If Mike Krzyzewski keeps it up, he could be known as Coach K-ommercial.
Krzyzewski has generated some controversy with his recent slew of appearances in television commercials, especially his starring role in an American Express advertisement. Though the Duke coach has appeared in several ads before and is not breaking any rules with his cameos, the timing and content of the American Express spot has raised some eyebrows.
Critics say the ad, throughout which Krzyzewski is the only speaker, seems more like a pitch for the Duke program than for any credit card. In addition, because it ran during the national recruiting quiet period—a seven-day time frame in which coaches may not talk to recruits—many have claimed it gives Duke an unfair recruiting edge.
“The first time I saw it, I’ll be honest, I thought: Was it a Duke commercial or a Mike Krzyzewski commercial?” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said at the Final Four. “It could start a trend where everybody buys a commercial.”
In the ad, Krzyzewski says, “When they get out into the workplace, they’re armed with not just a jump shot or a dribble. I want you armed for life. I want you to develop as a player. I want you to develop as a student. And I want you to develop as a human being.”
Critics have said this is basically a recruiting pitch to parents, but Krzyzewski defended the commercial on the James Brown Show on Sporting News Radio April 4.
“I’m not going to apologize for that,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s done in great taste. If someone thinks that’s a recruiting advantage or that’s why it was done, I feel bad for them. I’m proud of it.”
Whether or not the commercial served as a recruiting tool, Krzyzewski’s involvement does not commit any NCAA violations. Though players are not allowed to appear in any advertisements for commercial products, companies can use coaches and college facilities—such as Cameron Indoor Stadium, which is used in the American Express ad—to promote their products.
“There is no rule that prevents it,” NCAA President Myles Brand said at the Final Four. “Even if we had rules, they might be illegal under antitrust issues. As long as coaches do it in a way that speaks well about the values of intercollegiate athletics, I’m not uncomfortable with it.”
The commercial is part of the “My Life, My Card” series, which has also featured Ellen DeGeneres, Tiger Woods, Robert DeNiro and Laird Hamilton. American Express spokesperson Rosa Alfonso said the commercial was not a pitch for Duke, but rather that the University is a central part of Krzyzewski’s story.
“It’s the reflection of his life and the story he has to tell, as with all the individuals we feature,” Alfonso said of the commercial. “The reality is that he is an inspiration to many people and he affects a lot of people personally off the court.”
Krzyzewski’s other acting work has created much less buzz than the American Express spot. He appears in a Chevrolet advertisement for only a brief second, and his role in an Allstate commercial has generated more laughs than controversy. In the latter, he jumps out from behind a fence to celebrate a driveway reenactment of Christian Laettner’s famous buzzer-beater during the 1992 NCAA regional final.
Still, many have questioned his reasons for appearing in such a high number of commercials when he has not historically taken part in many ads. Krzyzewski cited funding his charitable efforts as the main reason for his involvement, including the donation American Express made to the Emily Krzyzewski Family LIFE Center for his involvement.
“In order to fulfill the goals that I have here... endowing the program, with the community goals of building a family life center, with the University goals of continuing to find cures for children’s diseases, with the V Foundation, with helping to be on that team, which is hopefully going to beat cancer, you need to use your notoriety right,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m not going to be coaching that much longer or be in the public eye that much longer, and so I want to make sure that these things that I’m involved with are well grounded.”
Despite the fact that Krzyzewski has created controversy, at least one of his players was impressed with his coach’s acting abilities.
“I think he does a tremendous acting job, and after his time at Duke here is done, he’ll probably head to Hollywood, not for the Lakers, but for the movies,” junior Lee Melchionni joked.