For Duke's Coach K, Basketball Is a Family Affair

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski on winning, the NBA and family.

DURHAM, N.C., June 8, 2010— -- When you hear the name Mike Krzyzewski, most people think of the supremely confident, vein-popping, Duke basketball coach who stews, steams and swears on the sidelines.

Krzyzewski is that man, but there's a lot sports fans might not know about the infamous head coach -- besides the spelling of his mind-boggling last-name.

"He's the man who would play beautiful princess with me and my sisters," said middle daughter, Lindy Frasher, 33.

What most do know about "Coach K" -- as he's called -- is his record. In his 30 years at Duke, Krzyzewski has four national titles, with 868 wins under his belt as head coach. He's just 34 wins away from being No. 1 on the list of all-time winning basketball coaches, but Krzyzewski swears it's not just about winning.

"If we define everything by winning, I think it's a very shallow existence. If I spent every waking moment trying to just beat you, eventually that becomes a shallow life," he said. "I'm not saying that's never been a part of my life, but as I've grown older and more mature that can't be what motivates me. Again, I want to beat you, but that can't be the bottom line for me because I've won enough to do that."

The Bottom Line: Leadership

Krzyzewski says all he ever wanted to be is a leader.

"That is what I was trained to do. That's why I went to West Point -- not just to be an army officer, but to be a leader," he said. "Every cadet who has gone to West Point or who is there takes an oath, a lifetime of selfless service to our country in a leadership position."

Krzyzewski graduated from West Point in 1969. He never served in combat, but was captain of the basketball team and immediately went into coaching. He became the head coach at West Point in 1975, before taking the helm at Duke in 1980.

Krzyzewski's theories on leadership read like a motivational speaking kit. Take his metaphor of the fist for the five players on the court.

"With a basketball team, it just works out that there are five guys and if five can play as one and play like this -- going at people with all the talent of the team," he said. "You have to communicate, you have to care for one another, you have to have collective responsibility, you have to trust one another and you have to have pride in the group that you're with and then you go forward and you hardly ever beat yourself that way."

Krzyzewski has had so much success with the fist at Duke, and coaching the 2008 Gold Medal Olympic team, that there has been constant speculation about a possible jump to the pros. When asked about a move to the NBA, he tried to put it to bed more emphatically than ever.

"I'm coaching here [Duke] forever -- for as long as I coach," he said. "I'm not going to go to the NBA."

It's a Shermanesque statement, but he insists he won't go next year, not ever -- even if Cavaliers' star LeBron James came knocking at his door.

Krzyzewski's Modest Roots

Krzyzewski turned down a reported $40 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers a few years ago -- a hefty sum for a kid who grew up in Chicago, the child of Polish immigrants. His father was an elevator operator, and his mother swept floors for extra money. Both shaped Krzyzewski into the man he is today.

"Everybody has a mom. My mom ended up being the greatest person in my life," he said. "Even when I became this coach, my mother was at my side here, and she's at my side here."

The coach helped fund the Emily Krzyzewski Family Center in Durham, N.C., to pass on the values his mother gave him.

"I've learned that you don't do it alone. I learned that you need to trust somebody when you have tough decisions or are in difficult situations, that you don't know it all and that unfailing love and unconditional support are amazing things when given to a person and I had that from my parents," he said. "That's what I try to do as a parent, as a grandparent and as a coach to try to incorporate what my mom, who never went to high school, and my dad, who only went to two years of high school. They knew it better than I did -- I probably won't ever know it as well as they do."

The Women Behind Coach K

His mother isn't the only woman behind Coach K's success. There's also his wife Mickie, whom he married the day he graduated West Point, and his three daughters: Debbie, 39; Lindy, 33; and Jamie, 28.

"The way we run our basketball program and all of our outside interests in relationships with charities, etc., are run as a family. And they're the core. We call my three daughters, my wife Mickie and I, the starting five," Krzyzewski said.

Krzyzewski, who has been surrounded by men at West Point, and on the court at Duke, has always been drastically outnumbered at home. At family dinners, he said it was impossible for him to get a word in edgewise.

"We used to have to make everybody take turns speaking around the dining room table because everyone wanted to talk. We'd always skip over him," Mickie said.

But being the father of three daughters has softened the coach.

"I think it opened him to be better able to listen. He is more capable of listening to his players, to his staff and to the recruits and their families because he kind of knows you know, I don't have to be the king, because when he's at home he's not thing king," Mickie joked.

"I didn't know growing up how great it would be to be a grandfather and I didn't know growing up how great it would be to have your best friends be your daughters, be your children," Krzyzewski said. "There is a relationship that a father and daughter have that I didn't know anything about. But I've learned it."

Duke Basketball: A 'Mom and Pop' Program

In the K household, it was always about the K kids -- not about the coach.

"The way the house was decorated, the things that hung on the walls were things that had to do with us... like an art project we did for school or pictures of us," said daughter Jamie Spatola. "Lindy was a dancer, a picture of Lindy dancing, as opposed to some award that my dad won."

But it was never a matter of keeping basketball and home-life separate.

"I think there was a choice -- either we were going to compete against basketball, and against Duke and against those players for his attention, or we were just going to all be in it together," said Frasher. "It was a decision that was made by my parents when we were really young. You hear of mom and pop grocery stores and mom and pop diners and this is like a mom and pop college basketball program."

The Krzyzewski women were always a huge part of Duke basketball -- from trips on the team bus as kids to calling a future all-star for dating tips.

"I remember being in junior high and calling Grant Hill in his dorm room," Frasher recalled. "'I'm having some boy trouble, and excuse me, Grant, could you take some time away from being an all-American and doing your calculus or whatever to talk to me about boys!' and he did! And he gave me advice and we talked. He was a great big brother, role model kind of person."

Chances are any player not comfortable with the Krzyzewski family rules never ends up at Duke to begin with. A semi-official stop for all recruits is to come to the Krzyzewski home and meet the family, Mickie said.

"Our family meets every recruit before he commits to coming to Duke," she said. "No matter what else they do they come to my house and they meet the daughters and grandkids."

There have even been times when a prospective player was given a thumbs down by the family, Mickie revealed.

The Blue Devils' Coach Fans Love to Hate

The Blue Devils have become the college basketball team that fans around the country love to hate. They squashed Butler's Cinderella story, beating them in the NCAA finals this year, and generally they win. To some, their pride in the system borders on aloof, if not arrogant.

Krzyzewski has been booed on the court and portrayed in papers as the big, bad coach. In April, the Indianapolis Star published an illustration of Krzyzewski with horns and a bull's eye drawn on his head; the paper later apologized.

To him, it's part of the game. "I understand it. I would rather be booed for being good than booed for being bad," he said.

But it's something his family will never get used to.

"I think the hardest part has been the negativity that has come about in the media quite a bit and in the public. Things that are said about him, caricatures, dreadful things are said about him and that's been hard," Mickie said. "Route against Duke, but the level of hatred is really uncalled for and the nasty things that get said, that's really uncalled for."

Mickie and the girls don't see what upsets people so much about the men's basketball coach who has a "Dreamgirls" CD in his office.

"He's got some good moves. Usually it's Motown. He's a big Motown guy, a big Smokey Robinson. That's like his favorite," Frasher said. "When he's really feeling it then he'll get up and bust a move, it's great."

"When we get together as a family and have an evening when nobody is around but us, he will attempt to sing which he's really bad at he needs to stick to coaching!" Mickie said. "Singing is not going to be a career for him."

What he thinks about is not the 868 wins, or the big salary or the record that has made him an iconic figure on campus, or even what he wants his legacy to be.

"I would like people to think I was really good at what I did," he said. "I was honest and I competed every day."