With a moniker like Coach K, it is not hard to believe why people seldom think of Mike Krzyzewski off the court. But when it comes to Carol 'Mickie' Krzyzewski, there is no Coach K, there is only her husband—Mike.
The Chronicle's Nick Martin spoke with Ms. Krzyzewski about the early days of the pair's relationship, adapting to the Duke-UNC relationship, how Coach K handled all the pink and lace that came with three daughters and, of course, No. 1000. Parts of the conversation have been edited for brevity and clarity.
The Chronicle: Just to start off, a lot of people know the early, funny stories where Mike said you were the third choice for the date and you guys went to a Bears game. But was it all history from there on? What happened between the first date and getting married? I try to do a lot of reading in preparation but I haven't really found a lot of information about that.
Mickie Krzyzewski: Hmm, I haven't thought about that too much myself. I would say we spent that period of time essentially pursuing one another. I was living in Chicago and of course he was at school in New York at West Point. And I transferred to New York. I did not transfer there because of him because I put in for my transfer before I met him, but it came about, so I transferred to New York City and it's just a 50-mile ride up the Palisades to West Point. And when he learned that I was in New York City, he would invite me to various things up at West Point. And I went. I had three roommates, so I'd usually grab one of them to go with me and he would have a friend who would like to meet my roommate.
So we just did that kind of thing on weekends. Cadets are still very restricted, but at that time, they were very restricted in terms of how many weekends they had off and things like that. So seeing him there was much easier than him coming to the city to see me. But when he had a chance he did.
Then I began watching him play ball. That was an interesting thing because one of my roommates and I suddenly found that we had no flights—we were flying on reserve, so that means we were on-call. We found out late one afternoon we didn't have to fly out. And I knew that Army was playing Princeton at Princeton. So I said, "Let's go watch this game." And he did not know we were coming. But the two of us came to that game, and in the course of us arriving there and the game ending, a blizzard set in.
I had a little red Volkswagen, a little Beetle, and it was almost covered. It was like this horrible blizzard had set in. And we tried to drive back up the city and we weren't going to make it. So I said, "We've got to stop." So we pulled off to the closest motel, and, my roommate and I, we checked in only to learn that's where the Army team was staying. It was so innocent. We had no idea that was happening, but all of a sudden, we were there. Coach Knight caught wind of it and thought that it had been all set up. They had lost to Princeton, it was a close game—Mike fouled out. So Knight was pretty mad at all of them, so the next day when they went back up to West Point, he kicked Mike off the team.
That was my introduction to him as a basketball player. I kind of learned that if I was going to go to games, I should keep a low profile. I watched all the games that I could his last two years—I met him after his sophomore year. So I watched him play as a junior and a senior. We kind of dated during that period.
TC: So were you always a sports fan growing up?
MK: Yes, and basketball was actually the last of the three major sports that I got interested in. I started out loving baseball the most—I had a brother that played baseball in college and was a college All-American. And then of course I lived in Alexandria, Va., so we were all big Redskins fans. I was into the pro football scene like that.
And then when I went to college—I went to a small college in Tennessee—we had a good basketball program and I started liking basketball. And then when I met Mike and he played at Army, they could not play a more disciplined style of basketball and defense was the main thing. Well, the main man in college basketball at that time was "Pistol" Pete Maravich. I used to tell Mike, "Well, I like Maravich. I like the way he plays." And that would just drive Mike insane.
TC: That's funny. So once you guys were married and he accepted the job at Duke, had you had any exposure to Durham or North Carolina? I knew you said you lived in Virginia. What were your initial thoughts when you guys came down here?
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MK: We were so naive to all of this. To the ACC and to the Duke-Carolina rivalry. To all of that, we were a little naive. I was not familiar with North Carolina, I hadn't ever really been here. We moved in and were just really kind of bright eyed about everything.
I remember we bought a home and moved into the home, and I was kind of redecorating and I had chosen the wallpaper to go up in the master bathroom. The guys came to install the wallpaper and they were kind of uncomfortable. Finally, one of them said, "Are you sure this is what you want?" And I just looked at him like, "I have pretty good taste. Yea, yea this what I want." And he said, "Just asking, 'cause it's Carolina blue." We kind of got our first taste of what it was going to be like that first year.
TC: I grew up in North Carolina myself—actually an N.C. State fan, my mom went to UNC and now I went to Duke—so I completely understand how things have changed. So after those first few years, after they go to five Final Fours in a row, how much did life change at home? I can only imagine the schedule an ACC coach has, so what was it like at home and how did you counter-balance that as parents?
MK: Well, when our daughters were children and living at home, a very important thing that I believe that we did was we never had any Duke memorabilia hanging in the house. The house was not decorated in Duke blue, it was actually more decorated in pink because we had three daughters. Lace and pink. Mike used to always go, "I can't believe I'm living in lace and pink." But the things that we would hang in our house or on our fridge was stuff that the girls had accomplished. So there was no Duke hanging in the house. We tried to make sure that they knew that they came first to us and that they were more important to us.
The other thing is—and I give Mike all the credit in the world for this—he let us be part of everything. When the girls were little and they were on a team trip, they were allowed to ride on the team bus. We still, to this day, go into the coach's locker room. Our daughters and our grandkids, we see him as soon as possible after a game and no matter what, win or lose, he's got a hug and a kiss for each of the grandkids. He kind of opened that compartment that coaches, or men, like to have where "This is my career," and that door's closed and "This is my family, and that goes over here." He opened the door between those two and he allowed our family to be a part of his career. So there was no jealousy, there was no resentment. The girls didn't resent his being gone. I credit him for being smart enough, secure enough and loving enough to let us in.
TC: Well, that's pretty cool. So as he has won all these games, wracked up the national titles, the accolades—and we've been talking to a ton of former players and everyone talks about his ability to change—is that true of him as a person or is he the same person from then to now?
MK: I'll tell you something hilarious. My mother, who we're lucky enough that we're still with her, she's 89 years old, was going through some of her things at her home the other day and sent a box of stuff over to me saying, "You may want look through this." And so I'm looking through it and there's old pictures and news clippings, and I'm glancing at these old newspapers and it's talking about Mike Krzyzewski dangling his feet in the whirlpool or whatever, after having coached the Mountaineers to some record. And I'm thinking, "The Mountaineers?" I have to read through this whole article again to figure out who it is. And what it was was at Fort Carson, Colo., where he was a Lt. in the Army and ended up being the coach of the post team and they were the Mountaineers. But I reread the article and he talked about how he didn't sleep at night because he was concerned about his team and putting things together and they had lost two-in-a-row. So I'm reading this thing and just started laughing. I'm going, "So nothing changes." From his coaching days at Fort Carson Mountaineers and not sleeping, he coaches the Duke Blue Devils and doesn't sleep.
TC: That's great. And will you be making the trip up to New York?
MK: Yes, and two of my three girls and their husbands and seven of the nine grandchildren.
TC: And this is my last question—to us in the media, he doesn't seem to make a huge deal out of 1,000 games. But is it still cool for you guys to know that he's doing this? It seems like something you don't want to focus on, but it's something people do recognize for a reason.
MK: Well, I look forward to the day he and I are sitting in our rocking chairs and can reflect on this. But there's no time to reflect. And it's certainly not the goal of our next game and it isn't anything we talk about. It's a big deal because it's a sexy number.
TC: That's true.
MK: It's a sexy number and it works with "K."
TC: It does work pretty well.
MK: It's more of a media obsession than it is anything we—and yes, that will be nice, one day we'll think about it and go, "That was cool." But right now, it was never a goal. When we set out doing this, it was never like we set out to say, "We're going to win 1,000 games." That wasn't our goal. It's now four digits instead of three. It's sexy and that's why everyone is making a big to-do about it. But it's the next game and it does not reflect his coaching career than 999 did. Or 1,0001 will. All of that is a reflection of his entire career. It'll be nice when [the 1,000 win buildup] will be done.