When Mike Krzyzewski first arrived at Duke in May 1980, the then-33-year-old basketball coach was coming off five seasons at the helm of Army, in which he led the Cadets to one NIT berth.
At that point, few could’ve seen the dynasty Krzyzewski would build with the Blue Devils — besides then-athletic director Tom Butters, however, who hired Krzyzewski for the position.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Mike is the brightest young coaching talent in America,” Butters said at Krzyzewski’s introductory press conference.
Butters’ inclination proved correct. Forty-one years later, Krzyzewski has turned Duke into the bluest of blue bloods, with five national championships, 12 Final Four appearances and 27 ACC regular-season and conference tournament titles combined during his reign.
After the 2021-22 campaign, however, Krzyzewski’s era in Durham, North Carolina will end. The school announced late Wednesday that the 74-year-old coach will retire following the season. Associate head coach and former Blue Devil Jon Scheyer will be the successor.
Krzyzewski’s influence goes beyond the Blue Devils. He’s had 28 former players selected as NBA lottery picks, and he led the U.S. men’s national team to three Olympic gold medals as head coach — 2008, 2012 and 2016.
He has been selected as USA Basketball’s National Coach of the Year a record seven times, most recently in 2016. He’s a three-time Naismith College Coach of the Year recipient, and he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. He’s the all-time winningest college basketball coach with 1,170 victories and 1,097 of them at Duke, although he’ll soon follow longtime rival Roy Williams’ retirement from North Carolina in April.
“My family and I view today as a celebration,” Krzyzewski said in a statement Wednesday. “Our time at both West Point and Duke has been beyond amazing and we are thankful and honored to have led two college programs at world-class institutions for more than four decades. That, coupled with 11 unforgettable years as the United States National Team coach, has resulted in a remarkable journey. Certainly, I have been blessed to coach some of the finest young men and greatest players in basketball history as a direct result of these unique opportunities. For us, there is no greater joy than being part of our players’ respective endeavors through basketball, and more importantly, their lives off the court. Our family is eternally grateful to everyone who contributed to our career for the past 46 years. So, to the countless members of our extended family, thank you very much.”
But before all those honors and accolades, Krzyzewski was a relative unknown. He was a point guard at the United States Military Academy, playing for Bob Knight. He led the Cadets for a deep NIT run as a senior before he served as an officer in the Army.
Once Krzyzewski was discharged in 1974, he rejoined Knight as an assistant coach on his staff at Indiana. One year later, Krzyzewski headed back to West Point. This time, he was the head basketball coach, finishing with a 73-59 overall record with one NIT appearance — enough to catch the eye of Duke.
At Duke, Krzyzewski made frequent trips to College Park to play Maryland in games that tended to be heated. The rivalry created something of a tradition in College Park, with matchups against the Blue Devils often leading to celebrations or mourning with bonfires and foolhardiness along Route 1 and fraternity row.
The games often carried significant implications, too. In 2001, for instance, Maryland and Duke met four times. The teams split the regular season contests before the Blue Devils toppled the Terrapins in the ACC tournament semifinal, and then again in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. Maryland rebounded the next season, beating top-ranked Duke in the final meeting at Cole Field House en route to winning the national championship.
But when the Terrapins left for the Big Ten, the annual rivalry games ended. Krzyzewski said in 2013 that the Blue Devils wouldn’t schedule Maryland as a nonconference foe. But he still respected what the rivalry meant, and how competitive the games were.
“You felt not just a team that you were playing against; you felt that community, that Maryland spirit, the passion to win and to beat us,” Krzyzewski said on ESPN 980 in 2013. “And we’ve won some there, we’ve lost, but there’s never been a game there that was dull. It’s really one of the premier games of the year for the conference, and I think it helped both programs.”
Krzyzewski’s first few seasons in Durham were rebuilding years. His program first made the NCAA tournament at the end of the 1983-84 season. And by the 1985-86 campaign, the evidence of what Krzyzewski was building had made itself known. With a 37-3 record, the Blue Devils lost the national championship game. They returned to the final in 1989-90, losing again.
But then Krzyzewski and Duke broke through, winning the 1991 and 1992 national championship games. It took the better part of a decade for Duke to return to the final, but the Blue Devils won another championship in 2001 before adding titles in 2010 and 2015.
Since making that first NCAA tournament in 1983-84, Krzyzewski’s teams at Duke have missed March Madness twice over the next 38 years. One of those absences was this season, when a positive coronavirus test during the ACC tournament forced Duke to withdraw. The NCAA selection committee opted not to select the Blue Devils, who had finished the season with a 13-11 record.
“I can say without hesitation that Mike Krzyzewski is the greatest coach in the history of men’s college basketball,” Duke President Vincent E. Price said in a statement. “This is clearly demonstrated by his tremendous success at Duke — 1,170 career wins, five national championships, 15 ACC tournament and 12 ACC regular season titles — and his service to our country as the head coach of USA Basketball. But the true measure of his excellence is more personal. It is in his resolute commitment to integrity, fairness, and inclusion; in his transformational impact on collegiate athletics and the Durham community; in the joy, generosity, and inspiration he has brought to countless fans; and in his role as guide and teacher of thousands of players, coaches, and staff at Duke and beyond. Mike, Mickie and the entire Krzyzewski family have been devoted to Duke for more than 40 years, and we are so grateful that relationship will continue for a long time to come.”
Krzyzewski will have one more run with Duke to push for another NCAA championship, but his place as a college coaching legend has long been sealed.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.