DURHAM, N.C. — Mike Krzyzewski has spent 24 years building a legacy at Duke that no current men’s college basketball coach can rival.
He has become synonymous with his school — a bond that not even the glitz of Hollywood and the NBA’s showcase franchise could break.
“Duke has always taken up my whole heart,” Krzyzewski said yesterday after turning down an offer to become the Los Angeles Lakers’ coach.
“Your heart has to be in whatever you lead,” said Krzyzewski, who has won three national titles at Duke. “It became apparent that this decision was somewhat easier to make because you have to follow your heart and lead with it.”
Krzyzewski said the timing of the Lakers’ offer and the team’s prominence made their offer tempting. But he never got to the point of being ready to leave.
“The decision has always been to stay at Duke. It would have to be something changing [that],” he said at a press conference on campus.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak first made his interest in hiring Krzyzewski clear during conversations the two had around the time of the NBA Draft, Krzyzewski said. Kupchak met with Krzyzewski in North Carolina and offered him the job Thursday.
Even Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who was recruited by Krzyzewski while in high school, reportedly tried to persuade Coach K to take the job.
Krzyzewski listened to what the Lakers had to offer, reportedly a five-year deal worth $40million, before deciding late Sunday he would stay at Duke.
The announcement was welcome news for Duke fans, players and administrators, who had waited anxiously for a decision. When the coach said he waited until yesterday morning to call new university president Richard Brodhead because he didn’t know Brodhead’s sleeping patterns, Brodhead was quick to joke, “They’ll be better now.”
Still, Krzyzewski, who has had several flirtations with the NBA and came close to leaving to coach the Boston Celtics in 1990, declined to rule out the possibility of ever coaching in the pros.
“I don’t want to say never, but I also don’t want to lead anyone on. … I want to coach for a long time,” he said.
The Lakers had no immediate comment on the decision by Krzyzewski, who signed a lifetime contract with Duke three years ago. The Lakers have been searching for a new coach since June18, when Phil Jackson stepped down three days after an NBA Finals loss to Detroit.
The 57-year-old Krzyzewski has a 621-181 record at Duke, leading the Blue Devils to championships in 1991, 1992 and 2001. Under Krzyzewski, the Blue Devils have 10 Final Four appearances, eight ACC tournament championships and 10 conference regular-season titles.
His Duke teams have been ranked No.1 in 12 seasons, including each of the last seven. With his team’s success on and off the court, Krzyzewski — like John Wooden did at UCLA and Dean Smith at North Carolina — has become the personification of Duke basketball.
Current Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said he wasn’t surprised by Krzyzewski’s decision.
“Mike has accomplished so much at Duke, and his roots are so deep that I thought it would be difficult for him to leave,” Williams said. “I’m sure he felt it was in the best interest for him and his family. I know it is great for college basketball.”
Krzyzewski called his players yesterday morning to tell them he was staying.
“When I first heard about this situation, I was pretty upset,” guard Sean Dockery said. “Today, it was the best news when I heard he’s coming back to coach us.”
David McClure, a Duke recruit from Ridgefield, Conn., was also heartened to hear the news.
“It was an incredible relief,” McClure told the Associated Press. “All I can say is I’m speechless. I’m so happy he’s staying.”
Former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich had been considered a front-runner to succeed Jackson with the Lakers. He has met with team owner Jerry Buss and Kupchak.
Former Lakers coach Pat Riley, an executive with the Miami Heat, also met with Buss and Kupchak, but issued a statement saying he wasn’t a candidate.
Others mentioned have been Kurt Rambis and Jim Cleamons, members of Jackson’s staff.
But the Lakers appeared most interested in trying to lure Krzyzewski from Duke, a private school where basketball has a rabid following among the 6,300 students.
The Cameron Indoor Stadium hardwood is named “Coach K Court.” Outside the arena, a sign designates the grassy plot where students camp out to attend games as “Krzyzewskiville,” where the coach has been known occasionally to buy pizzas for the waiting “Cameron Crazies.”
After the Lakers’ interest became known, Duke officials said they were open to improving Krzyzewski’s contract.
Athletic director Joe Alleva said the school was “able to do a few things for Mike in his contract, but believe me, he didn’t make his decision based on a financial situation.”
“The allure of coaching in college has no price,” he said.