The other four starters still have their hold on him. He took to Beijing a snippet of Jamie's old blanket, the one with lollipops on it that she'd once worn like a cape around the house and called my Power.
And the Krzyzewski women know that there's no telling what will turn on his taps. Sometimes despair does it. (He cried in the shower after a 17-point loss at Princeton in 1981.) Sometimes a combination of relief and gratitude does it. (He cried in athletic director Tom Butters's office after three straight conference losses in '84—when Butters, instead of firing him, gave him a five-year contract extension.) Sometimes simple sentimentality does it. (He cried after the national semifinals at the '89 Final Four, not because the Blue Devils had just lost to Seton Hall but because he realized he'd never be coaching his seniors again.) And Bob Knight has driven him to it again and again, for every sort of emotional reason, most recently by offering a congratulatory hug after Krzyzewski broke his record.
"When he does retire, I fear for him," Jamie says. "There's a weight he will carry wanting to make sure that not just Duke is O.K., and his legacy and his program and all that, but that every single person is O.K. and in a good spot. 'I need to get him a job and I need to do this for her and I need to make sure that this person's child is seeing the right doctor'—I think it's going to be a huge burden. That is my fear for him."
SI has honored four college basketball coaches with this award, and for each the path to glory began as a calvary. John Wooden reached only one Final Four during his first 15 seasons at UCLA before winning the first of 10 championships. Dean Smith, who came up empty in his first six Final Fours, was famously hung in effigy. Like Pat Summitt's seven frustrating trips to the Final Four before her first title, Mike Krzyzewski made four unsuccessful visits of his own.
Four hundred and eighty-six: That's how many games Krzyzewski and Summitt, together, have lost. It's often enough to learn that failure has its value. "Nothing improves a team, or a person, more," she says. "[Losing] forces self-examination, it reveals flaws and, if you choose to learn from it, it inspires something better."
"We all lose," he says. "Any coach who's considered special takes the responsibility for losing much more than the responsibility for winning. Many factors go into why we win, but when we lose it's my fault, because I'm the person in charge."
In 1996--97 the Lady Vols lost 10 games on their way to an NCAA title, a record so ugly that Summitt couldn't bear to have it engraved on their championship rings. But Tennessee played 15 of the top 20 teams in the country that season. Only a coach who understands the value of a loss would schedule that way. Indeed, a year later the Lady Vols went 39--0, winning more games than any team ever, men or women, at the Division I level, as Summitt happily ceded control. In that do-si-do—from her yelling at her players, to her players figuratively whooping out in front of her, as they attacked on offense and pressed on defense, she watched them make a treasure of her losses.
Krzyzewski regularly scores his greatest successes after his biggest failures. Following a 30-point loss to UNLV in the 1990 title game, his teams found a way to win the next two. From the nadir of '94--95, the Blue Devils performed steadily better until winning another championship in 2001. Team USA's two international golds followed a haunting loss to Greece in the medal round of the '06 worlds, when Krzyzewski was still shimmying up his global learning curve. And one year after a 23-point loss to Villanova in the semifinals of the '09 East Regional, many of the same players who had struggled that night delivered Duke's fourth NCAA crown.
A season is a lifetime, Krzyzewski likes to say, and whether you win or lose that last game, you're born again. You go back to work—back to applying standards and discipline and showing empathy and emotion. Not that she doesn't have the latter two in spades, as that charter-jet flight attendant can testify; and not that he, with his West Point pedigree and time spent with Knight and Iba and Newell, doesn't have the former two too.