Coach K: Lessons From The Duke Basketball Legend

This article is sponsored by Delta Air Lines.

Delta Air Lines presents “Guiding Greatness:” a series of videos with some of the top men’s basketball coaches in the country about leadership on and off the court, and there couldn’t have been a better place to start than with Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The fact that a name so complex as “Mike Krzyzewski” can be recognized and pronounced across the nation speaks volumes about Coach K’s prestige, but after five National Championships, 12 Final Four appearances, 12 ACC regular season titles and 13 ACC postseason tournaments it would be impossible to forget.

Coach K gained another prestigious title in 2001 as an inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Since then? He’s accrued two National Championships, a pair of Olympic Gold medals and two FIBA World Championships.

Krzyzewski points to his foundations, built by his family and West Point, to explain how he was guided to greatness.

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“I know is that my family put me in a great position,” said Krzyzewski. “As a result, family, for me, has always been important. I really was never afraid to fail, because in their eyes, attempting to do something even if you didn’t get it done was not failure. Not attempting to do something was failure. I think that’s something that should be taught more: you may not win, but not attempting to try to win is the failure.”

Coach K took those values and applied them at West Point, something that he calls the ‘best thing that ever happened’ to him.

“Going to West Point gave me an opportunity to be proud every day of my life,” said Krzyzewski. “I think that’s what people need to do, is to try to find the best environment where you can grow. That environment is usually with people who have high standards, high work ethic and ability to share.”

Krzyzewski has been the Head Coach of the Duke University men’s basketball program since 1980, after five years as the Head Coach at Army, and he’s accumulated the most wins as a Head Coach in Division One Men’s Basketball history.

In his first three seasons at the helm of Duke, Coach K endured a few pedestrian seasons, especially by his standards. He didn’t amass more than 20 wins in any of his initial three years, but the next two years Duke made the NCAA Tournament and was cultivating something special. Those years led to the 1985-86 rendition of Duke University basketball, the team that he says is responsible for setting up all of the greatness that’s occurred since that year.

“They were the class that started everything for me,” said Krzyzewkski.

That season Duke won 37 games, which still stands as the most victories in a single season in the legendary coach’s career, and took him on his first deep NCAA Tournament run. They lost in the National Championship game to Louisville 72-69. If Krzyzewski could change any single result in his coaching career, he says that’d be the game.

“No team was more deserving of winning,” said Krzyzewski. “But what they did was they set the path, they showed the way. For 30 years since then, 11 other Duke teams have gone to the Final Four, five of them have won national championships. But it started there and what we learned from them was the blueprint of who we should recruit, how we should coach and the fact that we could do it.”

That Duke team was the first that guided greatness, greatness that has been constant to this day, greatness that cannot be deterred, greatness that cannot be stopped.

“Our program is on a continuum: it doesn’t stop,” said Krzyzewski. “And it certainly doesn’t stop on a loss, or a setback. It’s not what we’re built to do.”

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