Mike Krzyzewski, college basketball’s winningest coach who is retiring from North Carolina after leading his team to an epic career ending loss on Monday night. With a 4-6 record in conference play and the NCAA tournament out of reach, it was time for Coach K to walk off into the sunset with this statement: “I’m proud of what these guys have done.”
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana — Mike Krzyzewski strolled to the stage in a temporary media room at the Superdome after Duke’s 81-77 defeat to North Carolina in the Final Four — precisely four weeks after the Tar Heels ruined his last home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium — and spoke after his 47-year career came to an end.
But he was uninterested in discussing his legacy or career, which ended in a defeat to his biggest opponent in New Orleans.
“First and foremost, I want to congratulate North Carolina,” Krzyzewski said. “Hubert and his team, as well as those youngsters, have worked really hard, and tonight was a struggle. It was a game in which the winner would be ecstatic and the loser would be in excruciating pain. And that’s the kind of game we were anticipating. We would have like to be on the other side, but I’m happy of what our lads have accomplished.”
He said, ” “It isn’t about me, at least not right now. I’m just worried about these individuals. I mean, [they] were already sobbing on the court, and that’s all I can think of right now.”
Krzyzewski said in June that the 2021-22 season would be his last and that he will be replaced by assistant Jon Scheyer. Along with John Wooden, the renowned UCLA coach who won 10 national titles in a 12-year span, he is often regarded as the best coach in collegiate basketball history, with 1,202 victories, 13 ACC crowns, and five national Championships.
Saturday marked the conclusion of Krzyzewski’s 47-year tenure, which includes 42 seasons at Duke.
Krzyzewski took his first head coaching position in 1975 at Army, where he stayed for five seasons until joining Duke for the 1980-81 season. Krzyzewski was on the hot seat after three seasons at Duke in which he finished below.500 in league play. But in his sixth season, he led the program to the national championship game, beginning a reign that would last decades.
Krzyzewski was hired as a Division I coach more than a decade before the NCAA established the three-point line in 1986, and he excelled throughout the one-and-done era. The Duke squad that reached the Final Four this season was Krzyzewski’s youngest to date.
Prior to Saturday’s Final Four matchup, Duke and North Carolina had never played in the NCAA tournament.
When questioned about delivering Krzyzewski his last defeat, Hubert Davis replied, “That’s something I never thought about and will never think about.” “All I can think about right now is these players. Coach K is incredible, and their squad is the greatest we’ve faced thus far. Tonight, we simply happened to make a few more plays.”
While he was unhappy in the defeat, Krzyzewski claimed the game had lived up to the expectations, with both teams trading leads in the waning minutes.
“Those youngsters on both sides gave it their all, and the spectators stood for the most of the game,” he remarked. “It was a fantastic game that lived up to the [buzz]…. I’m proud of my teammates. We had a few of opportunities in the closing few minutes, but they were decent ones.”
Krzyzewski repeatedly told reporters that he will reflect on his career and legacy at a later time and place, but he wanted to concentrate on the players who were dealing with their emotions after Saturday’s defeat.
Paolo Banchero remarked after the game, “We gave it our all, and it stinks we came up short, but I’m pleased of the effort we put in and the manner we went out.”
College basketball will now continue ahead without Krzyzewski, who has served as a guiding light for the sport for almost four decades.
In his debut game as a college coach, he guided Army to a 56-29 victory against Lehigh on Nov. 28, 1975.
In the last game of his career, his Duke team lost 81-77 to North Carolina on Saturday.
“I’ll be alright,” remarked Krzyzewski. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the ring. And when you’re in the arena, you’ll either feel terrific or in pain, but you’ll always feel great about being there. And I’m sure that’ll be the thing I miss when I look back. I’m not going to be in the arena any longer. But, wow, I was in the arena for quite some time. And these youngsters made my final appearance in the arena unforgettable.”
Then, when his wife, Mickie, went through the black curtain with family and friends in tow, Krzyzewski proceeded down a set of steps into a waiting room.
Coach K had vanished.