College game is better off with Coach K
College sports haven’t exactly been flourishing lately, what with the Coaches Gone Wild scandals, the best prep basketball players skipping college altogether and football players being found on the police blotter as often as in the weight room.
So Monday’s announcement that Mike Krzyzewski is staying at Duke rather than taking over the Cirque de Kobe & Shaq seems like a welcome sign that big-time college athletics still hold some appeal to some. Coach K turned down a reported five-year, $40 million offer from Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who is apparently willing to do anything short of jury tampering to keep Kobe Bryant happy.
So the sanctity of Atlantic Coast Conference hoops, rivaled only by Southeastern Conference football in terms of tradition and passion, remains intact. Krzyzewski gets to stay in Durham, N.C., and hand-pick the finest high school players (at least the ones who aren’t quite NBA-caliber) for what appears to be a squeaky-clean, highly successful program that graduates its players and helps them become fine, upstanding members of society and future Duke coaching staffs.
You wouldn’t believe how painful that last sentence was for me to write. Duke basketball is right up there with the Dodgers, Notre Dame and the kid who repeatedly beat me up in fourth grade in the pantheon of hated figures in my life. It’s the team my beloved Fab Five could never beat, and the media fawning over Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and the other sneering Dookies never fails to make my stomach turn. When Dick Vitale goes on an extended rant extolling the virtues of everything Duke, I often black out with rage. When one of my teams loses to the Blue Devils, I throw things.
Krzyzewski’s not my favorite either. Coach K has the whiniest voice in America and his method of working the referees during Duke’s games is simply detestable (yet effective). Never forget that he is a disciple of Bobby Knight, the biggest bully in sports.
Still, with the recent defection of Mike Montgomery from Stanford to the black hole known as the Warriors, Krzyzewski’s decision to ignore the enormous pile of Buss’s cash feels like a victory for the college game.
Of course, all the money in the world wouldn’t have ensured his success in the NBA. Some guys are college coaches and some guys are pro coaches. The track record of college guys moving to the NBA is littered with broken careers.
The college environment is a haven for control freaks who can reign supreme their players’ lives, while NBA coaches must massage egos and deal with players who make much more money than they do. Krzyzewski has never spent a day in the NBA as a player or coach; he’s a college coach.
I don’t like him, I don’t like his players, I think the Cameron Crazies are overprivileged, snotty and demented. But college basketball is better off with Coach K than without him. After all, what would Star Wars be without Darth Vader?
– Tribune staff writer Jared Green can be reached at (530) 542-8008 or