Mike Krzyzewski has a full-time job. And then some. He’s generously compensated. And then some.
He keeps busy. Very busy. He is essential to his teams’ success and feels responsible for keeping Duke’s men basketball on the right track, as he has for going on a half-century.
But he’ll be 75 in February. And he’s come to appreciate he’s neither “superman”, as one doctor characterized his view of his own physical vulnerability in 1995, or indispensible.
As he showed when his Blue Devils traveled on Jan. 12 to Winston-Salem and handled an estimable Wake Forest squad without him.
“I had two really difficult days,” Krzyzewski reported of the run-up to Devils v. Deacons. “Something hit me. I thought I had COVID.”
For good reason, given the world around us. “I had so many of those symptoms. I had no energy at all. I couldn’t keep my eyes open.”
But the coach was fully vaccinated and according to official Duke pronouncement was felled by a “non-COVID related virus”. Presumably one of the best kinds these days.
However weakened, Krzyzewski intended to travel with his team to Lawrence Joel Coliseum, owned by Wake Forest University and one of the dwindling number of modern arenas whose name has not been sold to a high bidder. (Joel was a Vietnam Medal of Honor winner.)
Until Duke medical staff told Krzyzewski to give up his intention to leave home.
“The docs said you’re an idiot,” he reported, immediately modifying the harshness of that verdict to less stark language. “I appreciated their candor. A lot of times in my position people don’t tell me what to do when I should be told what to do.”
Whether anyone beyond Krzyzewski’s family would tell him he’s an idiot, or readily tell him what to do is a different conversation.
Duke is now 8-3 since 2016 in games without its longtime head coach, a period tracked by the school’s sports information staff. The Blue Devils have won their last five without Krzyzewski. Don’t take that record as indicative of what’s to come after his retirement; knowing he’s coming back to direct the program is a psychological comfort that can’t be underestimated.
Three of those most recent K-less wins came against Wake. This season’s was the second Wake game without Krzyzewski in four years.
Duke was without its bench leader for seven games in January 2017 while Krzyzewski recovered from back surgery to remove a fragment of a herniated disk. He also missed 19 games during the 1995 season while recovering from back surgery. On that occasion Krzyzewski at first resisted doctors’ orders to rest and consequently was felled by exhaustion.
Pete Gaudet, formerly an Army head coach and a key to Duke’s rise to national prominence during the eighties, was the assistant elevated as Krzyzewski’s bench sub in ‘95. Credited with the 4-15 result in the last 19 games, Gaudet was shown the door once his boss returned.
More recently assistant Jeff Capel, a former head coach at Virginia Commonwealth and Oklahoma who’s now at Pitt, ran things for Duke while Coach K was sidelined. Capel was 6-3 as acting head coach; the wins and losses were credited to his boss.
Krzyzewski sat out last year’s 83-82 home triumph over Boston College as he and wife Mickie followed COVID quarantine protocols. In his absence Jon Scheyer, Krzyzewski’s designated successor, directed both the 2021 and 2022 Devils to victories.
|WHILE THE CAT'S AWAY
Recent Duke Record Without Mike Krzyzewski On Bench
|Georgia Tech||W, 80-71||Feb.2, 2016||Road|
|Boston College||W, 93-82||Jan. 7, 2017||Home|
|Florida State||L, 72-88||Jan. 10, 2017||Road|
|Louisville||L, 69-78||Jan. 14, 2017||Road|
|Miami||W, 70-58||Jan. 21, 2017||Home|
|NC State||L, 82-84||Jan. 23, 2017||Home|
|Wake Forest||W, 85-83||Jan. 28, 2017||Road|
|Notre Dame||W, 84-74||Jan. 30, 2017||Road|
|Wake Forest||W, 89-71||Jan. 13, 2018||Home|
|Boston College||W, 83-82||Jan. 6, 2021||Home|
|Wake Forest||W, 76-64||Jan. 12, 2022||Road|