People are fond of saying that Duke is a special place, and it is, but it
really comes into sharp focus with former coaches, many of whom feel connected
to Duke for a long time after they leave. Or in the case of Bucky Waters, who
retires this week, they just stick around.
For those who are too young to remember, Bucky took over after Vic Bubas
stepped down, and had fits as head coach. As he admits in this article, to
borrow from Brian Wilson, he just wasn't made for the times. His players
rebelled, and he ended up as possibly the most unpopular coach in any sport in
Which makes what happened afterwards really special, and says a lot about
Bucky, and about Duke. He only coached for four years, giving up the
Mongoose offense after multiple transfers, not to mention the very great
challenge of following a truly revolutionary coach in Vic Bubas, and doing it in
a time of huge social upheaval.
When we say Bubas was revolutionary, we mean it. He completely
revolutionized recruiting, according to Dean Smith, who said Bubas taught
everyone else how to do it, and his high-octane offense, plus small innovations
like names on jerseys, really changed the game. Mike Krzyzewski has proved
to be a better coach, but Bubas created a sense of excitement and energy that
Waters retired as coach just as the Vietnam protests were really getting
powerful, and when kids were not inclined to listen to authority figures about
anything. Add to that the fact that the ACC was finally integrating, and
replacing a legend, and it was just about an impossible job for anyone, in
But despite the bitterness, despite the fact that he was (and in many cases
still is) despised by the students of the day, Waters stuck with Duke, and he
has done some wonderful things with fundraising and the Duke Children's Classic.
The intensity of the early 70's faded long ago for the most part, and Waters
is now himself almost 70. Despite the darkness of those days, he managed
to keep, and burnish, a connection to Duke which a lot of people would have just
let die, and to do a tremendous amount of good for Duke and for children who in
many cases owe their lives to his fund-raising efforts. Basketball is a
wonderful game, and to make your living at it as an adult would be
amazing. But to be able to look back and realize that the work you spent
decades on has saved the countless lives of children - well, that trumps it all,
doesn't it? What could make you prouder than that?
Here's hoping retirement is grand for Bucky Waters, and here's hoping that
Duke has gained a deeper appreciation for what he has done with the rest of his
life. It's been a pretty damn good second act.