Duke has been held up so conspicuously as a redoubt of virtue that, to some cynics, the team has fallen off the good end of the scale and resurfaced at the other end as repellently unctuous. Krzyzewski has always distanced himself from the simplistic characterizations made by the press, which began in 1986 when "smart" Duke faced "dumb" Louisville in the NCAA title game and recurred ad nauseam at the past two Final Fours when the Blue Devils met devil UNLV. But if such invidious comparisons are drawn, they ought to be qualified. Paradoxically, "easier" young men such as Duke's present certain difficulties. The better off the youngster, the more likely he is to have high-powered and sometimes meddlesome parents. UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian doesn't get calls on Monday mornings from fathers complaining that Junior isn't getting enough minutes at his natural position. Too often, sadly, the players have no fathers to place such calls. At UNLV the transfers come in; at Duke they are more likely to go out, as did former swingman Billy McCaffrey, who at his family's urging transferred last summer to Vanderbilt for more playing time.
"A lot of parents live their lives through these kids," says Krzyzewski. "Sometimes I wish they'd give them a chance to breathe. A kid should have a chance to question things and try to find out who he is, but a lot come here having had it determined for them who they are. Say a player comes into my office and says he's confused because he just made love to a girl for the first time. He feels incredibly good. He feels incredibly guilty. See, I don't expect them to be perfect. I wasn't. There may be people who love them more than I do, but there aren't people who love them the way I do."
Notice how little this conforms to the pedagogy of the Bob Knight School of Coaching. Knight has been the dominant figure in Krzyzewski's career, and Krzyzewski may never break free in the public's mind. "I value Coach Knight very much," says Krzyzewski, whose only absence from the Final Four in the past six years was in '87, when Indiana beat Duke in the Sweet 16. "He's been a tremendous influence on me, mostly in good ways. And there are some things I don't do as a result of being influenced by him. But to keep bringing him up doesn't give credit to the others who've helped me—my mom, my brother, my wife, my AD, my assistants, my buddies. I've been a head coach for 16 years, and I don't go over every game plan with Coach Knight."
People grasp foolishly and unavailingly for the Knight in Krzyzewski, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. It isn't so much that Krzyzewski would rather watch one of his daughters' dance recitals than go on a fishing trip, or that he might cry when a sentimental song comes on the radio. The biggest difference between Krzyzewski and Knight, whose misogynistic excesses are well chronicled, is the role of women in their lives. "[Mike's] is certainly an all-consuming career," says Mickie. "But it's our career. If it were only his, we'd always be at odds." Mickie acts as her husband's business manager, and she and their daughters—Debbie, 21, a junior at Duke; Lindy, 14; and Jamie, 10—make most of the road trips and ride the team bus. "It's probably one of the slickest things he's ever done, and it speaks to his intelligence," says Mickie. "Some people may ask, 'What's the point here? Is this The Cleaver Family Plays Basketball?'' But he never really knew his father, and he wants to make sure he's not a remote figure to his own kids.
"Basically, he doesn't know a thing about women. He didn't have any sisters, and he went to an all-boys high school and to West Point. He's constantly baffled by our daughters. But he comes home to a lot of pink and lace and ruffles."
You see, there never was any Knight shtick. "Over the past few years I've sat for a lot of profiles," Krzyzewski says. "People have wanted to know who I am. It's funny, because my first five years here, nobody wanted my time for any profiles. They knew who I was. I was West Point, Coach Knight, the guy who would come in with pistols blazing, driving a Jeep. Why do any research? They had me pegged."
The press has nursed a need to force the curvilinear student into the mentor's square hole, and that's why the episode with the student newspaper still comes up. It was profane, and on the surface it seemed so totalitarian, so Son of Knight: In January 1990, the Chronicle indulged in an old tabloid sports-section gimmick, assigning a "midterm grade" to each Blue Devil. Though none received anything lower than a C plus, Krzyzewski called the responsible reporters and editors into the locker room and, in front of the team, delivered a blunt eight-minute dressing down. One of the students captured Krzyzewski's remarks on tape, and when the real-world Durham Morning Herald published a transcript, the coach became the consensus heavy.
Distraught, Krzyzewski broke down in his boss's office. He apologized to Butters for having embarrassed the school and to the Chronicle staff for his language. He had always thought of student journalists as peers of his players, and in happier times he had treated them as such, granting them access that other reporters never enjoyed. The way he saw it, if the Chronicle staff was professional, that meant his team was professional—and Krzyzewski knew that wasn't true. Duke thrilled him because he believed every student was there to learn and every opportunity to teach was worth seizing. "I wasn't trying to control the press," he says. "I just wanted to say, 'Here are the kids you're grading. Here are their faces. When you write, you're writing about people.' My language wasn't good. But I was disturbed that we had gotten to the point where their fellow students were instruments of entertainment and ego indulgence."
It still bothers Krzyzewski that after apologizing, he never got an apology for having been taped. But that's not what bothers him most. What bothers him most is that one of his players, Greg Koubek, got a B. "Koubek," Krzyzewski says, "deserved an A."
It seems remarkable, given the apparently perfect match of man and place, that the Chronicle incident drove Krzyzewski to consider leaving Duke before all the failures could accumulate into the critical mass of a national title. To be sure, other disappointments during that 1989-90 season contributed to his dissatisfaction. For the first time some of Krzyzewski's players stumbled academically. One flunked out, two more didn't graduate on time, and a fourth, Phil Henderson, still hasn't earned his degree. (Until he does, Krzyzewski won't permit the raising of the 1990 Final Four banner in Cameron Indoor Stadium.) The final game of the regular season, a nationally televised 12-point loss to North Carolina at home, shook him too. He could deal with the whupping UNLV would dole out a month later in Denver, for that would be a simple matter of getting beaten. But against UNC he felt his players had quit on him. Mickie spent a good hour in the locker room afterward, helping Mike through the betrayal he felt. When the Boston Celtics came calling over the summer, he gave them a listen.