Mike Krzyzewski still gets unsettled when he's misquoted in print as referring to Knight as anything but "Coach." Krzyzewski was more than Knight's captain at Army: When Krzyzewski's dad died during Mike's senior year, Knight went to Chicago to be with Mike and his mother, Emily, for the funeral, missing three days of practice. It may have been because of the Knight connection, or just his West Point pedigree, but Krzyzewski recalls that when he went to Duke, "People expected me to drive up in a Jeep wearing fatigues."
In fact, Krzyzewski brought with him to Duke an even-tempered accessibility that has disarmed just about everyone, including Knight, who at first didn't approve of the fact that Krzyzewski has so involved his wife, Mickie, in his coachly life. "I try to put myself in her shoes," Mike says. "Mickie has talent. If I had talent, I wouldn't want to be just a housewife. If you don't set up outlets for talent, people get frustrated and grow apart." She helps out with his TV show and summer camp, and travels to most away games.
When Krzyzewski was hired in 1980, there was skepticism about his recruiting ability. Could he get people for Duke, a demanding school with a small in-state constituency? The doubts mounted after he came close on six kids his first recruiting season but signed none. He bagged half a dozen blue-chippers the following season and has collected an embarrassment of riches ever since. "Coach always gets on me for being a recruiter," Krzyzewski says. "But I'll tell him that at least I know my deficiencies as a coach can be overcome if I get better talent. The biggest adjustments were to go after fewer people, and go after them our own way. We have the best academic and basketball combination in the country. I never have to knock another school when I recruit. That's the way it should be."
Jim Crews is a Midwestern kid, the prototype of the scrappy player Knight chooses to try to win with at Indiana. He has spent 12 of the past 13 seasons with Knight at IU, four as part of Knight's first recruiting class, a group that won 108 of 120 games, and eight more as an assistant. His was the longest apprenticeship of the Knight aides who have gone it alone. "I was a slow learner," he says. One lesson Crews has learned by rote: "I asked him, 'Can I go to a Division I school, not cheat and still win? Not you,' I reminded him. 'Me.' And he paused and thought about it. And he said, 'Yes, if you work hard enough.' And I believe him.
"You know, if Coach Knight kept secrets, he'd be unbeatable."
Knight doesn't keep many secrets, and he certainly doesn't keep them from his star pupils. Knight, you see, is a constant pupil himself as the best teachers always are. "He listens well," says Crews, "and he has a great hunger for knowledge." And he seeks it from men like Pete Newell, Hank Iba, and Everett Dean, men who stand in relation to him as he does to his brood. At every Final Four, Knight assembles his elders for an evening of professional camaraderie and brain picking. And he always invites his youngers to participate. "He's a big history guy," Krzyzewski says. "And what better history books are there than Hank Iba and Pete Newell and Everett Dean?"
Add to that list the name of Professor Robert Montgomery Knight. Lecturer emeritus in Spleen. It may require some revisionism on our part to suddenly think of Mr. Chip-On-His-Shoulder as Mr. Chips. After all, of the many remarkable things he has done, very few have been done with grace. Still, somehow, it's not impossible to imagine him growing old with it.