Mike Krzyzewski played point guard for legendary coach Bobby Knight at Army, before serving as his assistant at Indiana. Coach K would eventually take over at his alma mater, before turning Duke into a college hoops power rivaling—and eventually surpassing—Knight’s at Indiana.
Throughout his career, Krzyzewski has given a fair share of credit to Knight for helping launch his career, while also distancing himself stylistically from his former mentor. A new book on Coach K by New York Post columnist Ian O’Connor that will be released later this month details how the relationship between the two college basketball legends deteriorated over the last few decades, coming to a head at a 2015 event thrown to honor the 50th anniversary of Knight’s first team at Army.
An excerpt published by Yahoo Sports details the incident in which Knight completely snubbed Krzyzewski, angry about “several perceived slights” including Krzyzewski’s decision to not accept Knight’s offer to scout opposing teams for Team USA during the 2008 Summer Olympics.
During the 2015 event in North Carolina, which former Army player John Mikula called a “disaster,” Krzyzewski approached Knight, and was reportedly snubbed by his former coach, who didn’t stop speaking to others at the table to greet him.
“Mike came in and said, ‘How are you doing, Coach?’ ” recalled Jim Oxley, Krzyzewski’s close friend and old backcourt partner. “And [Knight] barely even hesitated and continued with his story, that kind of thing. That was the start of it.”
Oxley recalled that Krzyzewski had come in for the whole day. “It just didn’t turn out good, and it really wasn’t because Mike wasn’t being totally gracious, because he was,” Oxley said. “He wasn’t trying to steal the spotlight, he never does. He didn’t sit with Knight at his table because Knight was there with all his guys. . . .That was one of many straws that broke the camel’s back. I remember Mike walking out of there saying, ‘That’s it. I’ll never do this again.’ ”
Mikula’s version of the interaction went like this: “Knight was sitting in a corner table with [former Army coach] Tates Locke, and I think [former Army assistant] Don DeVoe was there, and Mike went over to him and got down on a knee just to see him eye to eye, and everyone else kind of continued their conversations. Mike got up, walked away, and went over and stood outside the room and said, ‘That’s the last f------ time. That’s it.’ ”
Others acknowledged Knight’s bizarre behavior that night, including a speech that some deemed inappropriate. A pair of former Army players said that Knight was sick during the event, which could explain the behavior, including his treatment of Krzyzewski.
Chris Spatula, Krzyzewski’s son-in-law, said the incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back in a line of issues between the two.
“The Pinehurst one was never talked about,” he said. “It never came up again with family. That was it. It was clear-cut. He finally said, ‘OK, that’s the end of that. He was finally done with Coach Knight.’”
According to O’Connor, the fractured relationship began in earnest at the 1992 Final Four, after Duke beat Indiana 81–78 to advance to the national championship. Knight “did not break stride” during the postgame handshake, and later ignored Krzyzewski altogether. Knight had Colonel Tom Rogers, a Duke special assistant and West Point grade, hand him an envelope that contained a harsh note and a Sports Illustrated Final Four preview by Curry Fitzpatrick that outlined how badly Coach K wanted to beat Knight’s Indiana in their previous 1987 Sweet 16 matchup.
Over the next 23 years, a series of slights and other small incidents ended a legendary mentor-mentee relationship between two of the all-time coaching greats.
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