We are spoiled here at Duke, and not just by the amenities, the academic opportunities or the status granted us by attending this University. Rather, we are spoiled because while we all drag ourselves out of bed and stumble to the bus stop bleary eyed each morning, we are indirectly in the presence of a public figure that has rewritten record books and influenced thousands through his actions and words. Looming over us ubiquitously here at Duke is the presence of legendary basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, and on the eve of a new basketball season it is only fitting to pay respects to the man who has turned Duke into a premier college basketball program.
Coach K is the epitome of success in what he does. He has won a record 957 games, brought home four national titles and gone to 11 Final Fours all while maintaining a commitment to academic excellence and integrity. Coach K has brought his West Point background to Durham by instilling a disciplined system that demands cohesiveness and unselfishness, churning out desirable NBA-ready players each year. The men’s basketball program is one to be reckoned with both on and off the court because Coach K creates an atmosphere in which playing “smart” is just as valuable as athletic intangibles. The near-perfect graduation rates of late speak volumes to that in the same way that Shane Battier’s choking defense has helped propel the Miami Heat to back-to-back NBA titles.
Year after year, top recruits flock to Duke to get a taste of what it could be like being a Blue Devil, and many return home dreaming of dawning a jersey and playing home games in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Over his tenure at Duke, Coach K has convinced the nation’s best high school basketball players to attend, allowing the program to maintain its place at the pinnacle of college basketball. Hired in 1980, Coach K evolved Duke into a historic power in just six seasons, taking the Blue Devils to their first Final Four appearance in 1986 and drawing the applause of fans and the ire of rivals. Love it or hate it, Duke basketball is something to be reckoned with, and it is because of Coach K that the program carries such a reputation.
Coaching matters in sports, and we are blessed to have one of the best on our side. Some may discount it, but Duke simply would not be Duke without Coach K. He may not contribute directly to the cutting edge research that has made the school a top ten university nationally, but Coach K’s remarkable career has brought in millions of dollars that have helped fund the academia that Duke prides itself on. According to Forbes, Duke is the top revenue generator in men’s college basketball, and those millions of dollars get circulated in the school budget. Were we to have any other coach, it is unlikely that Duke would have made 28 NCAA tournament appearances in the past 29 years and generated the revenue that comes with such consistent success. What Coach K has done for the University as a whole is unrivaled anywhere else, and it will be a seismic shift in culture the moment he calls it quits.
Coach K’s impact goes far beyond victories and tradition. Like any number of the great professors at the University, Coach K serves to mentor his players as if they were students in his class. He instills in them values that make them the type of players NBA coaches and managers want in their locker rooms and the type of players journalists want to talk to after the game. Listening to former Duke athletes talk about what happened in a game is like listening to a detective string together a criminal investigation. It helps explain why so many former Duke players have become coaches or television analysts themselves.
His ability to instill in young student-athletes the values needed to be well-rounded people is Coach K’s legacy. No matter how many nets he has cut down, Coach K is more than a coach—he is a teacher that has inspired the student-athletes of Duke to be more than just “dumb jocks.” Rather, he has made them selfless, hard-working individuals that put on a show that all of us get to take pride in. Most of us will never get to experience the teachings of Coach K first hand, but we all get to bask in the glory that he produces on the court. When people think of Duke, they think of basketball first and foremost, and that is because of Coach K. He laid the foundation on which Blue Devil basketball has been built, and now even Countdown to Craziness is a nationally televised event.
His tireless work touches us all—and we all sure are lucky.
Mark Schreiber is a Trinity freshman. His column runs every other Friday. Send Mark a message on Twitter @MarkSchreib.