Duke’s disciples: Coach K’s kids fail on their own
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – On the basketball court, Mike Krzyzewski
is the ultimate teacher. Off the court, the Duke head coach is just as
instrumental in his players’ lives. Inside the gates of North Carolina’s crown
jewel of academia, Krzyzewski has built one of college basketball’s best and
most respected programs.
He is a coach. A mentor. A father figure. He developed his craft at West Point
and Indiana under a coaching legend (Bob Knight) and soaked in all of the
General’s wisdom before embarking on his own illustrious coaching career.
Krzyzewski learned it all from Knight. The flex offense. Proper man-to-man
principles. When to jump on players and when to back off. It was the coaching
ladder working to perfection. Pay your dues, learn from a master tactician and
success will follow.
Somewhere in-between Krzyzewski and his disciples, the ladder broke. A branch
snapped off the coaching tree, and the men who supposedly learned the art of
hoops from one of the game’s best and brightest looked lost.
Not only did Quin Snyder’s recent resignation end a tenuous seven-year stint
at Missouri, but it again illustrated one of college basketball’s coaching
truths. While Krzyzewski continues to dominate the college game, the men who
wore the royal blue and white or sat next to Coach K on the Blue Devils’ bench
continue to fail.
Snyder seemed overwhelmed from day one. The prodigal son with the golden locks
and the can’t-miss basketball IQ stepped foot on the Tigers’ campus with a
sparkling resume led by Krzyzewski’s constant praise. It all ended with the
losses and pressure mounting amid scandal. The university gave Snyder a
“get out of jail free” card after various recruiting violations placed
the program on three years probation in 2004. However, thanks to losses
against Sam Houston State, Davidson and probation-companion Baylor, the
free pass expired on Snyder late last week. Some programs and many fans
brush off improper dialogue between coaches and recruits, but no coach can
survive on-court failure.
The message: If you are going to bend the rules you better win, or else pack
your bags. Snyder may be on the next flight back to Durham.
But Snyder’s case did not set a precedent. The Duke name has been a job
clincher, but not a job keeper.
Tommy Amaker took over a sleeping-giant Seton Hall program with easy access to
city recruiting circles and the luxury of playing its home games in a
professional arena against the Big East’s best. He was hired in 1997, staring
straight at a win-win situation. Restore Seton Hall’s one-time proud
name and be hailed a hero, or fail and point blame at a program beyond repair.
Amaker’s four-year run featured a Sweet 16 appearance in 2000, but was
surrounded by three campaigns hovering around .500. He finished 68-55 with one
tournament bid. The man who followed Amaker, Louis Orr, was 62-57 through four
campaigns with one tournament appearance and has the Pirates in position to
reach the Dance for the second time in three years following a home victory
over West Virginia on Wednesday.
Take the name and pedigree off the credentials and the feedback would be
identical. Similar records and similar results for two coaches hyped to
vastly different degrees.
Average success, or a Krzyzewski phone call, landed Amaker on his feet at
tradition-rich Michigan, which coincidentally was battling NCAA violations
that Amaker’s confidant Snyder eventually created at Missouri. The
Wolverines struggled to an 11-18 mark in Amaker’s first year and posted
a NCAA bubble-worthy 18-12 record in his second season, but was
ineligible for postseason play.
He won the NIT in year three (the postseason variety) and struggled to a 13-18
record in his fourth season. Michigan’s 2005-06 season started with a 16-3
mark and a spot in the national polls, but is quickly disintegrating on
the heels of three losses in four games. Four-plus seasons into Amaker’s
tenure, the Wolverines have never made the NCAA tournament and a season-
ending collapse could seal his fate.
Duke supporters will point to Mike Brey and Jeff Capel as examples of success.
Brey completed an impressive 99-52 stint at Delaware with two NCAA tournament
trips before moving to Notre Dame, where the coach is currently in his
sixth season. His regular-season success has suffered little since the move to
South Bend. Yet Brey has never won a conference title at Notre Dame
nor a conference tournament and still hasn’t pushed the Irish beyond the
This season the unlucky Irish (shocking, but true) have struggled to stay
above .500 and are currently 3-8 in conference play. True, they’ve lost many
close contests, but strategy has played a part in several setbacks. The close
calls are games Krzyzewski has constantly won and his disciples continue to
Capel played at Duke, but coached under his father at Old Dominion for one
season and was an assistant with his current employer, Virginia Commonwealth,
for another campaign. He is young, energetic and has won 18-plus games in each
of his three full seasons at the helm. The club is 16-8 this season and right
in the mix of the Colonial Athletic Association race. Yet, until the maturing
Capel shows success in the big-time job he is destined to obtain, the jury is
It all eventually leads back to Snyder, a coach who couldn’t possibly fail,
yet did so miserably. He led the Tigers to NCAA bids in his first four
years, including a run to the Elite Eight in 2002 with a talented squad that
underachieved during the regular season. However, in his last three seasons he
has been the definition of average (42-42) and resigned at the end of a six-
game losing streak.
Despite the off-court infractions and on-court struggles, Snyder will
inevitably find a head coaching position elsewhere. So, in due time, will
current Krzyzewski assistants Johnny Dawkins, Chris Collins and Steve
Wojciechowski. Each will obtain a high-profile job that probably should have
gone to a mid-major coach who earned his stripes. However, if Snyder’s tenure
at Missouri is any indication, the Duke persona will hire coaches for the
next half century.
When Duke hired Krzyzewski on May 4, 1980 it hoped for another Knight. Twenty-
five years later, athletic directors nationwide have taken gambles on Coach
K’s kids hoping for similar success.
The returns are in. They have failed.