Disappointing 2011-12 season fueled Coach K’s Olympics doubts
Mike Krzyzewski’s decision whether or not to continue coaching the U.S. Olympic team hinged not as much on his success or failure with that group as it did on the job he thought he was doing at Duke.
And, after his 2011-12 Blue Devils saw their season end with a shocking NCAA Tournament upset loss to Lehigh, Krzyzewski had doubts.
Yes, the man with more wins than any other Division I men’s basketball coach wasn’t sure he was performing well enough to continue either job.
During an interview Friday, the 66-year-old Krzyzewski told The Herald-Sun that he questioned his effectiveness after the Blue Devils went 27-7 – the only Duke team over the past five seasons that failed to win 30 games or win an NCAA Tournament game.
“I didn’t think I did a real good job,” Krzyzewski said. “I mean, the kids were good. But we didn’t get it. We just didn’t get it. So you start saying ‘Are you getting it?’ When something occurs like that, the very first thing you look at when you are the leader is the leader. Like are you as passionate? Did you want to prepare as much?”
That Duke team went into its regular-season finale with North Carolina needing a win to win the ACC regular-season championship. Instead, the Tar Heels walked off the Cameron Indoor Stadium court with a resounding 88-70 win.
The Blue Devils lost 62-59 to Florida State in the ACC Tournament semifinals and were a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But 15th-seeded Lehigh stunned Duke 75-70 at the Greensboro Coliseum on March 16, 2012.
Krzyzewski didn’t really have much time to fret over that loss. With the 2012 London Olympics set for July, he had to ramp up preparation to coach the U.S. team.
“We went into the Olympics,” Krzyzewski said. “So from the end of that year until the Olympics I was saying ‘I don’t know. If I screwed up this this bad, I’m not screwing up the Olympics.’
“I was in that phase, not where I felt I was old or I couldn’t do it. But if I don’t have what I think is ‘it’ to be deserving of something really good, then I shouldn’t be doing this.”
In that mindset, Krzyzewski repeatedly said he didn’t plan to stay on as U.S. Olympic coach after the London games were over.
Even after he led the Americans to a second consecutive gold medal, he returned home and announced during a press conference at RDU Airport that it was time for someone else to coach the team.
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo heard those words, but he hadn’t yet had a heart-to-heart with Krzyzewski about whether or not to coach the 2016 Olympic team.
At the same time, Krzyzewski’s doubts about the job he was doing at Duke never reached the level where athletics director Kevin White got out his list of possible successors to study it.
That said, the feelings were real.
“I didn’t even talk to Colangelo about it,” Krzyzewski said. “I was just going through a period where I wanted to make sure because Duke University and our basketball program and definitely the United States basketball team needs whoever is going to be the leader to be someone who is on top, still willing to pay all of the sacrifices.”
Krzyzewski went into the 2012-13 Duke basketball season still searching for those answers. During the six months from October 2012 through last March, they arrived.
Duke went 30-6, riding strong leadership and solid play from senior captains Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight.
“I loved my team last year,” Krzyzewski said.
His faith restored, he told Colangelo in May that he would stay on for another run coaching the U.S. Olympic team.
“It wasn’t just last year’s team, it was more of an evolution,” Krzyzewski said. “But certainly last year’s team helped. Because I loved last year’s team and the leadership I got from my seniors. It was more of an evolution of things.”
Krzyzewski said that, even had he chosen to leave coaching, he wouldn't have left Duke because he loves the school so much. But none of this is a concern any longer. He plans to be on the Blue Devils’ sidelines at least through 2016 when his current term as U.S. Olympic coach runs out. And perhaps longer.