Marquette hires 'Wojo' from Duke
Having spent all but a few months of the last 20 years at Duke, Steve Wojciechowski proved himself picky about any potential job opportunities.
Over what he called a whirlwind last few days, Marquette and Milwaukee, Wis., proved strong enough to finally lure him from Durham.
Marquette finalized a deal Tuesday morning that made Wojciechowski the school’s 17th head basketball coach. The school becomes the first college other than Duke that he will represent on the court.
“Duke has been great for me,” the 37-year-old Wojciechowski said during his introductory news conference in Milwaukee. “It’s a place where I grew up and had amazing relationships. It made me better every day. I wasn’t going to leave for just any job. I was only going to leave for a job that I felt is the perfect job for me. I felt like Marquette is that place. That’s why I’m so excited about it.”
A player at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski from 1994-98 and a Duke assistant for the last 15 years, Wojciechowski at Marquette replaces Buzz Williams, who became Virginia Tech’s head coach last week.
Marquette went 17-15 this season, missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005, but has a strong basketball tradition that includes three Final Fours and the 1977 NCAA championship.
A small, private, Jesuit school in the Midwest, Marquette doesn’t field a football team. The school’s academic standing and its commitment to basketball were pluses that swayed Wojciechowski when past opportunities haven’t.
“I didn’t leave the job with the guy I was working for at my alma mater to go to a place that I couldn’t see my family at for a long, long time,” Wojciechowski said. “I believe in this place.”
Mike Lovell, named Marquette’s president-elect just six days ago, said all of the finalists considered for the job had head coaching experience — except Wojciechowski. Marquette considered former Pittsburgh and UCLA coach Ben Howland and met with Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin on Sunday.
Wojciechowski interviewed on Monday and won the job.
“He’s a winner on the court with all the values that we expect at Marquette University,” Lovell said. “Our values aligned on so many levels. He’s the ultimate competitor who knows how to win. He has level of charisma that one of his former players described as a fireball of energy.”
Lovell and Marquette interim athletics director Bill Cords said Krzyzewski’s recommendation carried considerable weight. They also heard great things about Wojciechowski from USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo.
Wojciechowski and Northwestern head coach Chris Collins, a former Duke assistant, ran practice drills for the U.S. Olympic teams in 2008 and 2012 when they won gold medals with Krzyzewski as their head coach.
Cords said one particular line from Krzyzewski stood out to him.
“For him to say `I have become a better coach over the last 10 years because Steve was beside me’ speaks volumes,” Cords said.
Having absorbed so much from Krzyzewski over the last two decades, Wojciechowski said he’ll carry important lessons into his new job.
“What I have learned from him both as a player and a coach has been invaluable,” Wojciechowski said. “He’s allowed me to understand just how fun and exciting the game of basketball is. When used the right way, it can change your life.”
Wojciechowski shared some facts about his life that bring that last point home. His parents, a longshoreman and a homemaker from Maryland, didn’t attend college. He was a first generation college graduate thanks to his Duke basketball scholarship.
Growing up without the privilege generally associated with Duke students taught Wojciechowski about hard work.
“My parents are amazing,” Wojciechowski said. “I would wish every kid would have parents that set the example and walked the walk like I did.”
Wojciechowski still keeps his father’s hard hat in his home as a reminder.
“He showed up to work every day,” Wojciechowski said. “That’s what I’m going to do.”
As for replacing Wojciechowski on Duke’s staff, Krzyzewski will consider Jon Scheyer, a star on Duke’s 2010 NCAA championship team who just completed his first year as a special assistant coach.
The Blue Devils still have Jeff Capel and Nate James, two former Duke players who each have a decade of coaching experience, as assistant coaches.
This marks the second offseason in a row that Krzyzewski has lost a longtime, trusted aide to a head coaching job. Collins took over Northwestern’s program one year ago this week.