Mike Krzyzewski's 20 Best Quotes from His Time as Duke's Coach
Great men are often associated with great actions or great words. Mike Krzyzewski is no different.
Love him or loathe him, no one can deny that Krzyzewski, who is on the cusp of becoming Division I college basketball's all-time winningest coach, falls in those ranks.
He has done and said some memorable things over his time at Duke. And while there is no way to capture them all, here is a look at a few of those memorable quotes and the circumstances behind them.
On Defending "Our House"
"The signing of the floor was not about Maryland or any particular opponent. It's about us. It's about us reminding each other that this is our floor, and we don't take it for granted. That's the only thing.”
Duke famously signed the center of Cameron Indoor Stadium's Coach K court prior to a game against ACC rival Maryland.
The Blue Devils had gone a stretch of time having lost to the Terps on their famous home court, and used this moment as an opportunity to dedicate themselves to protecting their home floor.
"It's always an honor to be ranked high, but whatever is said about you, you take it and then take a realistic look at yourself and who you are. I would look at us and say we've got a chance (to win it all).”
Duke has spent a lot of time ranked No. 1 or at least very highly over Krzyzewski's 30 plus seasons, but it always seems to matter more to fans and writers.
"When we don't match another team's intensity—that doesn't happen very often—then all of a sudden we do 'J.J.-watching,' where we're watching J.J. play. We might as well get tickets and sit behind the bench. No one is doing anything out there.”
Intensity and playing up to each opponent is critical to Mike Krzyzewski's game plan. But Duke is not always perfect, and no one knows better than the coach.
When the Blue Devils play as one, they typically win. When they rely on one or two players to do everything, they often don't.
On How Wins Hide Weaknesses
"It's not like we have not had close games. We've just been able to win them, and as a result, the reality sometimes doesn't set in that you're weak in certain areas or you're not doing certain things well. ...When you win, sometimes it overshadows a poor performance.”
Krzyzewski knows that wins are great but can often cover up flaws. Duke has won 26 games this season, but in each game there are things Krzyzewski may have liked the team to do better.
So while fans always just look at the end result, Krzyzewski is always looking at the big picture to help the team improve.
On Playing for the Name of the Front of the Jersey
"We were not worthy of our jerseys, our Duke jerseys, in the first half.”
Earlier this season Duke played Michigan State in what Krzyzewski called a program game. He is all about having his team play for Duke and not themselves.
The above quote was clearly given after his Blue Devils played less than Duke-like in the first half of a game a few years back.
"We lost, and that's the main thing that went wrong,”
Krzyzewski knows very well you can't win every game. Sometimes losses have little explanation other than things just didn't go right.
"The truth is that many people set rules to keep from making decisions.”
His background shows in this quote. Having served in the military where rules are present, but decisions are required, Krzyzewski has shown the ability to balance the two, and it has proven to be a successful balance.
On Winning National Titles
"Once you win a National Championship, how do you do that again? How do you get the passion to do that again? We won it again right away, the next year. A lot of it had to do with the fact that I didn't give myself an opportunity to enjoy the first one."
The knock on Krzyzewski for a while is that he couldn't win the big one. After he won the National Title in 1991 and then again in 1992, fans almost expected it to happen every year.
Those on the outside often don't realize how hard it is, or how hard the team and coaches work at it.
"Parents can really help, but they can also really hinder the development of their youngsters."
Coaches nowadays must deal with the ever present Little League parent. Krzyzewski has seen a few of those over his time at Duke.
In most cases, when the kid listens to their parents' idea of him as a basketball player over the coaches, things don't always pan out for them.
On Being a Teacher
"That's what I do now: I lead and I teach. If we win basketball games from doing that, then that's great, but I lead and teach. Those are the two things I concentrate on."
Having said that he had grown up wanting to be a high school teacher, it is no surprise that Krzyzewski views himself as a teacher.
"The life expectancy of a team is about eight months. Then the next year, it's a whole new team."
Krzyzewski treats every team as a different group even if many of the players are the same. This above all else may help lead to how successful Duke has become.
No player ever has to worry about being compared by the coach to someone from the past. They get to develop into their own player if they work hard enough.
On Playing as a Team
"A basketball team is like the five fingers on your hand. If you can get them all together, you have a fist. That's how I want you to play."
When Duke is at its best, all five players on the court are playing as one.
This isn't a novel concept and most coaches are aware of it; just not everyone is as good as Krzyzewski is at making it a reality.
On "The Shot"
"Actually, the Kentucky moment was better than winning the two National Championships, because it was the epitome of what I try to get from a team in a crisis situation."
The shot propelled Duke to the Final Four and back-to-back National Titles. It also taught every coach around the country to guard the man throwing the ball inbounds.
"Everybody wants to take responsibility when you win, but when you fail, all these fingers are pointing."
Fans often like to make excuses and place the blame, but Mike Krzyzewski is all about taking responsibility for himself and his players.
When the team loses, it lost together, not through one player's folly.
On Communicating and Respect
"I have a rule on my team: when we talk to one another, we look each other right in the eye, because I think it's tough to lie to somebody. You give respect to somebody."
Clearly influenced by his time in the U.S. Army, Krzyzewski demands yet gives respect through affective communication.
"I'm fortunate now that I coach at Duke University and we've won a lot. I have some kids who haven't failed that much. But when they get to college, they're going to fail some time. That's a thing that I can help them the most with."
Krzyzewski wants to win every game and he recruits kids that are used to winning every game. But he, unlike many of his players and some fans, realizes that losses happen and so does failure.
On Losing Big
"Here's to a night we will never forget."
Krzyzewski said as much following a get together after a 109-66 loss to Virginia in the ACC Tournament.
A friend proposed that supporters or the program pledge to forget the night, but Krzyzewski would have none of it. He wanted the sting of the defeat to resonate in his players, staff, fans and himself for a long time to come.
On Starting a Season
“I try to see each new season as a new challenge because I have a new team to work with, new opponents to encounter and often new ideas and theories to try.”
Krzyzewski made it clear at the beginning of the 2010-11 season that Duke wasn't trying to defend the National Championship.
He has preferred to think of it as pursuing the title with a new team.
“A common mistake among those who work in sport is spending a disproportional amount of time on “x’s and o’s” as compared to time spent learning about people.”
Krzyzewski has always emphasized relationships over pure basketball strategy. Most players would probably agree that their relationship with Krzyzewski made their experience at Duke just as much as the winning.
On Coach K Court
“My love for Duke and this building and the people in it–I can’t love it more. And so to have my name on the court is great...and I’ll try to continue to honor that court in the way we have.”
Krzyzewski made this statement when the court in Cameron Indoor Stadium was dedicated in his honor and officially designated Coach K court.