2011 SI Sportsman, Sportswoman of the Year: Krzyzewski, Summitt
This story appeared in the Dec. 12, 2011, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.
One thousand, nine hundred and eighty-two basketball games: If you were to preside over one per day, every day, you'd need more than five years and five months to coach them all. That's 79,280 minutes' worth of games, more if you add in overtime, still more if you pad out each with anthems, halftimes, timeouts and reprises of Rocky Top and Devil with the Blue Dress. Now imagine your team's winning every one of those games, many in college basketball's most remorselessly competitive conferences: the SEC in the case of the women, and the ACC in the case of the men.
That's the opening argument on behalf of Pat Summitt, with her 1,075 career victories at Tennessee, and of Mike Krzyzewski, with his 907 at Duke and Army. Each can claim more wins than any other coach, active or retired, in her and his respective Division I sports. But more than that—so much more—are the roads each has traveled over the course of careers that can be measured in Presidents Met on White House Visits with Team (four in her case, three in his). For their endurance, for their adaptability, for their genius for hatching from adversity even more success and for their willingness to take up causes beyond the comfort of their own campuses—indeed, for modeling what it means to be public diplomats as well as great coaches—we honor them as SI's 2011 Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year.
And to think that Krzyzewski, 64, could coach another decade and that, if not for the predations of early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type, the diagnosis of which she received last spring, Summitt, 59, surely would too. "It's hard to go three decades and continue to recruit, to connect with the modern athlete, to just maintain that drive and passion for teaching, for coaching, for leading," former Blue Devil Grant Hill says of Krzyzewski—but change the wording slightly, to account for Summitt's having been in Knoxville for nearly four decades, and the observation applies as much to her.
Indeed, the two share so many things that they deserve to be studied, not just honored, jointly. Both grew up in working-class homes so full of obligation that the very idea of want never got a hearing. Both labored for years (12 for her, 15 for him) before winning a national title. Both have nested their programs so naturally into their universities that among the more than 200 athletes who have exhausted their eligibility at Duke or Tennessee, virtually none has failed to graduate. Both, early in their careers, had to evangelize—Krzyzewski, to take Duke out from the shadow of North Carolina eight miles away; Summitt, to flog both her own program, in a region where even men's basketball lines up behind football, and women's basketball at large. Now she has stepped out to embrace another cause, leading a public campaign to raise funds for and awareness of dementia and Alzheimer's (page 58).
To practice their craft, both reach beyond athletics to borrow from the worlds of management and psychology. A 2006 assessment of these two coaches in The Public Manager magazine defined the typical coach as working with athletes to set goals and find ways to meet them. In the cases of Krzyzewski and Summitt, by contrast, "coaching starts with understanding the individual," wrote Donald G. Zauderer, a professor emeritus of public administration at American University, in the article. "[Both] invest large amounts of time and energy in getting to know players—their values, emotional makeup, and hopes and dreams for a successful life."
Football coaches can't do this. Woody Hayes is said to have once sent into a game a second-string quarterback whose name he didn't know. "He takes time to get to know his guys," Hill says of Krzyzewski. "It's like your children. Each is different. One might be more sensitive. One might be more bullheaded. There's 18 inches between a pat on the back and a pat on the butt, but as a parent you've got to do both, so at least there's constant contact."
For Summitt, to coach this way means having team members bring in family scrapbooks to pass around. It means taking personality inventories and sharing the results among players and coaches to sensitize everyone to one another's peculiarities. And it means hosting frequent team meals at her house. Pots simmer on the stove, Labs shamble about, guests frolic in the pool, and the coach—greeting everyone in her middle-Tennessee twang, checking the grill, using her heel to kick the dryer door closed—commands the scene down to each detail, including the hand-cranking of the homemade ice cream. "Electrical," Summitt's longtime assistant Mickie DeMoss explains, "doesn't taste as good."
The result of all this industry and attentiveness almost beggars comprehension. Summitt's teams have won eight national titles. Tennessee has never suffered through a losing season and often outdraws a handful of NBA teams. Since 1976 every Lady Vol to stay four years has reached at least one Final Four. Nearly three of every four can claim some individual distinction, be it Olympian, All-America, All-SEC or All-Academic, while 74 players and staff have gone on to coach in their own right. "People get caught up in the numbers," says her son, Tyler, a sophomore on the Tennessee men's team. "I always say, If you want to know my mom best, look at her relationships. How many who grew up under her influence are successful? And when life hits, as it does to all of us at some point, who are they making that first phone call to?"
Krzyzewski sits astride the men's game because he has forged the same kinds of bonds. Some 35 of his former players converged on Madison Square Garden last month to toast him as he surpassed his own college coach, Bob Knight, on the alltime Division I men's victory list. For the past six years the ranks of his players have extended beyond Duke to a cohort of current NBA stars, with whom Krzyzewski has restored the standing of American basketball as coach of the U.S. national team. Between August 2008 and September 2010 he bookended his fourth NCAA title, the most of any active Division I male coach, with the two most prestigious gold medals in the international game, winning each with a completely different group. No coach had ever won the Olympics, the NCAAs and the world championships in a career, much less in a 26-month span. "I really feel that whatever he chose to be—a politician or a minister or a businessperson or a philanthropist or whatever—that he'd be amazing," says Hill. "Good leaders accomplish great things. He's this amazing leader who happens to coach basketball."
After occasional whispers of restlessness over the years, Krzyzewski has used his work with the U.S. team to satisfy a vocational curiosity about pro basketball. Along the way he has developed a kind of unified field theory of the bench. Coaching pros, coaching college kids—surely coaching women too—is a simple matter of connecting with people. "That's what it's ultimately about, because there are so many systems that work," Krzyzewski says. "The group that can play as one, with spirit and courage, has the best chance to win."
There are differences between Krzyzewski and Summitt, to be sure, and one of the most pronounced breaks along gender lines. But not in the way you'd imagine.
In his book Leading with the Heart, Krzyzewski says he wants to feel about his players "what my mom felt about me."
As for Summitt, says DeMoss, "her whole life has been about proving herself to her father."
Pleasing tall man
Before she became Pat Summitt, Patricia Sue (Trish) Head grew up on a farm in Montgomery county, Tenn., with three older brothers and no girl her age for miles around. Life took on a kind of circumscribed inevitability. She and her brothers played two-on-two in the hayloft once the chores were done, but those chores claimed much of their days: milking cows, chopping tobacco, baling hay, picking and shelling butter beans. She was barely 12 the day her father first left her alone in a field, with a tractor and a hay rake—and orders to figure out how to use them.
People around the county knew Richard Head, 6'5" and taciturn, as Tall Man. Not knowing what to do with a daughter, Summitt has said, her father "raised me like a combination of a fourth son and an extra field hand. If I made a mistake, I got whipped. If I cried, I got whipped harder."
She learned not to cry, and found ballast in the tenderness of her mother, Hazel. The family's circumstances would steadily improve, until Tall Man became the baron of Henrietta, with a general store, feed store, hardware store, dry cleaners and a sideline in building homes. But the expectation of hard work never abated. Trish Head feared her father but respected him and yearned for some signal that he loved her in return.
Proof came just before she entered high school. The school Trish would have attended in Clarksville had dropped girls' basketball after a player struck her head on the wall behind the baseline and died. Richard Head moved the family out of a nearly new home and into a drafty old one in Henrietta so Trish could attend, and play basketball for, Cheatham County High. If he couldn't tell her he cared, Tall Man could show it.
The girl everyone called Bone was 5'11" and wiry, good enough to go on to star in "women's extramurals" at Tennessee-Martin, where she wore a uniform with felt numerals she had applied herself. Sorority sisters went to work on her, conducting fashion checks before she went off to class and purging her speech of the harshest Henriettaisms (such as saying "soup case" instead of suitcase). But on the court she reverted to the country girl who scrapped with her brothers in the hayloft, and twice coaches selected her for U.S. national teams.
When she was offered the job as Tennessee's coach in 1974, six weeks before her 22nd birthday, Pat Head had a very simple conception of work. (Administrators assumed she went by Pat when she arrived in Knoxville, and she never corrected them.) At open tryouts that first year, during suicide line drills, one flight of four women simply crossed the end line and ran out the gym door, never to come back. She taped ankles, washed uniforms and drove the team van. On road trips the team might sleep on mats laid out in the host school's gym; sometimes she'd have to hang her head out the window on the drive home to stay awake. At first she taught three phys-ed courses, took four more for her master's, and rehabbed an ACL, torn during her senior season at UT-Martin. She wanted to keep alive a chance to play in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, where women's basketball would be on the program for the first time. She not only made the team as its oldest player at age 24, but also as co-captain led it to a surprising silver medal.
Barely a year older than some of her players in Knoxville, Summitt went to great lengths to keep her distance. In those days a Lady Vol's dance with her was much like her own with her father: One party so palpably wanted the authority figure's approval that the authority figure withheld it in the hope of getting even more in return. Looking back, she has said, "I built a wall of reserve and thought that reserve was the same as authority.... I was so busy being tough, I didn't understand the value of getting to know the players on a deeper level, their real strengths and vulnerabilities."
It took a dozen years for Summitt to realize she would get more from her players if she didn't browbeat and overcoach them. In 1986 she abandoned her half-court dogma and gave the Lady Vols more rein. She figured out how to frame criticism as a challenge, to bring out the competitor in each. She spared them the humiliating practices in unwashed game jerseys after they returned home from losses, and introduced the scrapbook sessions and personality profiling tool. In essence, she gave them less Tall Man and more Miss Hazel. Before her 1986--87 team, the so-called Cornfed Chicks, beat Louisiana Tech for the title, Summitt had each player lay her head on the center circle in an exercise of mental imaging. "Previously I'd felt like I was bluffing," she has said of her approach before that breakthrough. "I worked everybody so hard because I thought it would make up for my youth and deficiencies. [Now] I was secure in my abilities and I was secure in our players. I had developed relationships with them so I sensed what they needed."
Now a player could take to Pat (she discouraged them from calling her Coach) everything that might weigh on a college-age woman, from love interests and stalkers, to drinking problems, pregnancies and family dysfunction—which included, to a striking degree, the baggage so prevalent in her own life, father issues. "Her mother is very compassionate, so you can see how Pat can stretch both ways and adjust and reach out," says Shelley Sexton Collier, a captain of that first title team. "Over the years her relationships have gotten better and stronger. Having Tyler [in 1990] was another milestone and had a lot to do with her ability to relate to her players."
But the influence of her father, who died in 2005, endures. The gold rings Summitt wore on her right hand wound up flattened by the end of each season from the whacks she delivers to the floor in her coaching crouch. Every privilege is subject to withdrawal at any time; five players on her current team endured a nine-month exile from their locker room following the Lady Vols' first-round NCAA loss to Ball State in 2009. As Tennessee's rivalry with Connecticut heated up in recent years, and Huskies coach Geno Auriemma launched his verbal provocations, her assistants would suggest rejoinders. She'd have none of it: "If I'd say that, my daddy'd take me back behind the woodshed!"
"She's still more like her dad than her mom," says Billie Moore, who coached her on the 1976 Olympic team and remains a mentor and a friend. "She's demanding and strict, very much the taskmaster."
As Summitt has said, "When you give in to excessive emotion, you betray your weakness and vulnerability to others, and you cloud your thinking. It's like I tell our players when they get tearful on me: 'Hey, I'd like to cry sometimes too. You think I don't? But what would you do if you looked over at me on the bench and I was in tears?'"
Tall Man would hug his eldest daughter for the first time in 1996, when she was 43, after the Lady Vols won their fourth national title.
Metaphor and story
Mike Krzyzewski suspects that he suffered from some sort of learning disability as a child. It may have been attention deficit disorder—he couldn't do his homework without the TV or radio on—but in those days kids didn't get tested, least of all the son from a family of Polish immigrants at a Catholic school in Chicago. So he adapted and compensated, finding his way by watching and listening. Today he festoons his offices with photographs. He speaks in metaphor, dropping phrases like, "If you have a great painter, you don't ask him to paint fences" and "If you put a plant in a jar, it will grow to take the shape of the jar, but if you let it grow by itself, it may grow so 20 jars can't hold it." And he'll put together elaborate videos to make single points; the Blue Devils won their first two titles after point guard Bobby Hurley watched a taped montage of himself as a pouty, whiny freshman and soon transformed himself into an even-tempered floor leader. "I was never a great reader," Krzyzewski says. "Metaphors are my crutch for a limited vocabulary. I've always felt a kid needs to see things, not just hear them or read about them. People remember stories and examples better than words."
For someone who doesn't read, Krzyzewski coaches an awful lot like a creative writing instructor. Two weeks ago, before Duke played Kansas in the final of the Maui Invitational, Krzyzewski gave his inexperienced team a kind of grammar to moot the burden of conscientiousness he feared they'd feel. The shots presenting themselves that night, he told them, wouldn't be their shots. "I told them they were my shots, and that I wanted them to take them," he says. "That they should shoot whenever they felt a shot, and I'd live with the result. Young players, if they thought of shots in a big game as theirs, they might hold back."
The trick worked, as the Blue Devils shot 44.0% on three-pointers in a 68--61 victory. Similarly, Krzyzewski has been using metaphor to introduce this team to the concept of ownership. I want you on my bus, he tells them. Right now, you guys only want a seat on the bus. Now don't get me wrong, that's good, but it's not what I'm looking for. If you own the program, you're saying, "Coach, take me on the bus. Take me wherever it's gonna go."
We have five new managers this season. Do you know their names? If you own the program, you know every person on the bus. Who cleans our locker room? Felipe does. Who cleans our practice facility? Stephanie does. Who cleans our offices? Celestina does.
As long as we're being literary, let's go ahead and read between the lines: Celestina, a Mexican immigrant, is Krzyzewski's mother, Emily, another first-generation American who worked where the privileged played, scrubbing floors at the Chicago Athletic Club.
The next day he brings the entire custodial staff to practice. Fellas, you're not gonna meet better people in this world than Felipe and Stephanie and Celestina. Until you take ownership, you miss out on things that make us better.
"I could recite a definition or quote some famous author on ownership, and they would never feel it," Krzyzewski says. "You tell stories, and you have a chance to feel the word."
Krzyzewski teaches his Blue Devils by arraying things around them that they can see. "If one of my guys can see himself honestly, that's the rite of passage to the place where he and I can have a trustful relationship," he says. "In a moment on the bench, he can see himself through my eyes. I'd say I've had that relationship with most of my players. Sometimes they never give you themselves. But sometimes they give you themselves that first day, and it just gets bigger."
The old writing-seminar maxim of show, don't tell works as well with pros as college kids, maybe better. In August 2010 in Madrid, Krzyzewski gathered the U.S. national team before an exhibition game with Spain. As he addressed his players he noticed forward Kevin Durant staring at the floor. Afterward he took Durant aside to tell him the importance of eye contact.
"Coach," Durant replied, "I'm a shy person."
"Kevin, you can't be a shy person. I need you to be great. We need to be great together."
That night the U.S. beat Spain in the final seconds, and the next morning the team reconvened to view film. When he rolls tape, Krzyzewski often stops the action to make nontactical points—to flag a facial expression or a phrase of body language. And here was Durant in freeze-framed glory, looking like a basketball god come down in vengeance. "Kevin! That's what I'm talking about!"
Krzyzewski wheeled on point guard Russell Westbrook. "Russell, when Kevin looks like that, how does it make you feel?"
"When Kevin looks like that, it makes me feel like we're gonna win," Westbrook replied.
"Kevin, if you look like that, before you make one shot or grab one rebound or stop one guy on defense, you've created a mood of winning."
Durant went on to dominate the worlds, averaging 33 points over the final three games. In his coach's judgment, no American has ever played better in an international competition. "Kevin had been lumped in with his peers and didn't know how to separate himself," Krzyzewski says. "Sometimes you have to show guys."
Under Krzyzewski this group of American pros has done nothing less than take ownership of their country's national team. More than that, in Beijing and Istanbul the players were reliably what many of their recent predecessors had failed to be: open and accessible practitioners of public diplomacy. "They don't play for the U.S. team," their coach says. "They are the U.S. team. I love that, and I love that they'd all tell you that. And that's why they all want to go to London." The reason Krzyzewski had to assemble an entirely new team for the 2010 worlds after the '08 Olympics is a testament to the culture he has created: No Olympian wanted to go to the worlds without his Beijing teammates.
During his time at Duke, Krzyzewski himself has undergone what literary critics would call character development. Back in the '80s, at a posttournament banquet during a trip the Blue Devils took through Europe, he had baffled his Russian counterparts, who couldn't understand how someone who subjected himself to so much stress would refuse to throw back a glass of vodka. Now he loves a fine wine. "He hasn't changed," says former center Alaa Abdelnaby. "He's adjusted. Not that he's pulled up on the gas at all. It's just that now he kind of looks left and right, checks out the mountains and the valleys and the views." Metaphors, it turns out, are contagious.
Former players who gathered at the Garden for the record-breaker against Michigan State on Nov. 15 served as muses for another poetic flight. "When we're together there's a bond, and not all of it is because you won a championship," Krzyzewski says. "It's because you did this thing together. It's like you've crossed a bridge, to trust. I'm not sure there are words to describe it, but it's a belief. If you lose while believing in one another, you can handle the loss. But in fact you have a really good chance of winning."
Woman on her feet
The Lady Vols' days of traveling in vans are long over. It's 2008 and a charter jet is now standard equipment for an SEC road trip. As the head coach takes her accustomed seat in the first row, the flight attendant, settled into the jump seat across from her, begins to sob.
"What is it?" Summitt leans forward, the Miss Hazel in her kicking in. "Tell me, what's the matter?"
As Pat Summitt grew up, her father and brothers would sit at the table, wordlessly rattling the ice in their empty glasses until some lady in the house refilled them with tea. No amount of respect for her father could snuff out how wrong Trish Head knew that to be. "That scene is the Rosetta Stone to understanding her," says Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, who collaborated on the books Reach for the Summit and Raise the Roof, which provide Summitt's voice in this story now that she no longer grants one-on-one interviews. "She'll tell you she's not a feminist. I've told her, 'So, you're a subversive.' That's more or less it."
With Summitt's unblinking mien, tailored suits, CEO's command and her rhetoric of work and sacrifice and discipline, men don't need subtitles to understand her. Women's collegiate sports have had plenty of male coaches who set themselves up as gurus, but in the end it took a woman like Summitt—with a how-dare-you-give-me-anything-less-than-your-best attitude—to regard female athletes not as some alien species, as North Carolina soccer coach Anson Dorrance has sometimes done, or as subservient Angels to his Charlie, as UConn's Auriemma has sometimes done. "It's not so much going out and changing the minds of men," says Tyler Summitt, whose AAU team was coached by his mom during the summer of 2006. "It's empowering women to do whatever they want to do."
But the men notice. The football staff has brought its recruits to meet her. "She's successful because she outworks everybody," says Mickey Dearstone, the Lady Vols' radio broadcaster. "We had a football coach who won a national championship and got lazy, and it cost him his job."
When Joan Cronan, Tennessee's women's athletic director, finds herself seated next to a businessman on a plane and chit-chat turns to work, the man always seems to have a question along the lines of, Does she stare at you the way she stares at her players? "Then of course the next thing he'll say is 'I have a daughter or granddaughter who plays this or that,' and that's how I know Title IX is working," Cronan says of the law guaranteeing equitable opportunity in institutions receiving federal funds, which turns 40 next year. "When dads as well as moms are advocating for daughters as well as sons, I'd say it's working. And Tennessee said yes to women's sports before it was cool."
Summitt led that effort, beginning with a crusade against six-on-six, a popular but patronizing version of high school basketball—three on offense, three on defense—that seemed to imply that a young woman would turn barren if she crossed half-court. Six-on-six disadvantaged girls in states like Tennessee that still played it. At the beginning of Summitt's second season, the Lady Vols' starting center had never taken a shot in competition, and Summitt soon realized that in-state recruits would be worthless as long as six-on-six survived.
She and her team suffered their own indignities, from having to sell doughnuts to pay for new uniforms, to chasing guys playing pickup off the floor of Alumni Gym so home games could start on time. As late as 1979, when the women's prelim to the men's game in Baton Rouge went into overtime, LSU men's coach Dale Brown tried to move it to an auxiliary gym. Brown didn't get his way, but the Lady Vols and the Lady Tigers had to play the extra period with a running clock.
All the while, Summitt spoke before any audience that would hear her and enticed families and casual fans with promotions, honest effort and good manners. Attendance steadily ticked up. When Tennessee executive vice president Joe Johnson summoned her to his office one day in the late 1980s to tell her to pare back her budget, Summitt dropped a counterproposal. Lady Vols athletics to that time had been supported with student fees, which she knew couldn't possibly sustain the growth the sport was poised for. She successfully urged Johnson to look to revenue-producing men's sports for support, just as nonrevenue men's sports did. Now Tennessee's president emeritus, Johnson says, "I'll always admire Pat for saying, 'I'm not just talking about my sport, I'm talking about all women's sports.'"
In 2007, when she pulled on a cheerleading outfit and sang Rocky Top during a nationally televised men's game, she intended more than a thank you to men's coach Bruce Pearl, who had painted his chest orange for a Lady Vols game. The old junior high cheerleader showed that she wouldn't be straitjacketed by some hidebound conception of women or feminism, and that men's and women's success isn't a zero-sum relationship. "Pat's a promoter, but it's always about the program and never about her," says Dearstone. "And her entire career she's promoted women's basketball. She sealed the deal with [future Lady Vol and Wade Trophy winner] Candace Parker in Chicago years ago when Candace was a little girl and went to see the team play DePaul, and Pat took the time to sign her hat."
And to those who find the "Lady" in Lady Vols retrograde, Summitt has a reply. She thinks "girl" is retrograde, because it so often comes attached to "little" or "nice." As she puts it, "At least 'Lady' implies adulthood."
Ethnographers studying the Scots-Irish who settled in Tennessee in the 18th century describe the men as scrappers, grudge-holders and score-settlers and the women as workers. "We never take a possession off because she had to work for everything," says Vicki Baugh, a fifth-year senior on this season's team. "She was the girl in that hayloft, and it's so great to know where she came from when we're in Pratt Pavilion [a $16 million practice facility used by the men and women] and have all the resources. We have no excuses."
Nothing's the matter. It's just that, years ago, as Pat Summitt left the floor after coaching a game at Louisiana Tech, she spotted a girl in a wheelchair at the mouth of the tunnel. She dropped to one knee and told her, "Don't let the way you are now define who you will be. You can overcome anything if you work at it."
In a moment, that woman will get out of her jump seat and work this flight, serving the person who had prophesied it, and right now she's emotionally overcome by this opportunity to thank her. "Everybody else was, 'Oh, poor you.' You told me I could do it. And here I am."
Feeling while thinking
Mike Krzyzewski is showing a visitor around his upper office at Cameron Indoor Stadium. "I'm a big picture guy," he says, before catching himself. "Not a 'big-picture' guy—well, I'd like to think I'm a 'big-picture' guy too. But I'm a big picture guy."
Scores of photographs line these walls and those of a lower office. There's a wall of Duke Olympians, another of national title teams, still another of Hall of Fame coaching mentors Henry Iba, Pete Newell and Bob Knight. Just talking about Iba and Newell, whom he got to know through Knight, "I get chills," he says. To prove it he flashes a forearm, and sure enough, it's as pebble-grained as a basketball. "I'd just shut up and listen. They all told me, 'Don't ever try to be like any of the three of us. Don't try to be like anybody. Take what you like, but don't mimic.'"
And there is the players' wall. "Every picture tells a story or reminds me of a journey that I had with the player or a quality that player had, that I would like my current players to have." Here, his national players of the year, including Danny Ferry and Christian Laettner. There, Jon Scheyer, the unlikely floor leader of his 2010 title team—"His smile, his personality," he says. "Every day with Jon Scheyer was a good day." When Krzyzewski points out Hurley—the player the old West Point point guard secretly wished he had been—the nasal passages we've come to associate with his voice fill with moisture. "I'm sure a producer or director fantasizes that he's the actor," he says. "That was me with Hurley."
In his office Krzyzewski might settle into a recumbent bike and watch tape or listen to music. But often he's just thinking, and as he does, the pictures peer at him and might catch his eye. "There's a moment, and something you were creative with reappears," he says. "As you keep moving on, how do you remember the feelings you had at some other time? So there has to be something that prompts that. That's why I like all the pictures. They make you feel. If you're feeling while you're thinking you're going to get a different kind of thought. And the way I coach, I need to have those kinds of thoughts."
Few coaches rely on their instincts as much as Krzyzewski. In the dying seconds of the 2010 title game he played a hunch. From a sequence of missed shots and referees' whistles over the previous few minutes, he felt a dawning realization that the Blue Devils had been caught on the wrong side of destiny. They were playing, in Indiana, an underdog on whose campus the actual Hoosiers legend unspooled. "I could feel there could be a moment," he says, "and it wasn't going to be our moment."
In literary terms, he had to interrupt the narrative. So with Duke up by two with 3.6 seconds to play, he had his man at the free throw line, Brian Zoubek, brick his second free throw. By missing—by having Duke impose itself on the moment—the clock started, and with no timeouts the best shot Butler could get was a heave from half-court. It nearly went in but didn't, and the Blue Devils had confounded the story line. "In order to follow your instincts you have to feel, and not just in that moment," he says. "You have to feel on days you don't have competition, and the only way to do that is to be emotionally involved, to get to know people and get to know moods."
There is no "system" at Duke, with sockets into which players are plugged. Yes, the Blue Devils play man-to-man defense, but theirs has what basketball people call various "looks." And if Duke has a set offense, it's hard for outsiders to divine. "You really covered for K over there," a retired pro and college coach told ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla after Fraschilla returned from broadcasting last year's worlds. "Because you and I both know he didn't run a single play."
But having a protean offense is the point, and not just to flummox a defense: "On offense we try to personalize what we do so the players can be instinctive. And our offense might change over a season, because kids get better. You don't want to put them in a box. You don't want a kid to be 'a four man.' We're not shaping them. They're themselves."
When Krzyzewski looks back, it may be to retrofit some old teaching trick or to find inspiration. The pictures help. "But looking in the past just to celebrate victories all the time?" he says. "Every once in a while that's cool. But you've already eaten. You've already been fed. How can you be hungry if you're always eating?"
Toughest opponent yet
Piloting her Mercedes down Alcoa Highway, fastening earrings, applying makeup, wriggling into pumps at stoplights, pulling into the parking lot of Thompson-Boling Arena on two wheels—this was a woman known to her son and her staff, as Tyler Summitt says, "for being able to do seven different things at the same time."
When Pat Summitt abandoned her car in that lot before a game two years ago, keys in the ignition and motor running, it was easy to chalk up the incident to Ms. Multitasking taking on a bit too much. But last season those around Summitt knew something was wrong. "It wasn't that she forgot someone's name," her son says. "It was little stuff. Instead of doing seven things at once, suddenly she could only do maybe four."
After the season, she visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., with her son and Mary Margaret Carter, an old sorority sister. (Pat and banker R.B. Summitt, Tyler's dad, divorced in 2008.) An MRI and a spinal tap helped lead to the diagnosis and, at first, a wall of denial. "There was the initial stage where she asked, 'Why me?' " Tyler says. "It broke her down and she took a while to build herself back up. She had to regain courage before she could tell the world. But she went back to her principles, of the program being an open book. And my mom, she sees this like any opponent. She wants to beat it."
On Aug. 18, Summitt, her son and her lawyer, Robert Barnett, met with Cronan and Dr. Jimmy Cheek, chancellor of the Knoxville campus. They agreed that she would continue to coach. Then she gathered her players to share her diagnosis. "She told us that she was still gonna remember our names," recalls guard Ariel Massengale, "and that she was still gonna yell at us."
In a videotaped message from her living-room couch, with one arm draped around one of her yellow Labs, Sadie, Summitt broke the news to "my Tennessee family." The response overwhelmed her and her circle: e-mails, text messages and letters poured in, including one from Nancy Reagan, who had lost her husband to the disease. "Our Number 1 goal is to protect Pat, the person we love and care about," Cronan says. "Second is to protect her legacy, and third is to protect the program. We're in uncharted waters. But if you were in uncharted waters, wouldn't you want Pat to be your captain?"
Summitt works out five days a week, meditates and performs mental puzzles on her iPad. She takes medication to slow the degeneration of the cerebral cortex. And she hopes that continued engagement with the game will help prolong her faculties. "Pat's gonna do all she can for as long as she can," says Sexton Collier, "and after that she knows we'll always remember for her."
Her assistants run the huddles, but Summitt retains a public profile, and her sense of humor is as sharp as ever. At a recent luncheon, listening to the emcee run on in the past tense about her accomplishments, she piped right up: "Hey, I'm right here! I'm not dead yet!" When Villanova coach Harry Perretta paid a visit several months ago, she pulled out her iPad to challenge him to some of the puzzles. "I can't even turn the thing on, and then I can't, like, get any right," Perretta recalls. "And she goes, 'Harry, I'm supposed to have dementia, not you.'"
"She's kind of the jokester, and it's us who'll say, 'Hey, it's time to get serious,' " DeMoss says. "That's a complete role reversal. It's a day-to-day thing with us, where we learn as we go. At the top of our list is to make sure she's O.K. that day."
It's a tradition after Lady Vols home games for Summitt to sit for a postmortem with Dearstone, the play-by-play man. Hundreds of fans stay as listeners phone in questions. "Our postgame used to be a comedy skit," Dearstone says. "She could take it and she could give it. It can't be like that anymore."
They still meet, only now with DeMoss to help out. And the exchanges are no longer spontaneous but filtered via Facebook, like the one from a fan named Donna after the Lady Vols' 92--76 defeat of Miami on Nov. 15: "What do you like most about being a head coach?"
"I can tell you," she replied. "I've been here for a long time, and I love being a head coach, and I can't do this alone."
A few photos in Krzyzewski's office don't grace the walls but enjoy pride of place on his desk: shots of his wife, Mickie, and their daughters, Debbie, Lindy and Jamie, who with him round out what the family calls the Starting Five.
When he met Mickie, then a flight attendant with a Virginia lilt, Mike was a sisterless product of all-boys parochial schools and all-male West Point. Soon he was coming home, as she puts it, to "a lot of lace and pink and ruffles." Krzyzewski chose to let all that girl stuff have its way with him, and it has touched everyone to come through his program. Hill understands the message in that choice: "It said, 'Hey, as important as you guys are, and as important as my career is, my family is just as important.' Those are good things for young, impressionable men to see."
Mickie has earned a de facto master's in late-adolescent counseling from all the men-in-progress to come through Durham. Lindy serves as a formal counselor to the team, honoring a barrier that keeps her parents in the dark about what she's working through with whom. Debbie serves the basketball program in external relations. And Jamie, once known as Mo Minutes for the additional playing time Blue Devils jokingly believed they'd get for being nice to her, now collaborates with her dad on books about basketball and leadership, while her husband, Iraq war veteran Chris Spatola, serves as Duke's director of basketball operations. "When we were younger my mom would make a pot of chili and the coaching staff would come over and watch tape on the same TV in the family room where we'd watch Saturday-morning cartoons," Jamie says. "Before bed we'd say, Goodnight Tommy [Amaker, an assistant coach] and Goodnight Mike [Brey, another assistant]. We never felt that basketball was taking him away from us. This wasn't his thing. It was our thing."
In the middle of the 1994--95 season Krzyzewski landed in the hospital, wracked by exhaustion and back pain. He turned the team over to assistant Pete Gaudet and, in a despair unique to an academy-trained leader who has left his troops, watched the Blue Devils win just four of their final 19 games. "I'm in a bed and don't know what the hell's wrong with me, but I have no feeling and I'm hurt and sick," he says. "I needed to do things differently. We had gone to seven Final Fours in nine years, which is extreme. There's no class you can take for handling success and celebrity."
The experience forced Krzyzewski to consider Duke basketball without him. He vowed to start a foundation, which has since funded a practice facility and endowed a dozen player scholarships, two coaching positions and a manager's scholarship. "When I was in that hospital bed, none of that was in place," he says. "We had been winning, but that was it. Looking back, I don't know if I'd be coaching today, or coaching here, if that '94--95 thing hadn't happened. When I took a look at me, I didn't like some of the things I saw. I micromanaged too much. I got away from maybe looking at the pictures on my desk."
The other four starters still have their hold on him. He took to Beijing a snippet of Jamie's old blanket, the one with lollipops on it that she'd once worn like a cape around the house and called my Power.
And the Krzyzewski women know that there's no telling what will turn on his taps. Sometimes despair does it. (He cried in the shower after a 17-point loss at Princeton in 1981.) Sometimes a combination of relief and gratitude does it. (He cried in athletic director Tom Butters's office after three straight conference losses in '84—when Butters, instead of firing him, gave him a five-year contract extension.) Sometimes simple sentimentality does it. (He cried after the national semifinals at the '89 Final Four, not because the Blue Devils had just lost to Seton Hall but because he realized he'd never be coaching his seniors again.) And Bob Knight has driven him to it again and again, for every sort of emotional reason, most recently by offering a congratulatory hug after Krzyzewski broke his record.
"When he does retire, I fear for him," Jamie says. "There's a weight he will carry wanting to make sure that not just Duke is O.K., and his legacy and his program and all that, but that every single person is O.K. and in a good spot. 'I need to get him a job and I need to do this for her and I need to make sure that this person's child is seeing the right doctor'—I think it's going to be a huge burden. That is my fear for him."
SI has honored four college basketball coaches with this award, and for each the path to glory began as a calvary. John Wooden reached only one Final Four during his first 15 seasons at UCLA before winning the first of 10 championships. Dean Smith, who came up empty in his first six Final Fours, was famously hung in effigy. Like Pat Summitt's seven frustrating trips to the Final Four before her first title, Mike Krzyzewski made four unsuccessful visits of his own.
Four hundred and eighty-six: That's how many games Krzyzewski and Summitt, together, have lost. It's often enough to learn that failure has its value. "Nothing improves a team, or a person, more," she says. "[Losing] forces self-examination, it reveals flaws and, if you choose to learn from it, it inspires something better."
"We all lose," he says. "Any coach who's considered special takes the responsibility for losing much more than the responsibility for winning. Many factors go into why we win, but when we lose it's my fault, because I'm the person in charge."
In 1996--97 the Lady Vols lost 10 games on their way to an NCAA title, a record so ugly that Summitt couldn't bear to have it engraved on their championship rings. But Tennessee played 15 of the top 20 teams in the country that season. Only a coach who understands the value of a loss would schedule that way. Indeed, a year later the Lady Vols went 39--0, winning more games than any team ever, men or women, at the Division I level, as Summitt happily ceded control. In that do-si-do—from her yelling at her players, to her players figuratively whooping out in front of her, as they attacked on offense and pressed on defense, she watched them make a treasure of her losses.
Krzyzewski regularly scores his greatest successes after his biggest failures. Following a 30-point loss to UNLV in the 1990 title game, his teams found a way to win the next two. From the nadir of '94--95, the Blue Devils performed steadily better until winning another championship in 2001. Team USA's two international golds followed a haunting loss to Greece in the medal round of the '06 worlds, when Krzyzewski was still shimmying up his global learning curve. And one year after a 23-point loss to Villanova in the semifinals of the '09 East Regional, many of the same players who had struggled that night delivered Duke's fourth NCAA crown.
A season is a lifetime, Krzyzewski likes to say, and whether you win or lose that last game, you're born again. You go back to work—back to applying standards and discipline and showing empathy and emotion. Not that she doesn't have the latter two in spades, as that charter-jet flight attendant can testify; and not that he, with his West Point pedigree and time spent with Knight and Iba and Newell, doesn't have the former two too.
But in the end it may simply come down to this: Pat Summitt is a woman secure enough to draw from her masculine side. Mike Krzyzewski is a man secure enough to draw from his feminine side. In their respective modulations, they've chosen not to overlook half of what it means to be human. And by doing so they double the chance that they'll unlock what human beings are capable of.