leads Central Florida. Chris Collins just became America’s darling, leading Northwestern to their first NCAA Tournament ever, and even winning a game. Hurley was the head coach at Buffalo, then recently took the gig at Arizona State. Even Coach K’s former assistants make the marquee, like Mike Brey, who has turned perennial football power Notre Dame into a basketball behemoth.

Another Duke alum, Jay Bilas, has become the surrogate father of all things hardwood. Bilas played for Coach K, of course, along with Dawkins, while Duke was mushrooming into a powerhouse in the 1980s.

And perhaps the best hybrid of hardwood icon and standup guy is Grant Hill. Arguably the best player ever to wear a Blue Devils uniform, Hill is even more impressive off the court. Raised by Ivy League grads and formidable athletes in their own right (father Calvin played for the Dallas Cowboys), Hill is the kind of person you want to be like.

Yet, to hear the headlines today, Mike Krzyzewski has not only lost his touch, he’s lost his mind.

How about Rick Pitino? He’s a slouch now? No doubt Jay Wright has lost some Teflon after having the audacity to lose to a senior-laded Wisconsin, a program that routinely makes the Sweet 16. But now Wright is just another also-ran who hasn’t won a national title in at least 12 months.

Coach K can’t possibly be any more revered, respected or accomplished. He’s won 12 ACC regular-season titles and 14 ACC Tournaments. With two more victories, he will have 1,000 wins over his career at Duke. (This doesn’t include his time with Army.) No one has more wins over a career, much less with one school.

Now Coach K has to crack open the paper, or click around on the internet, and see hacks, pundits and poseurs parse every move he made over the last year, simply because his team was upset. The NCAA tournament, hailed for upsets, keeps a closet stuffed with symbolic glass slippers every March. And all this comes from folks who have never spent a minute on the court or paced a sideline, who have never driven through a blizzard to sweet-talk a teenager into playing for his program.

Critics haven’t had to deal with the epic egos of kids who have been polished and pampered by the AAU machine, and since puberty been told that they’re athletic royalty, a realm where academics are a formality, a nuisance or necessary evil. Indeed, we’ve seen just down Tobacco Road, at the other hardwood kingdom (UNC), where Tar Heels have taken bogus classes. In some cases — including the football program — athletes graduate with grade-school reading levels.

You don’t hear about this at Duke. Not that it matters, because they lost to South Carolina yesterday, an offense for which there is no excuse or punishment that could possibly suit the crime. Now the world wants an apology, a reason, an excuse for an inexcusable loss. They want Mike Krzyzewski’s blood. Lord knows, they can’t find anyone with his class, character or résumé.

Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.

 

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