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Duke's Mike Krzyzewski Plans To Retire After Upcoming Basketball Season


Big news in the world of college sports - Mike Krzyzewski, the head men's basketball coach at Duke University, announced he's going to retire at the end of the upcoming season. Coach K as he's known has won more games than any other college basketball coach ever. Here's WUNC's Dave DeWitt.

DAVE DEWITT, BYLINE: On March 18, 1980, a young man with a funny name was introduced to a small group of reporters as the new coach at Duke University. His first order of business...


MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: First of all, it's K-R-Z-Y-Z-E-W-S-K-I.

DEWITT: It's impossible to overstate how unknown Mike Krzyzewski was when he took over the men's basketball program at Duke. He had spent five years as the Army coach at West Point, his alma mater, and had a decent but unspectacular record. Coach K struggled in his first three years at Duke and calls grew for him to be fired. Johnny Dawkins, Krzyzewski's first star player, remembers those years in the documentary "The Class That Saved Coach K."


JOHNNY DAWKINS: Even some of the losses, you know - I mean, we grew from those experiences. I mean, you know, some of those things shaped us and prepared us for what we were able to do later.

DEWITT: Later came when Dawkins was a senior. Duke won 37 games and finished as national runner-up. That run saved Coach K's job, but he was far from content. After several frustrating close calls, the Blue Devils finally broke through with a 1991 NCAA semi-final win over then-undefeated UNLV, as called by CBS' Jim Nantz and Billy Packer.


JIM NANTZ: Hunt will have to do something.

BILLY PACKER: Took a three.

NANTZ: Forces a three. Off the back of the...

PACKER: Pass it long.

NANTZ: Hurley's got it.

PACKER: Holding.

NANTZ: Duke has done it. Duke has upset UNLV.

DEWITT: That win preceded the first national title a few nights later and a second the very next season. Krzyzewski would add three more championships over the next 30 or so years. Only twice over that span, in 1995 and last season, did Duke fail to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Jay Bilas, an ESPN basketball analyst who played on that team that saved Coach K in the '80s, took to Twitter to praise his old coach.


JAY BILAS: I think it's the most impactful coaching career we've ever seen, frankly, because it went on for so long at such a level of excellence. And Coach K did it all on television, the internet, social media, you name it.

DEWITT: Krzyzewski has shown a remarkable ability to innovate and adjust over his 46-year career. In addition to his college success, he coached NBA players to three Olympic gold medals for Team USA. He later flourished in the era of college players, staying only one season before heading to the NBA. Zion Williamson was one of those so-called one-and-dones. He talked about Krzyzewski near the end of his only season in Durham in 2019.


ZION WILLIAMSON: I think the way he's able to adjust every year with different teams and different players, and the way he was able to always keep us motivated, like, for every single game I think is, like, second to none.

DEWITT: After Krzyzewski spelled his own name at that first introductory press conference in 1980, he sat with local TV reporters. One asked if he was surprised to have been offered the job at Duke, and Krzyzewski replied he had a gut feeling about it.


KRZYZEWSKI: The kind of situation where you feel that things are right for you. And I felt that Duke was right for me, and I hope I'm right for Duke.

DEWITT: The next coach may also be right for Duke. When he steps down after this season, Krzyzewski will hand off the program to a former player and his current associate head coach, Jon Scheyer. And just for the record, that's spelled S-C-H-E-Y-E-R.

For NPR News, I'm Dave DeWitt in Durham, N.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF SABZI SONG, "SMOKER'S COUGH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Feature News Editor. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
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