NEW ORLEANS – After the last game of his 47-year career, Mike Krzyzewski took to the podium in a makeshift media room at the Super Dome and spoke after Duke’s 81-77 loss to North Carolina in the Final Four – exactly four weeks later the Tar Heels spoiled his last game At home at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
But he wasn’t interested in talking about his legacy or his career, which in New Orleans ended in a loss to his greatest rival.
“First of all, congratulations to North Carolina,” Krzewski said. “Hubert and his crew and these kids did a good job and tonight was a fight. It was a game where the winner was going to be happy and the loser was in pain. And that’s the kind of game we enjoy expecting. We would have liked to be on the other side of that, but I’m proud of what he did. Our men.”
He added, “It’s not about me, especially right now. I’m just worried about these people. I mean, [they were] I’m already crying on the field, and I mean, that’s the only thing I can think of.”
In June, Krzyzewski announced that the 2021-22 season would be his last and that his assistant John Scheer would replace him. With 1,202 wins, 13 ACC Championships and five national titles, he is generally regarded as the greatest coach in college basketball history along with John Wooden, the legendary UCLA captain who won 10 national titles over a 12-year period.
For Krzyzewski, Saturday marks the end of his 47-year career that included 42 seasons at Duke.
In 1975, Krzyzewski landed his first coaching job in the Army, where he remained for five seasons before being assigned to Duke prior to the 1980-1981 campaign. After finishing under 0.500 in the league in three consecutive seasons at Duke, Krzyzewski was on the hot seat. But he led the show to the national title game in its sixth season, beginning an era that spans generations.
Krzyzewski got his first division job over 10 years before the NCAA approved the three-point streak in 1986 and thrived all the way through one era and did. Duke’s team to reach the fourth final this season was the youngest team in Krzyzewski’s tenure.
Duke and North Carolina had never met in the NCAA tournament prior to Saturday’s meeting in the Final Four.
“That’s something I never, and never will, think about,” said Hubert Davis when asked about handing Krzyzewski the last loss of his career. “All I think about is these players. Coach K is unbelievable and this team is the best team, we’ve played so far. We played a lot more tonight.”
While he was disappointed with the loss, Krzyzewski said the match – teams traded the lead in the final minutes – lived up to the hype.
“These kids for both teams played with their hearts and the crowd was standing for most of the match,” he said. “It was a great game so I fulfilled that [hype]. … I’m proud you guys. We had our chances in the last few minutes, but they are good.”
Krzyzewski has repeatedly stated to reporters that there will be another time and place for him to reflect on his career and legacy, but he wanted to focus on the players who were grappling with their emotions after Saturday’s loss.
“We gave everything we could, and it was bad, but I’m proud of the effort we made and the way we came out,” said Paulo Banchero after the match.
Now, college basketball will move forward without Krzyzewski, who has been a beacon to the sport for more than four decades.
On November 28, 1975, he led the Army to a 56-29 victory over Lehigh in his first match as a collegiate coach.
On Saturday, the Duke team suffered an 81-77 loss to North Carolina in the last game of their career.
“I’ll be fine,” Krzyzewski said. “I’ve been lucky to be in the arena. And when you are in the arena, you will either go out feeling good or you will feel tormented, but you will always feel good being in the arena. And I am sure that is the thing, when I look back, I will miss it. I will not be in the arena. But, damn it, I’ve been in the ring for a long time. And those kids made the last time in the arena were great.”
Next, Krzyzewski descended a flight of stairs to the waiting area while his wife, Mickey, strode through the black curtain with family and friends.