Coach K: Retiring for family, not changing game

Shortly after athletic director Kevin White called Duke’s longtime head coach the “GOAT” and promised a deep NCAA tournament run in the final season of his legendary career, Mike Krzyzewski corrected him.

“You know, my [athletic director], my friend, Kevin White comes up there and he calls me a GOAT,” Krzyzewski joked at the news conference about his retirement on Thursday. “I was glad he didn’t call me a donkey. And then, it’s not about having a run next year. It’s about having a finish, just so we’re on the same wavelength.”

Krzyzewski, who has led Duke to 12 Final Four appearances and five national titles, emphasized his commitment to finishing strong in the upcoming season after announcing Wednesday he would retire, and that assistant Jon Scheyer would replace him, after the 2021-22 campaign. With his family, friends, former players and reporters in the audience, the 74-year-old also made clear that he is retiring to spend more time with his wife, Mickie, and his family, including his three daughters and his grandchildren, not because he fears change in a sport with a record number of transfers and the upcoming name, image and likeness rules.

He said he finalized his decision after last season when he went away with his wife. They then spoke to their children and Duke’s assistants about the move.

“You might ask, ‘Why are you doing this right now?’ Look, this is not about health. Mickie and I, whether we look it or not — she does — whether I look healthy … I am. It’s not about COVID or saying, ‘Boy, that year was so bad.’ It’s not about that. It’s certainly not about what’s going on with college basketball. ‘Boy, the game is changing.’ All right. I’ve been in it for 46 years. You think the game has never changed?”

He later added: “Those aren’t the reasons. … The reason we’re doing this is because Mickie and I have decided the journey is going to be over in a year. And we’re going to go after it as hard as we possibly can.”

Krzyzewski said he thought it was “fair” to announce his decision and the transition to Scheyer before the start of recruiting season. He said he’ll remain a staple within the Duke community but will look to use his additional time to attend his grandchildren’s activities.

At the news conference at Cameron Indoor Stadium, he reflected on the “luck” that had taken him from his playing career at Army under Bob Knight to a stint at Indiana as a graduate assistant with Knight and then back to Army as a head coach and finally to Duke. Krzyzewski mostly maintained his composure at the dais, but his lip trembled as he discussed the people who displayed their faith in him, even as he struggled as a young coach at Duke.

After his first three years at Duke, he had amassed a 38-47 record. Former Duke athletic director Tom Butters, however, continued to support him.

“The guy who had the most belief in me was Tom Butters,” said an emotional Krzyzewski, owner of a record 1,170 Division I wins. “He really believed in me. And he believed in me multiple times. And he gave me this opportunity. After three years, most people wanted that opportunity to go to someone else. I guess that’s a nice way of saying they wanted to get rid of me. But not the guy who believed in me.”

Krzyzewski said he believes in Scheyer’s ability to lead Duke going forward. After Scheyer helped Duke win the 2010 national title as a player, he had a brief professional career before he returned to Duke as an assistant in 2014.

“Jon has done everything, and in the last few years, we’ve taken it up to another level,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s one of the smartest coaches in the country, to be quite frank. Nobody knows that as much as I know it. And [assistants Chris Carrawell and Nolan Smith] know it. The players know it. It’s ironic. He’s 33. I was 33 when I was here. My main wish for him is to not replicate my first three years. That wouldn’t be good. Although, [incoming athletic director Nina King], maybe it would be a time for great belief.”

This season, Krzyzewski will have an opportunity to capture his sixth national title with a top-25 group that will be led by projected lottery pick Paolo Banchero. He said he hopes Cameron Indoor Stadium will be one of America’s loudest venues as fans return in the fall.

Although the succession plan has been solidified at Duke, Krzyzewski reiterated that he’s not done yet.

“A message to our students: Come back in August,” he said. “We’re going to be ready, you be ready, and we’ll see what happens. We’ll see what the hell happens.”