This article is sponsored by Delta Air Lines.
Mike Krzyzewski talked with us as part of our “Guiding Greatness” series of one-on-one interviews with college basketball coaches, presented by Delta. In the second part of our interview, the Duke University Head Coach discusses adapting his coaching across four illustrious decades.
Coach K first got the Duke coaching gig in 1980, and the world was much different than it is now.
Krzyzewski has had to adapt multiple times over the years, but his core values never changed. The presentation of those values, and how they’re weaved into the program, does evolve.
“I’ve coached four decades, this is my 41st year as a head basketball coach,” said Krzyzewski. “I’ve probably had to adapt seven or eight times in how I coach my program or lead my program. People keep changing, how we communicate keeps changing. You can’t live in the past. Now, you can live in the past with values and bring them forward. To me, it’s interesting how you teach them, with the current group that you have the honor to coach.”
The man whose name is synonymous with Duke Men’s Basketball doesn’t claim to be omniscient. And he won’t take all the credit for his players’ success and growth. His relationship with them is mutually beneficial.
“I’m really proud of what my former players have done,” said Krzyzewski. “I think we’ve learned together, it’s not just like I imparted all this knowledge. We made each other better, and we’re a family. We really are. There’s a brotherhood there. We play hard, we play to win, and we play with integrity.”
The most recent of Coach K’s five national titles came in 2015, with a team for which he holds a special fondness.
“The team that won the 2015 National Championship was one of my favorites,” said Krzyzewski. “They were true believers, and they withstood adversity. There were eight guys, and all eight of them had good egos, and everybody was the same.”
Another factor in the success is the committed, raucous crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The student section is at midcourt, rather than under the baskets where most schools put them. This allows students, perhaps the most avid fans, to create a great basketball environment for every home game.
“We have a school that’s committed to its students having the best seats in the house, which they never sit in. They stand every second of every game. They surround the court, and we become one.”
The support is certainly not lost on Krzyzewski.
“Every time I walk out on that court I feel very, very lucky to have that type of support.”
Coach K is a believer in the “student” facet of “student-athlete.” The athletic banners hanging from the ceilings of Cameron carry with them certain academic qualifications.
“The banners that are hung, you can only hang a banner of a retired number if a youngster graduated,” said Krzyzewski. “You can only hang a banner for a team if all the seniors have graduated. There’s this unity that’s there that our guys are student-athletes and they’re part of the student body.”