Although Duke fell to Pittsburgh for its second loss in a row, there was one Blue Devil who came out victorious Tuesday night. He’s just no longer on Duke’s side.
With his team’s 79-73 win, Panthers head coach Jeff Capel became the first former Blue Devil player to beat Mike Krzyzewski as a head coach.
“I’m always pulling for Jeff,” Krzyzewski said. “[But] we lost to Pitt, not to Jeff. And we're trying to beat Pitt, we're not trying to beat Jeff.”
While it was nothing personal between the coaches, Capel’s Panthers and Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils battled at each other like old foes throughout all 40 minutes of play. While at times the game may have showcased the sloppier sides of each program, Capel’s composure and practiced discipline helped ensure Pittsburgh would hold its early lead.
“You have to fight like it's not given,” Capel said. “You have to earn it, and you earn it how you show up every day—your preparation, your commitment and the discipline.”
Although the significance of Capel’s milestone is undeniable, he downplayed it during his postgame press conference, choosing instead to redirect attention to his players.
“None of this stuff is about me,” Capel said. “I had my time when I played. This is about these guys and trying to make sure they have an unbelievable experience.”
Capel—who served as an assistant at Duke from 2011 to 2018—is not the first former Krzyzewski assistant coach to secure a win against Coach K while leading the opposite sideline. That title belongs to Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, who assisted Krzyzewski for eight seasons before taking over Delaware and then the Fighting Irish’s programs.
But while Brey spent his playing days at Northwestern State and George Washington, all roads lead back to Duke for Capel. It was in Cameron Indoor Stadium that he lived out his own playing career and laid the foundation for his future as a coach, though his time in Durham wasn’t always synonymous with success. In the years Capel played from 1993 to 1997, the Blue Devils found themselves in a bit of a slump, even missing the NCAA tournament in 1995.
In 1997, however, Capel and Duke rebounded to win the ACC regular-season title.
“We had to learn to fight,” Capel said. “And I'd like to think that some of the things that I learned during that time and my senior year when we won the ACC helped the younger guys [on the team].”
As this year’s Duke team continues its drop down the ACC standings, they may find that Capel’s words hit close to home.
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The last time Capel and Krzyzewski’s teams clashed came nearly exactly one year ago in Cameron Indoor Stadium. While Pittsburgh briefly gave Duke a run for its money, that’s not what that game has been remembered for. Emotions flared when Coach K interpreted a Duke student chant as disrespectful toward Capel, prompting Krzyzewski to infamously yell at the students to “Shut up!”
While Coach K received criticism for the outburst, his passionate defensive display made it abundantly clear that the bond between the two coaches remains as strong as ever.
“He's an outstanding coach,” Krzyzewski said of Capel, “and obviously, a great, great person.”