Exclusive Interview with Coach K: Day 4

This is the last of four clips from an exclusive June 15  interview with Mike Krzyzewski that The Chronicle has posted this week. In this final excerpt, Coach K reflects on Duke's two toughest losses last year—at Clemson in February and against Villanova in the Sweet 16—and on his relationship with football head coach David Cutcliffe.

On Clemson:

TC: I have to ask about the Clemson game, which I was at. I’ve never seen you like that after a game. What was going through your head when you came out to talk to the press that night?

K: Well, I had not been in a game like that. I thought we quit, and I know we quit. But we’re not quitters, so when I say that, it’s not to knock my team. It wasn’t just that we stunk—we didn’t fight. Up until then, it’s kind of like a fighter who’s  20-0, 15 knockouts or whatever, and you think you’re pretty damn good. And all of a sudden, you are in an environment and you get the crap knocked out of you. And it’s shocking. I knew—you know your team up to a point, but all of a sudden, there was going to be—we can’t go back to preseason or whatever.

That could have destroyed our whole team, and there was still residuals from it for a while. We had to fight like hell to beat a really good Miami team here, because we were still in a state of shock. And then we played Carolina on emotion, until that wears off, and then Boston College. That’s why I made the change I did, because during that period, we could have gone [Krzyzewski makes a choking motion]. That was a game where there was no way we were going to win, and it could have ruined our season. I’m proud of my guys and our staff that experiencing something like that, we turned it around. We got our ass kicked that day, so whatever you saw in me, I knew that wasn’t just a game that day. I didn’t know exactly what the hell we were going to do, but I knew there was a lot to do.

TC: Have you watched that game and the Villanova game since?

K: I watch them after, and I watch games if I’m going to play the same style.  I just reviewed all the practices form the ’92 Olympics. There were eight of them that I reviewed, because I remember how we entered motion—Chuck Daly and our staff—is something I want to do with my team.

The Villanova game is completely different from Clemson. We shot 22 percent or whatever. That game was all about us—the three guys we have—two of them were 4-for-32. If you go too much deeper in that game, you’re crazy. I’m not blaming my guys, because they are the reason we’re there, but…. People can say it was the matchups and all that, but I’ve been coaching a long time and sometimes you get your ass beat, because [your players are] human beings. If the other team, when you aren’t playing as well, doesn’t cooperate by also not playing as well, it has nothing to do with you. We couldn’t—I was very frustrated for our guys. I thought we had a chance.

Since J.J.’s year, I thought this team, with the way we came around at the end, there was a chance to win a national title. You’re constantly building your team for that. Definitely three years ago we didn’t have that chance, and two year ago with G’s injury we didn’t really either. But last year we had it, and they were deserving of being a champion. Because they won the ACC Tournament, they had a taste of it.

TC: Do you have equally high expectations for this year’s team?

K: Yeah, I think our team has a chance to be really good, because we have experience. We have good guys, and they are competitive, they want to work, it’s just going to be a different style which I think will be energizing to them. You know, for us, it always boils down to injuries. For the years, we’ve won so many games, and for the most part, we’ve been very fortunate with injuries. Last year, we were pretty good. The two years before that—actually three years, because DeMarcus and Shav[lik Randolph] were always injured, and Zoubek too—it wasn’t as good. But last year, overall, pretty damn good.

The practice facility has really helped us tremendously. Now we have to figure out how to enhance Cameron.

On football head coach David Cutcliffe:

TC: Might we see you this year with Coach Cutcliffe even more?

K: He and I are good friends—I just talked to one of the football recruits, and I do that a lot when he wants me to. Because of the two different seasons, it is difficult, but I love him. I really think Duke is—I’m one of the few people who has been here for 30 years—and I think Duke is at a great point. With our president and the experience  he has, the hiring of a lot of new deans, Victor Zhou being in charge of the medical center. Kevin White is the best athletics director in the country. We have a football coach who I think is going to be really good.

What I’m saying is, this is a great time for Duke, because our football program is going to be good. It should be good—Duke should be good at everything. [Cutcliffe] sees things a lot like I did when I got here. Everyone was saying what was restrictive at Duke, and I thought that was exceptional. I’ve never seen restrictions at Duke, even though we may not be able to get certain kids. This is a great school, and we should be able to be really good in everything. He believes that.

It’s the attitude—we had talent to win more games than we’ve won, but the culture was horrible throughout. There was some apathy. What Cut has done—and our school has joined in—is created a culture conducive to win for football, and we have a coach who is helping in that regard tremendously.

With him, Kevin, and all the stuff that’s going on, this is an exciting time. I’ve always loved being at Duke, but I think this is a big growth time for Duke.

Kevin White is the best. I’ve been through Tom Butters and Joe Alleva. I’ve been through more presidents than ADs—well, not through, but worked with them. I’ve been lucky–I tell my guys when they get into coaching, and when I speak nationally, that it’s up to you as a coach to develop a relationship with your AD and president, and my entire time here, I’ve had really good ADs. Joe was a great AD and a friend, and Kevin is just the best. And my presidents have been—we’ve been a team, and I’ve been lucky. But White, he is a treasure for Duke and for the rest of the coaches. At this time in my career, for him to come in has been a big boost for me. I’ve really loved being his friend and working with him.


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