published Monday, April 5th, 2010

Wiedmer: Coach K's way again is the best

Audio clip

Mike Krzyzewski

INDIANAPOLIS -- It's easy to appreciate Butler coach Brad Stevens today. All of 33 years old, he'll enter tonight's NCAA Tournament national championship game against Duke with an 89-14 record over his first three years on the job, the best start for a first-time coach in NCAA history.

He's never failed to reach March Madness from the Horizon League. Win or lose tonight, he's likely to have his pick of any job opening in college basketball should he choose to move on.

As Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said on Sunday, "Butler hasn't had to stick with him. They should hope he sticks with them."

And Stevens is clearly deserving of every accolade and compliment coming his way right now. He's bright, humble, charming, refreshing.

Asked about what it's been like coaching against Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Coach K in this tournament, Stevens said, "I think the best way I can put it is this: They write books and I get to read them."

But it's Krzyzewski who should be the story at night's end. Do the expected by ending Butler's Cinderfella run and Coach K will tie the late Kentucky legend Adolph Rupp for the second most NCAA titles all-time with four. Former UCLA coach John Wooden leads that category with an unfathomable 10 titles in 12 years between 1964 and 1975.

Not that Krzyzewski wants the focus to fall to him should the Blue Devils claim their first national championship since 2001.

"That's not why we should be playing," said Coach K. "We should be playing only for these guys (his players). That's my total focus, and has been my focus pretty much my whole career, but especially the last couple of years."

To support that premise, Blue Devil junior forward Kyle Singler said, "I think that's a great quality that Coach has, that (the records) it really doesn't matter. Just seeing it through his eyes, just watching him, really helps us a lot."

It would be easy for Krzyzewski to feel the opposite the last couple of years. Especially with North Carolina coach Roy Williams, not eight miles down the road, winning it all in 2005 and 2009.

It would be easy for Krzyzewski to feel a bit underappreciated, if not downright forgotten. After all, as he himself said Sunday afternoon, "There's more instant gratification now. It's in every aspect of our society."

And the gratification was no longer instant in Dookieland. The Blue Devils hadn't reached a regional final since 2004, hadn't played in a title game since 2001. When the Tar Heels cut down the nets in Detroit last spring, having won at Duke for four straight years, there was palpable sense that Coach K was back to playing second fiddle to Carolina Blue, much as he had during so many of Dean Smith's years in Chapel Hill.

But Krzyzewski says he'd altered his thinking at least a year before that because, well, "College basketball changed. The one-and-done, how much more parity there was. If you're in this, you have to keep re-inventing yourself a little bit, even to stay up with the kids. It's different cultures."

Here's an example of how different it is now from when the 63-year-old Krzyzewski first took over Duke prior to the start of the 1980-81 season. The Blue Devils were 38-47 over his first three years with no NCAA bids.

In today's instant gratification world, there would likely have been no fourth season for Coach K.

"Duke has been committed to me when I wasn't with (Bobby) Knight and Rupp and those guys (in the record books)," he said. "They were committed to me when we were 38-47. Just from where I'm from, whatever, that will never leave my heart, that kind of commitment."

We see him mostly as a basketball coach, sometimes snarling, almost always intense, rarely without a coat and tie and almost never without his Duke blue.

But Sunday being Easter, Coach K was also a grandfather, hosing an Easter egg hunt in his hotel suite for his grandchildren.

"My sixth grandchild, Rem, he's an animal and he's under a year old," said Krzyzewski. He's nine months old and he's wearing 18-month clothing. He's my middle daughter Wendy's second son, and she brings him down in a bunny outfit, this really soft bunny outfit. So I told her, 'Remember the rule.'

"The rule is, with any of my grandsons, you can do this until they're one, but then you can't put all those costumes on them like elk's horns, elephant noses and things like that. But our guys had a good time seeing Rem in his bunny outfit."

The Dookie fans should have a good time tonight seeing Coach K move up the record books, even if he keeps insisting this night shouldn't be about him.

"I don't want it to be about me," he repeated. "I want it to be about them. They shouldn't want to be like Mike, Mike should want to be like them. That's a lot better."

And just in case it turns out the other way, the Butler way, Coach K says he's ready for that scenario, too.

"I've already put a pre-order in," he said, "On (Brad's) book."

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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