clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Duke’s Interim Coach Is More Than Cape-able

Duke is lucky to have a great coach so close at hand.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Jeff Capel
Jeff Capel, part of the long blue line at Duke

In his comments on Duke’s situation with Coach K out for back surgery, Mike DeCourcy said, basically, that Jeff Capel is the perfect guy for an impossible situation.

We take his point. But we should also say that this is not 1995, and that’s something that no one knows better than Jeff Capel.

In 1995 of course, Coach K went out for the rest of the season with a very difficult back problem. Sound familiar?

Well it was worse.

In ‘95, he still felt the need to try to be superhuman. This time, he’s coaching a last game then stepping aside.

We seriously doubt that he’ll face the overwhelming exhaustion he faced in 1995, when he had to cut himself off from the team.

Capel of course remembers ‘95 in a different way of course. He was a sophomore, just off a Final Four high with Grant Hill the spring before, nearly knocking off Arkansas for a third title in four years.

And then...collapse.

He also went through a tough ending at Oklahoma, dismissed after a 14-18 season despite considerable success.

And Capel also knows what back trouble is, with his own contributing to his playing career ending early.

You wonder what he’s thinking. Is he staring at the ceiling? Or is he thinking I know what to do with this team? I know how to use that guy. I know how to make our defense better.

Or maybe both.

The ‘95 parallel is being pimped a lot by writers across the nation, but we don't think Capel's perspective on that is getting much attention. We’re sure he learned a lot from seeing a group fall apart. And that was 22 years ago. He’s a vastly smarter man now than he was 22 years ago. We all are (ideally anyway).

Capel had the greatest moment of that season with his running half court shot to put the UNC game into double overtime.

Duke lost, but it remains one of the defining plays in Duke history.

Actually we were lined up right behind that basket that day and you could tell that shot had a chance. And as it got closer...well, what a shot; what else can you say? It was a privilege to be there.

Aside from his own experience, and the irony of being on the other side of it now, we’re not buying the whole this-is-going-to-be-impossible angle.

First, he showed last year at Georgia Tech, when Coach K had to stay home for health reasons, that he’s a skilled coach in his own right.

Second, Harry Giles is getting better fast and there aren’t too many guys like that around.

And third, while we don’t know and no one is telling us anything so take this for what it’s worth, but we’re guessing that after the surgery, Capel will talk to Coach K a lot. He’ll be involved in some ways, even as he recuperates. This isn’t a situation where his doctors and wife demand he fully step away due to exhaustion.

At least we don’t think it is. Like we say, no one is talking to us. But if it were like that he wouldn’t coach Wednesday. We’d be very surprised if he’s not watching a lot of tape after that.

Duke has had rotten luck this year, but one of the upshots Is that, as we all learned in basic psych, that a group under pressure grows closer.

And that should include fans.

Kryzyzewski has always made a point of addressing fans at some points during the season to make sure they feel included and valued.

It’s a smart thing to do, especially in a place like Cameron

Now it’s time to return the favor. Obviously Coach K will get a huge amount of affection and concern from fans during the Tech and BC games this week and that’s as it should be. We should let him know we love him and look forward to his return. He has taken us to heights most fans don't even dare to dream of.

Now though it’s our turn.

When Napoleon wanted to rally his troops in Egypt, he simply stood in front of them and said: “Soldiers!”


Our job for the next few weeks is to be relentlessly positive. Our job is to make Cameron, the place Tom Wolfe compared to a Colonial Animal, a factor in every play.

Our job is to be supportive as roles are sorted out, even into January.

And on a small grace note, there is this. When he was a senior, Capel struggled. He came into one game during this time and when he was noticed, (some) fans groaned. UNC fans like to say Capel was booed, but it wasn’t booing and anyway the rest of the fans immediately drowned them out with cheers for #5.

That’s the kind of support we should see. We think Capel is going to do well but even if he doesn’t, we hope the Crazies will back him fanatically.

Despite the crushing disappointment of 1995, despite the bittersweet way his career ended, Capel’s love for Duke was made clear when he named his daughter: Cameron Isabella Capel.

We got his back. We hope you do too.

If you're going to shop Amazon please start here and help DBR | Drop us a line