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A Look At Mike Krzyzewski, The Winningest Devil In College Basketball History

Tuesday, Mike Krzyzewski won his 903rd game as a college basketball coach, breaking Bob Knight's record to become the winningest coach in Division 1 history. But before we anoint him, let's take a closer look at Duke's would-be deity.

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"He's petty and he's dishonest. But he has been successful being that way." That's a former parent of a Duke basketball player talking about Mike Krzyzweski, who became the winningest coach in Division 1 history on Tuesday night.

The man's name is Ken Burgess, father of Chris Burgess, a five-star recruit to Duke who was relegated to the bench and eventually transferred. So sure, Burgess may have had some ulterior motives. But that doesn't mean he's wrong.

And on a day when Coach K is the toast of college basketball, it seems like it might be helpful to remind everyone just exactly who we're talking about. There's more than meets the eye. As he once said in an American Express commercial, "I don't look at myself as a basketball coach, I look at myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball." Indeed.

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Campus Leader

There was the time he invited the staff of Duke's student paper to Cameron Indoor Stadium to speak to them in front of the team. From the New York Times:

Already irritated by The Chronicle's recent coverage of his program, the coach grew upset after reading a column that gave his team and its members letter grades for their performances through the first half of the season. No player received lower than a C-plus. The team, 12-2 at the time and rated in the top 10 in the news-agency polls, got a B-plus.

Krzyzewski considered the article inappropriate, as well as damaging to the confidence of several players. So last week, he had his secretary call Rodney Peele, sports editor of The Chronicle, to arrange what he regarded as a private meeting between the players and the students who cover them.

The get-together was held Jan. 15 after a late-afternoon practice in the school's 50-year-old arena, Cameron Indoor Stadium. Besides the 12-member basketball squad, several assistant coaches and the team trainer were on hand as Krzyzewski cursed and raised his voice while upbraiding the student-reporters for coverage that ''degrades my basketball team.''

Once he had spoken his mind, in comments that included scatological and anatomical references, and had given the largely mute reporters a chance to reply, the forthright Krzyzewski believed the matter was settled.

He's more than just a basketball coach, he's a leader.

Trusted Advisor

And then there's the way he treats his players. At some schools, coaches encourage players to test the NBA Draft waters, and even in the worst cases, they offer their unwavering support. In 1999, a day after sophomore Elton Brand declared for the NBA draft and Krzyzewski declared it a "no-brainer", his classmate William Avery declared, too. And per an article from Pat Forde at the time, Krzyzewski issued a press release to disagree with the decision in public. 

"I'm not in favor of William's decision at this time. We've done extensive research into the NBA for William, and my conclusion was that entering the draft now would not be in his best interests. However, everyone is entitled to make their own decisions. I certainly wish him the ultimate success in his future endeavors."

But that's nothing compared to what he said in private. A feature from Curry Kirkpatrick in ESPN Magazine has magically disappeared from the archives, but in that feature, Coach K is quoted as yelling at Avery's mother, "YOUR SON IS GOING TO F%$K MY PROGRAM."

Not just a basketball coach, but a leader. As the Augusta Journal reported at the time:

Reportedly, Krzyzewski used an expletive to tell Simonton that her son was going to mess up his program. She said Krzyzewski was "rude, personal."

"Coach K is selfish," Simonton told ESPN The Magazine. "He talks about a so-called close Duke family. But he just wants to protect his program. He lied to us about where William would go in the draft. Late in the first round? Maybe even second round? Come on."

Avery went 14th overall in the first round.

Winning The Right Way

There's also the notion that Coach K has won all these games without breaking any rules. Next to reputed renegades like John Calipari, Coach K and Duke basketball is held up as a paragon of integrity. 

But then there's little tidbits like this:

In September 1999, during a team barbecue in Krzyzewski's back yard held during Duhon's official visit to Duke, Duhon committed to the Blue Devils. He also asked his mother to join him.

The next summer, Harper [Duhon's mother] rented out her house in Slidell and headed for a two-bedroom apartment in Durham, N.C. There she found a job at NCM Capital Management Group, a billion-dollar money management firm owned by Maceo Sloan, who displays in his office the basketball he received as a gift from Duke's 1991 national championship team.

How Harper learned of the NCM job is unclear, because the full-time position she got in its operations department was never posted, according to several former employees.

And this:

Three months after moving to Durham, according to Boozer's wife, Renee, Carlos Boozer Sr. was jobless. He finally found one at GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical company then run by Robert Ingram, a close friend of Krzyzewski.


Boozer initially said he worked as a programmer and made $125,000 per year. But when told former co-workers said he was an administrative assistant, Boozer recanted, saying he earned about $40,000 annually doing administrative work. He said he lost the job because the company merged and his division was moved to Philadelphia. His departure came about six months after Carlos Boozer Jr. left Duke for the NBA.

That's from an extensive investigation into Duke basketball from the New Orleans Times-Picayune (archived here at the indispensable, Truth About Duke). You can read more on the case, but the evidence is all circumstantial, and impossible to prove. And that's what's made him a paragon of college basketball integrity.

Loyal To His Roots

Who could forget the summer when he was courted by the NBA? When the Los Angeles Lakers contacted him about their open head coaching position, and Coach K spent an entire week considering the offer, letting the news cycle work itself into a frenzy. Then, after he'd dominated the news for a week and talked the Lakers up to a $40 million contract offer, he called a press conference to announce he would stay, and Duke officials said they were "able to do a few things for Mike in his contract."

The best part--Coach K wasn't even the first college coach they called. That would be UNC's Roy Williams, who quietly turned the Lakers down without ever going public. As Andy Katz later reported:

According to Williams, Kupchak called him on Father's Day and asked, "Do you want to come out here and join us?" Williams said he responded that, "I couldn't tell Coach [Dean] Smith that after one year I'm leaving."


Williams said he didn't want this to become public, but once it did he had to respond. After calling Williams, the Lakers entered into discussions with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who rejected a reported five-year, $40 million offer on Monday.

Funny, only one of those coaches was universally lauded for his loyalty to college basketball.

Loyal To His Friends

But most telling of all is the way he handled his leave of absence in 1995. Duke had its worst team in years, and after struggling through a relatively tame non-conference schedule and then losing their conference opener, Coach K decided to step aside, citing an ailing back and exhaustion. That's fine. But when his team went 4-15 without him, Duke made sure that the losses were assigned to the assistant coach who took over, a man named Pete Gaudet.

This is not how it works in college basketball. Even if the head coach steps aside, it's still his team, with his recruits. For instance, Jim Calhoun took a leave of absence for health reasons in 2010, and UConn went 3-4 in his absence. Those losses all belong to Calhoun now.

As for Coach K? Sports Illustrated brought this up once:

You may recall that when Mike Krzyzewski was sidelined with exhaustion following his back surgery in 1995, the losses Duke suffered were charged not to Coach K's record but that of his assistant, Pete Gaudet. (Gaudet learned of the switch by reading about it in USA Today.) When asked by a reporter about that last week, Coach K replied, "I think I should have been credited with all the losses." He's right, and hopefully Duke will now do the right thing and officially correct the record both internally and with the NCAA.

That was in 2007, and as of now, the losses still belong to Gaudet--the assistant coach who took over an overmatched roster, suffered endless public criticism throughout the year, and then mysteriously resigned after the season. A year after he literally took one (or 15 losses) for the good of the program, he was still at Duke when a local newspaper checked in with him.

His new office is tucked in a corner of Duke's Card Gymnasium, a small room where they used to store audio-visual equipment.

In fact, the nameplate on the door still reads "STORAGE" and not "Pete Gaudet."


"I'm not ready for retirement," Gaudet, 53, says. "I feel I'm energetic enough, enthusiastic enough to continue.''

So you say the coach who "resigned" months earlier is not ready for retirement and definitely has enough energy and enthusiasm to continue? Yes. Got it. That makes perfect sense.

I'm not saying Coach K made Pete Gaudet the fall guy for a disappointing season, had the losses expunged from his coaching record, then forced Gaudet to resign and literally relegated him to a storage closet... I'm just saying... As a Wall Street CEO once cooed when asked about Coach K, "Leadership is an intangible quality, but it's really clear when you see it."


He's petty, dishonest, vindictive, caustic, and calculating, and it's all made him the winningest coach in college basketball history. His record's incredible. So incredible, in fact, that he almost broke Bob Knight's wins record last year. If his top-seeded Blue Devils hadn't been blown out in the Sweet 16, Coach K would have been coaching to break the record in the Final Four.

But as far as being successful, the way that Duke parent described him? That depends on how you define success in college basketball, and the legacy everyone else should be trying to build.

If you want to anoint Mike Krzyzewski as some coaching deity, then that's fine. Just remember that deities of any nature can be complicated. And if you read between the lines and ignore the gospel, sometimes a deity doesn't look all that different from the devil himself.