Coach K says retirement was family decision years in the making

Paul Myerberg

Rebutting suggestions that his retirement after next season is related to his health or the changing landscape of college sports, a reflective and occasionally emotional Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Thursday that his choice to step down came after "a couple of years" of contemplation, and that his comfort level with the program's succession plan simplified the decision to end a career highlighted by more than 1,000 victories and five national championships.

"Look, this is not about health. It’s not about COVID or saying why that year was so bad," said Krzyzewski, speaking from the basketball court inside Cameron Indoor Stadium that bears his name.

"It’s certainly not about what’s going (on) with college basketball. Boy, the game's changing. Alright. I’ve been in it for 46 years. Do you think the game has never changed? We’ve always had to adapt to the changes in culture, the changes in rules, the changes in the world. We’re going through one right now. Those aren’t the reasons. Those would be bad reasons, especially the health one."

This wasn't a "knee-jerk reaction," he said.

"We’ve been planning. We’re getting ready to go. Whatever happens, we’ll react to it. I’m not going to be anticipatory of any events. I want to coach my team. I want to give them 100%. I want this to be as good a basketball team as we’ve had in my 46 years. That’s the main thing I want to focus on. Anything else, let’s react to it."

Krzyzewski, 74, said previous discussions about retirement with his wife and family never reached "this level of seriousness," but that the opportunity to coach one last season and transfer leadership of the program to 33-year-old associate head coach Jon Scheyer led him to decide "the journey is going to be over in a year."

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Mike Krzyzewski, who has coached men's college basketball for 46 years, explains his decision to retire after the 2021-22 season.

Scheyer will take over a program that has defined college basketball for decades, simultaneously inheriting massive expectations to maintain Duke's basic standard for success: to annually compete for the national championship.

"I don’t want everything to end when I stop coaching. I want it to continue," Krzyzewski said. "The implementation of the decision has a lot to do with succession. If you don’t have someone who (can) take command, you’re in trouble. But we do.

"Don’t try and compare it to any other succession plan. We’ve got the people in place to get it done."

Krzyzewski was hired 41 years ago after five seasons in the same position at Army, and after a three-year rebuilding project crafted a program that has made a dozen Final Four appearances, tying him with UCLA coach John Wooden for the most in NCAA history.

"What Coach Krzyzewski has done for Duke in 41 years and across his coaching tenure is absolutely unparalleled," said incoming athletics director Nina King. "He’s a legend and an icon."

Pausing at times while recounting his career, Krzyzewski cited the "belief and opportunity" that carried him through his lowest moments, including the sluggish start to his tenure, the emotional and physical toll of a back injury that cost him most of the 1994-95 season, and a loss to Greece at the 2006 FIBA World Championship as the head coach of the men's national team, which he called "his worst day in coaching."

"In your darkest hours, it’s not just about opportunity. It’s about someone believing in you."

Krzyzewski will transition into an ambassador role for the university after his retirement, Duke president Vincent Price said.

"I’ve loved what I do," Krzyzewski said. "I think if you work at what you love, it’s not work. I’ve never looked at as, man, I’ve got a bad job. I’ve got a great job. And I think about it every day, all the time."

Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg