First of all, Duke sucks. Even when they don’t suck, Duke sucks.
Second of all, I honestly didn’t think I would have to write my annual “Fuck Duke” post until next weekend, but thanks to the Mountain Hawks of Lehigh University, now that annual screed becomes more of a Blue Devil post-mortem. I went into this tournament thinking Duke was over-rated as a two-seed, but even I didn’t have them going out in the first round (check out my bracket destruction at Sport Blog Movement).
So, having said that, let’s take a look at why I thought Duke was over-rated:
- They have no inside presence
- They rely to much on perimeter shooting
- They can’t defend against speed
All three of those thing congealed to end Duke’s season early. But a big part of the problem with this season’s team is that it traveled too far on a reputation that it couldn’t back up, and a big part of that problem is the complete sham that is the reputation of Mike Krzyzewski.
What I’ve never understood about Krzyzewski is that he’s a known disciple of Bobby Knight, and carries on just as much as Knight did, but Krzyzewski never gets called out for being such an unconscionable asshole. Sure, he doesn’t throw chairs during games, nor does he have outbursts at press conferences, but all the other signs are there.
Raise your hand if you are tired of watching Krzyzewski scream unrepentantly at officials until every call goes Duke’s way. Raise your hand if you wonder why the media has never exposed Krzyzewski for being every bit the abusive tyrant his mentor Bobby Knight was. Raise your hand if you don’t get why nobody has ever noticed the Paterno-like ring of sycophants willing to lay down their lives for him. Raise your hand if you wonder when Krzyzewski and Dick Vitale are going to pick out a china pattern together.
Naturally, that last sentence explains a lot about why none of these questions ever get asked; resident ESPN analyst and personal Krzyzewski fellatrix Dick Vitale just can’t understand why there is all this Duke hatred out there. Let’s see if I can clear this up for Dicky V. While Knight may have been an asshole, at least he was an honest asshole. It is one thing to be an asshole; it is an entirely other thing to spend thirty years hiding you are an asshole.
The definitive rundown on this attitude toward Krzyzewski comes from a work called Duke Sucks authored Reed Tucker and Andy Bagwell. It is described by the good people at Deadspin as “a thorough charge-by-charge frisking of the worst college basketball program known to man.” The following excerpt gives a detailing of the tone of this work, and if you still don’t get it, we here at Dubsism will break it down for you.
Charge #9: [This charge has been redacted for fear that Coach K might call us and scorch the earth with f-bombs for twenty minutes.]
There’s really no way to sugarcoat this for sensitive palates, so we’re just going to come out and say it. Coach K is probably not the sweet hoops coach/business genius/grandfather-of-five that he, the media, the Duke basketball information office, Nike, Chevy, and American Express would like you to believe he is. In truth, he’s probably kind of a jerk. Or a nickname-for-Richard. Take your pick.
Of all the high-profile coaches in the games, is there one you’d less like to spend a night drinking beer and playing Boggle with?
Okay, Rick Barnes, but after that? Really think about it for a minute.
Well, Bob Huggins always looked to me like he might be in the Russian mafia, especially when he took to wearing the track suits. Not to mention, Frank Martin from K-State..well, if he’s not a KGB agent in the off-season is just a fucking scary dude. But, I digress…
On the likeability index, Coach K rates somewhere between Chris Brown and whoever runs Uzbekistan’s intelligence agency. Krzyzewski is prickly. He takes himself way too seriously. His ego is inflated. He must be a little paranoid—a fingerprint scan is required to open the elevator doors to his office. No one would describe his sense of humor as “winning.” He seems constantly in a bad mood and is quick to anger. He once told the media that he agreed with a player’s assessment that his teammates were all a bunch of “fucking babies.”
In the Old West, he’d be called “ornery.” He’s like one of those villainous dads from every high-school movie—the retired military man who makes his son’s life miserable because of his unbending code of discipline. Hell, he probably uses military time. (“Practice is at oh-nine-hundred, sharp!”)
That’s a generous rating on the “likeability scale.” In the old west, he’d be the guy who gets ambushed along the trail and left for the buzzards. For a West Point graduate, Krzyzewski is the kind of guy who becomes the Army officer who gets shot in the back of the head by his own troops, precisely because he does little beyond berating them. We’ll come back to this point.
Here’s a fun little exercise you can do yourself. Pull up a Google images search for “Mike Krzyzewski” and look what you come up with. See all those photos of him frowning or yelling? Keep scanning. Do you see any of him smiling? We mean, aside from his official university head shot where they probably ordered him to seem halfway cuddly? Do you see any candid photos of him on the sideline, out in the real world or at a press conference smiling? You don’t. He looks downright constipated in most of the pictures.
But so what? He’s an intense guy, we get it. That’s probably, in part, how he’s able to win so many games.
And that would be just fine, except that like so much when it comes to Duke, there’s an element of hypocrisy here. You don’t have to look too deep into Coach K before you realize that there’s a huge disconnect between the guy’s public image and the real person. Here’s a man who theSporting News dubbed “what’s right about sports.” Here’s a man who’s beatified during practically every telecast. Here’s a man who smugly intoned during his awful American Express TV commercial a few years ago, “I don’t look at myself as a basketball coach. I look at myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball.”
How easy is it to dislike someone who exemplifies the most human characteristics of a rat all while being a two-faced elitist scumbag? This is Krzyzewski’s major contribution to Duke; he is the titular head of the Hypocritical Douchebag Committee. At once, the Duke athletic culture (led by Krzyzewski) has developed a drum-beat, party-line rhetoric about creating scholar-athletes at a private university, which Krzyzewski seems to believe is the sacred ground for all that is holy in college athletics. This becomes more important later.
And when it comes to leadership, this guy is clearly more Dick Nixon than George H. W. Bush.
“I guess the thing that surprised me the most was you don’t realize how much he curses and how much he’s on the refs all the time,” says former UNC guard Bobby Frasor. “I remember someone telling me about [former Duke player] Taylor King during his freshman year and how he thought his name was ‘motherfucker,’ because that’s how Coach K got his attention. I don’t know how true it is. I mean, he’s a great coach and I’m not going to deny that at all, but the way he handles his players or acts with the refs and media, sometimes it kind of rubs people the wrong way.”
Here’s the part where you have to understand the difference between a leader who happens to be a dick (Bobby Knight), and a dick who is in a leadership role (Krzyzewski). While Knight had a reputation for being harsh with players, when he got the “bum’s rush” out of Indiana, there were tons of former players who came forward in his defense. Again, he was an asshole, but he was an honest asshole. I get the feeling Krzyzewski would not get the same brand of loyalty, if for no other reason he has a huge case of “ivory tower syndrome,” which is just a nice way of saying “complete hypocrisy.”
Knight built a winning program and graduated his players at a public university, which Krzyzewski clearly has contempt for. What Duke and Krzyzewski simply don’t get is that they have created a culture which mirrors all of the false idolatry which has gotten so many other people into trouble, yet stick their collective heads in the sand clinging to the “can’t happen here” mentality with the false belief that Duke’s ivory towers have some sort of shielding capability.
Duke and Krzyzewski in many respects have built each other. The Duke campus is rife with things named for Krzyzewski, there’s a tightly knit culture in the program funded by wealthy donors and protected by an unwritten code about “keeping family business in the family.”
Krzyzewski said it himself. In his 2007 book To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever, Will Blythe quotes Coach K as saying “Let’s say at Ohio State that we did what we have done at Duke. There would be statues. There would never be anybody looking for anything wrong with what you did.”
In retrospect, that’s a chilling statement. While he uses Ohio State as his example of a large, public university with a brobdingnagian athletic department where a “Penn State” style problem can exist, there’s no denying that Penn State completely fits the description he offers. Even worse are the suppositions hidden in that statement. Krzyzewski believes himself, and wants you to believe that such idolatry can only happen in a big, public-school setting, and that it is only because of private-school envy that people begrudge him in his success. Pot calling the kettle black, pure and simple.
So, how does that sort of hypocrisy affect one’s leadership style? Well, for starters, it allows you to breed a culture of hypocrisy.
A New York Post reporter, sitting behind Duke’s bench during a 2005 game, described the proceedings during a team huddle thusly:
“Krzyzewski himself was an unfiltered Chris Rock concert for much of the day, but one of his assistants was worse. During one timeout, with the starters sitting on the bench, gulping Gatorade, this was his idea of “coaching” them: “You’re a bleep, and you’re a bleep, and you’re a bleeping bleep-bleeper of a bleeper-bleeper. You bleepers don’t bleeping deserve to wear the bleeping colors of Duke University! Bleep! Are you bleeping bleeping me? Bleep all of you. Get out of my bleeping faces.”
“At which point, he was replaced by Krzyzewski, whose assessment was far more succinct: “You bleeping make me bleeping sick.”
That’s more bleeps than a Source Awards telecast.
“His mouth is terrible. He has that reputation. You don’t want kids sitting behind the bench, that’s for sure,” says former UNC guard Dewey Burke. “It takes a certain kind of player to deal with that over the course of four years. As players sitting around, yeah, we’ll talk about how I don’t know how I could play for a guy like that.”
Of course, to really build such a culture, you have to let it spill down beyond the coaching ranks.
One of Coach K’s tried-and-true motivating tactics is reportedly to completely blast the freshmen and other weak-link players during practice, only to later send a senior over to the player’s room to explain why he was so angry.
After a particularly poor 2005 workout, during which Coach K reamed his players in front of more than two hundred invited guests, including NCAA president Myles Brand, forward Lee Melchionni told Sports Illustrated, “That’s one thing about the Duke program: You’re always going to get the absolute truth from Coach. You may go back to your dorm room and cry, but you’re going to come back the next day and be better because of it.”
This is the part where Dukies will try to tell me Krzyzewski gets loyalty from players. Sure they do, as long as they are still on the team. Krzyzewski is an unquestioned ruler, and you have two choices in Durham-istan; you can either toe the party line, or you can get shipped off to Siberia in a cattle car. I don’t care how much hate mail I get for this, but I’m convinced Mike Krzyzewski is like the church minister who secretly likes little boys. He’s got all the respect of the people who could out him, but none of them do because, after all, he is the minister. Besides, he’s also that hypocritical asshole who preaches about character and discipline, then stomps around on the sideline like the biggest petulant shithead out there.
Oh, and then there’s the fact that he treats everybody with a complete lack of respect.
And it’s not just his players that he can be peevish with. It’s also members of the media, whose existence Coach K seems to barely tolerate.
How many other head coaches won’t deign to spend fifteen seconds with the designated TV sideline reporter at halftime, dispatching a lowly assistant instead?
“I don’t agree with coaches doing that. It’s a philosophical thing,” Coach K has said. “The only people I should talk to are my players.”
About the only time anyone gets access to the coach is during the postgame press conference, which can often turn churlish.
“Obviously, you didn’t see the game tonight, okay?” Krzyzewski snapped, interrupting a journalist who was asking about Duke losing a lead during a 2004 game versus UConn. “Which question would you want me to answer?” he later barked.
During a 2008 press session for the U.S. Olympic team, the coach ridiculed a foreign journalist who asked in hesitant English whether the American team was showing off by dunking too much.
“There was no showing off,” K said defensively, glaring at the journalist. “You dunk when you have to dunk. Maybe it’s a difference in our languages. Maybe in your language playing hard means showing off.”
And then there was Krzyzewski’s most infamous run-in with the media—the student media, that is. In 1990, the coach blew his stack after a student sports reporter in the university newspaper dared to give his team a B+ midseason grade.
He summoned ten newspaper staffers to the locker room and let loose with an eight-minute profanity-laced tirade that would have given a gentler man a stroke.
Unbeknownst to K, one of the reporters secretly recorded the blowup with a tape recorder hidden in his bag.
Coach K began by calling the midseason report card “full of shit,” and went on to whine, “I just wonder where your mindset is that you don’t appreciate the kids in this locker room. I’m not looking for puff pieces or anything like that, but you’re whacked out and you don’t appreciate what the fuck is going on and it pisses me off—I’m suggesting that if you want to appreciate what’s going on—get your head out of your ass and start looking out for what’s actually happening.”
Another coach might have been fired for a blue-streaked outburst against—again—student reporters. And not only students, but ones at his own school. But Coach K’s reputation took only the slightest ding. Dick Vitale was probably on the air that very night gushing about how much K does for charity.
Are you starting to get the picture here? Lot’s of other coaches would have at least been called on the carpet for such behavior. But not Krzyzewski, because he is the head of the Politburo in Durham-istan. That means he can get away with being a derogatory ass-hat, which by the way, is NOT a quality associated with great leaders. Nor is being a petulant cry-baby.
But let’s face facts. The dude is just plain mean.
When Nick Collison, who was heavily recruited by Duke, called Krzyzewski to tell him he was going to Kansas, K didn’t exactly wish him well. Or even pretend to. “He was like, ‘I don’t care. We got a commitment from Casey Sanders anyway,’” Collison told Kusports.com. (Sanders, a six-foot-eleven center, averaged 2.7 points for his career. Collison, meanwhile, currently plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder.)
During a 2005 Duke–North Carolina game at Chapel Hill, Coach K became incensed by a fan who yelled, “You’ve got [referee] Larry Rose in your pocket!” The coach had security move the fan farther away from the bench, according to the New York Post. The fan later turned out to be Scott Williams, son of UNC coach Roy Williams. Oops.
Anyone want to hire this guy to entertain children at a birthday party?
Why don’t Krzyzewski’s accomplishments come with a big, fat, shiny asterisk? Why does the man continue to be canonized in the media, while his surly side gets buried? Does winning basketball games make him that bulletproof?
No one is asking Coach K to become soft and cuddly, or even to clean up his language. His players, at least the ones that don’t transfer, seem to like—or at least tolerate—his raw approach, and far be it from us to question that. But why can’t a fuller picture of the coach be presented, so that we, the public, can form our own opinions, free of all the manufactured BS that Duke, Coach K, the media, and the advertisers want to shove down our throats?
When Yankees owner George Steinbrenner—another sports figure who was known to be demanding and prickly—died in 2010, his obituaries presented him as he was, warts and all. The New York Times recounted his felony conviction and the way he had been “overbearing and even verbally abusive” toward his children.
We can hope for nothing less for Coach K. But why wait until he passes away? No time like the present to start setting the record straight.
Verdict: What’s former VP Cheney’s first name again?
Frankly, to me, hating Duke always seemed so self-evident. It doesn’t require Jim Rockford or the NASA supercomputer to figure out why. All you have to do is watch watch Coach Krzyzewski on the sidelines.
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