As Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith fought for his life at Erlanger hospital, the floor stayed busy with military officials and politicians who came to pay respects.
But none could provide the same role a coach could.
As Gov. Bill Haslam passed by the window, Smith's wife, Angie, flagged him down.
There is something you can do, she told the governor: Find Coach K.
Mike Krzyzewski, legendary coach of the Duke Blue Devils men's basketball team for more than 35 years, was Smith's hero.
Despite living in the heart of SEC football, Smith remained a loyal college basketball fan. And this was the year that Duke had gone all the way, nabbing Krzyzewski's fifth NCAA championship.
It always had been Smith's dream to meet Coach K, his wife told Haslam. It would mean so much.
Haslam told her he'd see what he could do.
His office quickly called contacts at the University of Tennessee, and eventually reached Krzyzewski's Durham, N.C., office. Soon after, Krzyzewski's office contacted Erlanger. The coach couldn't fly down to Chattanooga that day — but could he call them?
That afternoon, Krzyzewski called Smith's wife. He encouraged her to stay strong, and then recorded a special message for Smith.
This is Coach. I have an important message for you.
You're on a great team down there in Chattanooga, with all the doctors and the medical staff. But I need you to do your part. I need you to be strong.
The basketball season starts in the fall. We want you sitting courtside.
We want you ready to get into the game.
"I know he's a very powerful coach," recalled hospital Chief Nursing Officer Jan Keys, who relayed some of what Krzyzewski said to the Times Free Press. "But he was such a soft-speaking, caring person."
The recording was later played for Smith, Keys said.
Duke officials declined to comment Tuesday. But Erlanger officials and Dave Smith, Haslam's spokesman, both called the phone call a "class act," and an uplifting moment.
"It was a bright spot in what was otherwise a very dark day," Smith said.
Contact staff writer Kate Belz at email@example.com or 423-757-6673.