Coach K Retires

Coach K Retires

 

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Leonard Zwelling

Today, the North Carolina Tar Heels did what they did to Coach K in an early game against him at the start of his career at Duke. They beat the Duke Blue Devils.

In an amazingly close back and forth battle (18 lead changes) in New Orleans, UNC prevailed 81-77 by hitting a key three-point shot at the end of regulation while Duke missed some equally critical free throws down the stretch.

A couple of important notes first.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski is the winningest coach in the history of college basketball. He’s won more NCAA tournament games than anyone else. He’s won five national championships and been to 13 Final Fours. He’s also won three Olympic gold medals as a coach.

This year’s Duke squad was not his best team. That was probably the 1991-1992 group. They Duke team this year was good but very young. Coach K had no starting seniors. Four of the five starters will probably go to the NBA next year. In his five championship wins, Coach K only won once with a team of youngsters. That was in 2015. The rest of his winning teams were led by veteran upper classmen who benefitted from many years of his coaching. College basketball has changed and now it’s teams full of “one and dones” (freshmen who go straight to the NBA as soon as they are eligible) who win a lot, but don’t often win the big one. In essence, you need experienced, tournament tested seniors, especially at the guards, to win the big one.

Coach K has also been a personal inspiration to me and to the BW—Coach K in her own right. We believe in his five fingers of the fist—communication, trust, collective responsibility, caring and pride as the corner stones of team building. Read his book Leading From The Heart. You want to know how to lead? The book will tell you. And it’s not the same as managing.

I have been watching Duke basketball since 1966. I never thought I would ever see Duke in the Final Four when I was a student there. They were never that good. Then they lost in the final games in 1978 (under Bill Foster) and 1986 (Coach K’s first trip to the Final Four) and again in 1990. I began to think they would never reach the promised land. Then, in 1991, in the national semi-final game, Duke beat UNLV, an undefeated team until then, and then went on to win the final game and their first national championship. They won again in 1992 as well after Christian Laettner made “the shot” against Kentucky in the regional final in what many think was the best college game ever played. They lost in the final in 1994, but won in 2001, 2010, and 2015. Coach K has a great record and has nothing to apologize for in losing on Saturday. Saturday’s game may well have been the second-best college basketball game ever played.

Then in his post-game interview, Coach K worried about the effect this loss would have on his players. “I’ll deal with my feelings later.” That’s so Coach K.

In the history of Duke University, no one has had a more lasting impact on the school, including its two Nobel laureates and many distinguished alumni, than Coach K. He along with President Terry Sanford, an ex-governor and -senator from North Carolina who became Duke’s president at a time of campus turmoil, are the reason Duke’s name attracts the best in all walks of life—students, faculty, alumni.

I am very proud of my university and our coach and players. I am not sure what Coach K will do next, but he has earned a rest. A storybook ending would have been a nice way to wrap up his career, but alas, it was not meant to be. This team went as far as their talent would take them and were a great bunch for Coach K to go out with.

John Scheyer starts as the new Duke head coach now. He has his work cut out for him in one way as he knows he can never fill Coach K’s shoes. Nor should he try. Duke Nation wants him to start a new dynasty and I believe he will. But for now, let’s celebrate Coach K—the greatest college basketball coach ever.

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