1996: Remember Pete Gaudet?

Staff writerJanuary 11, 2010 

— DURHAM -- His new office is tucked in a corner of Duke's Card Gymnasium, a small room where they used to store audio-visual equipment.

In fact, the nameplate on the door still reads "STORAGE" and not "Pete Gaudet."

But Gaudet, who for the first time in 12 years is not a fixture on the Duke basketball team's bench, is not being stored away in some cushy athletics department job as many former coaches are.

He still has to work for a living, teaching a full load of classes. And he's still involved in college basketball - and very interested in coaching again.

"I'm not ready for retirement," Gaudet, 53, says. "I feel I'm energetic enough, enthusiastic enough to continue.''

This semester, Gaudet is teaching a coaching lecture class and four skills classes in tennis and basketball.

In some ways, it's not much of a departure from what he has done for the past few years. Even last season, when he was acting head coach of the Blue Devils in Mike Krzyzewski's absence, he taught a coaching class.

Imagine his schedule: Teaching a class, grading papers and trying to prevent the nation's winningest program during the previous decade from falling apart.

Under Gaudet, the Blue Devils lost 15 of 19 games and tumbled to last place in the ACC for the first time ever.

"I really don't dwell on the past," he says. "If I did, the tendency would be to go overboard and feel sorry about being a part of it. I've never felt that way.

"Duke basketball has done a lot of good things for me. We had the two championships. So many good things."

But last season produced a hurricane of problems, setbacks and heartbreaks, with Gaudet standing at the center, his white-collared shirt soaked in sweat. Duke lost nine straight ACC games and went from a two-time defending national champion to a cellar-dweller.

Less than two months after the season ended, Gaudet resigned, citing his frustrations with NCAA regulations that restricted his earnings as a coach. A week after he stepped down, the NCAA lifted the restrictions. Yet, Gaudet didn't return, fueling speculation that his resignation had more to do with what happened last season.

"He went through such a huge down time last season, and it was really troubling for him," Duke guard Steve Wojciechowski says. "Maybe he thought he needed to step away from it for a little while, maybe regroup, and see what he really wants - whether he wants to coach some more, or if he wants to teach and be with family."

Duke co-captain Chris Collins, whose father Doug blasted Gaudet for not giving his son more playing time last season, says he was surprised that Gaudet stepped down.

"But how can you blame him?" he says. "He took so much undue criticism for what happened last year. I feel for him, all the criticism he had to go through. It's too bad that probably was one of the reasons that caused him to step down."

Gaudet denies that such criticism had anything to do with his departure. And while some who are close to the program speculate that Krzyzewski wanted a fresh start with younger coaches, Gaudet insists the decision to step down was his.

"I thought it ended on a good note," former Duke assistant Mike Brey says. "From hearing both of them talk, it was positive. I know on Oct. 15, Mike gave Pete a call to tell him how much he missed him on the floor."

Gaudet's current involvement with the program is limited. He still talks to coaches and players from time to time and runs Duke's basketball camp. He has attended just about all of Duke's games, watching from the stands.

"He comes in," Krzyzewski says. "He teaches in the next building from Cameron, and still gets his mail. We see him frequently. You don't get a chance to see many people during this time of year because you always seem to be at practice, watching tape or in meetings."

Gaudet has coached for 30 seasons at the high school and collegiate levels. But will he be remembered more for his two months at the helm of Duke? In his coaching class, Gaudet teaches that wins alone should not determine a coach's worth.

"You look at guys like Landry, Shula and even Woody Hayes," he says. "I'm not comparing myself to any of them, but you look at the way people treat coaches. It's a shame if you don't look at the big picture."

Gaudet's big picture: His contributions to two national championship teams, his worldwide work in camps and clinics, his impact on hundreds of young people.

The little picture: the asterisk next to last season's record that points out that Duke was 13-18, with Krzyzewski going 9-3 and Gaudet 4-15.

Gaudet says he doesn't look back at last season and wonder how he might have done things differently. He says he hasn't watched game tapes from last season.

"It's not worth it to do that, to punish yourself," he says. "One of the hardest things in basketball is to have players go on to the next play. A kid makes a dunk, he's celebrating, he gets dunked on. It's like that in life, too."

Gaudet is looking ahead, Brey says.

"From my talks with him, Pete is very much ready to get back into coaching next year," Brey says. "When the musical chairs in our business start this spring, Pete would make a great assistant, and he'd make a heck of a head coach somewhere, too."

Gaudet says he has received offers to become an assistant at other colleges but that it would take the right one to pry him from his teaching job at Duke. That's always been what Gaudet enjoyed most about coaching - the teaching, not the recruiting, not dealing with overzealous parents or moody players or NCAA restrictions.

"If I'm teaching a girl some tennis concepts and I see her do well, I get a thrill out of that," he says.

Just about everything in his new office - and new life - is ready to go, except for maybe that nameplate on the door. That may take some time.

"I've never been big on nameplates," a smiling Gaudet says. "Besides, no one can find you. Sometimes that's even better."

Published Saturday, January 20, 1996, in the News & Observer

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