How has the world changed since Coach K took over Duke men’s basketball?
Eight United States presidents. Five PlayStation consoles. The Harlem Shake. Mike Krzyzewski has seen them all during his tenure as head coach at Duke.
Since Coach K’s introduction to Durham in 1980, the world has evolved at a rapid pace. Krzyzewski’s retirement this April offers a moment for reflection on how the U.S.—and the rest of the globe—have transformed in the last 42 years. Please enjoy this very-good, totally-comprehensive, error-free list of ways the world has changed since Coach K came to Duke.
Putting the K in K-pop
Krzyzewski began his tenure during the musical reign of Michael Jackson and the new Pepsi Generation. In Coach K’s third season, Jackson released the best-selling global album of all time in “Thriller.” But by the end of the King of Cameron’s run, the King of Pop had died in less than favorable circumstances.
As Krzyzewski says goodbye to Duke, he’ll enter a world that has said, “Annyeonghaseyo” to BTS using their Internet platform to take over the music industry. Who knows, the 75-year-old Krzyzewski might dive deeper into the digital world in retirement—perhaps creating a public Twitter account or learning how to pronounce "Fortnite" correctly.
Coach K’s tenure saw eight U.S. presidents in the White House, one of whom had their tenure end with an armed insurrection. That period also saw four "The Tonight Show" hosts in "30 Rock," including one who was booted out by a corporate insurrection allowed by his predecessor to regain power. Justice for Conan!
Speaking of power, Krzyzewski always led the Blue Devils to high positions in the AP Top 25. He spent 127 weeks at the top of the poll, the most of all time. But did you know Coach K was here in Durham for the first U.S. News & World Report university rankings in 1983, in which Duke was ranked sixth in the country? Now, Duke has slipped to No. 9. That number looks the same flipped upside down, though … at least I think so.
Maybe they had a point.
Nuggets of wisdom
Enough silliness. It’s time to talk about the most meaningful changes to the world since Coach K took the reins at Duke—the food. Krzyzewski was at Duke when McDonald’s first introduced the McRib in 1981 and when it popularized chicken nuggets in 1983. He was still there to witness McDonald’s lose the Chicken Sandwich War in embarrassing fashion.
On the more sophisticated side, the Cronut was invented in 2013 at a New York bakery. The decadent confection formed from croissant dough was quickly deemed a delicious waste of money. It soon cemented itself as a favorite of hipsters and out-of-touch food critics alike. An unsustainable business model may doom the Cronut to the garbage heap of history, where I imagine raccoons will experience a culinary renaissance of their own.
Perhaps the greatest kitchen innovation in Krzyzewski’s tenure came in 1981. The Duke head coach experienced the beauty of microwave popcorn when it hit the shelves for the first time in Coach K’s first season.
Krzyzewski may have been eating popcorn piping hot from the microwave when watching “The Two Popes,” or during the announcement of the three popes that have served during the tenure of the Catholic head coach. Or maybe sci-fi is more Krzyzewski’s speed. After all, he has been Duke’s head coach for all but one Star Wars movie as well as the announcement of Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars defense initiative in 1983.
Speaking of Reagan, Krzyzewski was around to see the end of the Cold War. Since the Space Race era, cell phones have become two pounds lighter and holograms are no longer just the stuff of science fiction.
We have failed to learn from our mistakes during Coach K’s tenure in general. After embarrassing themselves during the Y2K fiasco, conspiracy theorists went all-in on an apocalyptic Mayan prophecy that didn’t exist. Flat-earth theory is seeing another heyday around the world, thanks in part to one certain former Duke basketball player … ahem, Kyrie.
And perhaps worst of all, just when we thought we were finally rid of them, mullets have swung back into fashion. May Coach K save all of our hair.
For all that the world has changed, much has remained constant since Krzyzewski took the reins of the program. Certainly, the head coach has smoothed out the Duke experience in his 42 years on campus. Coach K and the success of the Blue Devils have remained a given. Dryers still catch fire regularly in Duke dorms, sometimes where players live. And students look forward to sacrificing their $10,000-per-year climate-controlled rooms to live in a tent for two months in the winter so they can see the North Carolina game.
Some things in the world outside the Duke bubble have not changed all that much since the beginning of Krzyzewski’s stint as a Blue Devil head coach. The Cleveland Browns still haven’t won a Super Bowl in the Coach K era. Wall Street continues to catch breaks.
And Carolina still hasn’t gone to hell—at least, not yet. But maybe that’s a good thing.
Editor's note: This article is part of The Chronicle's Coach K Commemorative edition. Please click here for more content.
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