Last summer, Krzyzewski’s Labrador Retriever, Blue, died in his arms after 12 years by his side.
Any pet owner can tell you that losing one feels like losing a member of the family. For a man like Krzyzewski, who has been married for 53 years, has three daughters and 10 grandchildren, the emotion was no doubt the same. In spite of that, he insisted that he and Mickie wouldn’t get another dog until his farewell tour was over.
“Because of the season we didn’t want to train a puppy,” Krzyzewski told the News and Observer in March. “But I miss my dog.”
This past season was full of storylines. A crushing loss in Krzyzewski’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium lit the fuse for a marauding run to the Final Four in March and prompted a host of season-best performances by his team. It was a year stocked with narratives and a laundry list of “lasts” for Duke’s legendary coach, but it wasn’t until the final few ACC games and postseason that he seemed to acknowledge it.
His postgame press conferences got increasingly more sentimental and people started to believe in a fairytale, victorious finale to the Krzyzewski epoch. We all know how that ended, but there was a narrative buried there amongst all the other, more glorious ones.
Pets often accompany us through periods of change, from elementary school to leaving for college and getting married to raising a family. To Krzyzewski, Blue was the dog that accompanied him to two national championships, through a global pandemic and a first missed tournament since 1995 and sat by his feet for hundreds of hours of film review.
Amid the chatter of a potential final season title push, a rematch with North Carolina in the national semifinals or a chance to play Kansas—the team Krzyzewski beat for his first trophy—room for an admittedly less glamorous narrative seemed slim. Blue’s tale, however, did get its storybook ending, and Krzyzewski finally got the newest member to the family he and Mickie didn’t want to raise mid-season.
At the team’s annual awards banquet Thursday, team captain Wendell Moore Jr. placed an eight-week old Silver Lab puppy, appropriately named Coach, in Krzyzewski’s arms. He and Mickie were evidently taken aback by the gesture and emotionally accepted their newest family member. Coach, for one, didn’t hesitate, and instantly licked Krzyzewski on the cheek.
Coach won’t sleep at Krzyzewski’s feet while he analyzes Virginia's complex defensive shapes or how to break down Syracuse's 2-3 zone. Instead, he’ll run around the lawn, chew up some shoes and inevitably create an indoor mess or dozen that Krzyzewski and Mickie will need to clean up. They likely won’t mind.
No gift can repay all that Krzyzewski and his 42 teams gave to Duke; any school would be hard pressed to find one. But, surrounded by the group that took him to his 13th Final Four, his successor and 2010 title-winning point guard and his wife—in tears at the gesture—this was probably the closest anyone could get.
Coach may not be Blue, but Krzyzewski got his buddy back. And, for the first time since last summer, that hole in the Krzyzewski family may be a little closer to being filled.
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