Excerpted from Duke Sucks, Reed Tucker and Andy Bagwell's thorough charge-by-charge frisking of the worst college basketball program known to man, which is out now.
Charge #9: [This charge has been redacted for fear that Coach K might call us and scorch the earth with f-bombs for twenty minutes.]
There's really no way to sugarcoat this for sensitive palates, so we're just going to come out and say it. Coach K is probably not the sweet hoops coach/business genius/grandfather-of-five that he, the media, the Duke basketball information office, Nike, Chevy, and American Express would like you to believe he is. In truth, he's probably kind of a jerk. Or a nickname-for-Richard. Take your pick.
Of all the high-profile coaches in the games, is there one you'd less like to spend a night drinking beer and playing Boggle with?
Okay, Rick Barnes, but after that? Really think about it for a minute.
On the likeability index, Coach K rates somewhere between Chris Brown and whoever runs Uzbekistan's intelligence agency. Krzyzewski is prickly. He takes himself way too seriously. His ego is inflated. He must be a little paranoid—a fingerprint scan is required to open the elevator doors to his office. No one would describe his sense of humor as "winning." He seems constantly in a bad mood and is quick to anger. He once told the media that he agreed with a player's assessment that his teammates were all a bunch of "fucking babies."
In the Old West, he'd be called "ornery." He's like one of those villainous dads from every high-school movie—the retired military man who makes his son's life miserable because of his unbending code of discipline. Hell, he probably uses military time. ("Practice is at oh-nine-hundred, sharp!")
Here's a fun little exercise you can do yourself. Pull up a Google images search for "Mike Krzyzewski" and look what you come up with. See all those photos of him frowning or yelling? Keep scanning. Do you see any of him smiling? We mean, aside from his official university head shot where they probably ordered him to seem halfway cuddly? Do you see any candid photos of him on the sideline, out in the real world or at a press conference smiling? You don't. He looks downright constipated in most of the pictures.
But so what? He's an intense guy, we get it. That's probably, in part, how he's able to win so many games.
And that would be just fine, except that like so much when it comes to Duke, there's an element of hypocrisy here. You don't have to look too deep into Coach K before you realize that there's a huge disconnect between the guy's public image and the real person. Here's a man who the Sporting News dubbed "what's right about sports." Here's a man who's beatified during practically every telecast. Here's a man who smugly intoned during his awful American Express TV commercial a few years ago, "I don't look at myself as a basketball coach. I look at myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball."
And when it comes to leadership, this guy is clearly more Dick Nixon than George H. W. Bush.
"I guess the thing that surprised me the most was you don't realize how much he curses and how much he's on the refs all the time," says former UNC guard Bobby Frasor. "I remember someone telling me about [former Duke player] Taylor King during his freshman year and how he thought his name was ‘motherfucker,' because that's how Coach K got his attention. I don't know how true it is. I mean, he's a great coach and I'm not going to deny that at all, but the way he handles his players or acts with the refs and media, sometimes it kind of rubs people the wrong way."
A New York Post reporter, sitting behind Duke's bench during a 2005 game, described the proceedings during a team huddle thusly:
Krzyzewski himself was an unfiltered Chris Rock concert for much of the day, but one of his assistants was worse. During one timeout, with the starters sitting on the bench, gulping Gatorade, this was his idea of "coaching" them: "You're a bleep, and you're a bleep, and you're a bleeping bleep-bleeper of a bleeper-bleeper. You bleepers don't bleeping deserve to wear the bleeping colors of Duke University! Bleep! Are you bleeping bleeping me? Bleep all of you. Get out of my bleeping faces."
At which point, he was replaced by Krzyzewski, whose assessment was far more succinct: "You bleeping make me bleeping sick."
That's more bleeps than a Source Awards telecast.
"His mouth is terrible. He has that reputation. You don't want kids sitting behind the bench, that's for sure," says former UNC guard Dewey Burke. "It takes a certain kind of player to deal with that over the course of four years. As players sitting around, yeah, we'll talk about how I don't know how I could play for a guy like that."
One of Coach K's tried-and-true motivating tactics is reportedly to completely blast the freshmen and other weak-link players during practice, only to later send a senior over to the player's room to explain why he was so angry.
After a particularly poor 2005 workout, during which Coach K reamed his players in front of more than two hundred invited guests, including NCAA president Myles Brand, forward Lee Melchionni told Sports Illustrated, "That's one thing about the Duke program: You're always going to get the absolute truth from Coach. You may go back to your dorm room and cry, but you're going to come back the next day and be better because of it."
And it's not just his players that he can be peevish with. It's also members of the media, whose existence Coach K seems to barely tolerate.
How many other head coaches won't deign to spend fifteen seconds with the designated TV sideline reporter at halftime, dispatching a lowly assistant instead?
"I don't agree with coaches doing that. It's a philosophical thing," Coach K has said. "The only people I should talk to are my players."
About the only time anyone gets access to the coach is during the postgame press conference, which can often turn churlish.
"Obviously, you didn't see the game tonight, okay?" Krzyzewski snapped, interrupting a journalist who was asking about Duke losing a lead during a 2004 game versus UConn. "Which question would you want me to answer?" he later barked.
During a 2008 press session for the U.S. Olympic team, the coach ridiculed a foreign journalist who asked in hesitant English whether the American team was showing off by dunking too much.
"There was no showing off," K said defensively, glaring at the journalist. "You dunk when you have to dunk. Maybe it's a difference in our languages. Maybe in your language playing hard means showing off."
And then there was Krzyzewski's most infamous run-in with the media—the student media, that is. In 1990, the coach blew his stack after a student sports reporter in the university newspaper dared to give his team a B+ midseason grade.
He summoned ten newspaper staffers to the locker room and let loose with an eight-minute profanity-laced tirade that would have given a gentler man a stroke.
Unbeknownst to K, one of the reporters secretly recorded the blowup with a tape recorder hidden in his bag.
Coach K began by calling the midseason report card "full of shit," and went on to whine, "I just wonder where your mindset is that you don't appreciate the kids in this locker room. I'm not looking for puff pieces or anything like that, but you're whacked out and you don't appreciate what the fuck is going on and it pisses me off—I'm suggesting that if you want to appreciate what's going on—get your head out of your ass and start looking out for what's actually happening."
Another coach might have been fired for a blue-streaked outburst against—again—student reporters. And not only students, but ones at his own school. But Coach K's reputation took only the slightest ding. Dick Vitale was probably on the air that very night gushing about how much K does for charity.
But let's face facts. The dude is just plain mean.
When Nick Collison, who was heavily recruited by Duke, called Krzyzewski to tell him he was going to Kansas, K didn't exactly wish him well. Or even pretend to. "He was like, ‘I don't care. We got a commitment from Casey Sanders anyway,'" Collison told Kusports.com. (Sanders, a six-foot-eleven center, averaged 2.7 points for his career. Collison, meanwhile, currently plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder.)
During a 2005 Duke–North Carolina game at Chapel Hill, Coach K became incensed by a fan who yelled, "You've got [referee] Larry Rose in your pocket!" The coach had security move the fan farther away from the bench, according to the New York Post. The fan later turned out to be Scott Williams, son of UNC coach Roy Williams. Oops.
Anyone want to hire this guy to entertain children at a birthday party?
Why don't Krzyzewski's accomplishments come with a big, fat, shiny asterisk? Why does the man continue to be canonized in the media, while his surly side gets buried? Does winning basketball games make him that bulletproof?
No one is asking Coach K to become soft and cuddly, or even to clean up his language. His players, at least the ones that don't transfer, seem to like—or at least tolerate—his raw approach, and far be it from us to question that. But why can't a fuller picture of the coach be presented, so that we, the public, can form our own opinions, free of all the manufactured BS that Duke, Coach K, the media, and the advertisers want to shove down our throats?
When Yankees owner George Steinbrenner—another sports figure who was known to be demanding and prickly—died in 2010, his obituaries presented him as he was, warts and all. The New York Times recounted his felony conviction and the way he had been "overbearing and even verbally abusive" toward his children.
We can hope for nothing less for Coach K. But why wait until he passes away? No time like the present to start setting the record straight.
Verdict: What's former VP Cheney's first name again?
From Duke Sucks: A Completely Evenhanded, Unbiased Investigation into the Most Evil Team on Planet Earth by Reed Tucker and Andy Bagwell. They host the Tar Heel Bred, Tar Heel Dead podcast.