Duke Now

Duke’s Jeff Capel learned from his father’s toughness

Duke's Jeff Capel talks about coaching without Krzyzewski on the bench

Duke acting head basketball coach Jeff Capel talks about coaching the Blue Devils with Mike Krzyzewski out after having back surgery. Capel coached his team to a home win over Boston College.
Up Next
Duke acting head basketball coach Jeff Capel talks about coaching the Blue Devils with Mike Krzyzewski out after having back surgery. Capel coached his team to a home win over Boston College.

Jeff Capel knew, he wrote.

He knew ALS was an incurable disease after participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge a couple of years ago.

But his father’s diagnosis left Capel in tears, the Duke associate head coach penned in a letter on The Players’ Tribune that posted Wednesday.

The Capel family learned in spring of 2016 that the coach’s father, also Jeff, 64, has ALS, a progressive neurological disease. Capel couldn’t bear to read any more about the disease as he sat with his father in the doctor’s office at Duke. Today, his father’s ALS continues to progress.

“I’ve known from my dad’s symptoms, that there is something obviously wrong – he’s been slurring his words lately, almost like he’s had a few drinks,” Capel wrote. “I know, from the test they’re running, and from his doctor’s choice of words, that it’s bad news.”

Capel, 41, called the piece “The Tree,” as he chronicled moments he shared with his father throughout his life, moments that led him down his path as a basketball player and coach.

The truth is: ALS will take my dad’s speech; and it will take my dad’s movement; and yes, there is a good chance that it will eventually take his life.

Jeff Capel wrote on The Players’ Tribune

Capel, who, along with his younger brother Jason, saw his father through many ups and down in his basketball coaching career.

Capel told the story about his and his brother’s first time on an airplane. Accompanying their father on a recruiting trip when he was an assistant at Wake Forest, they took a small crop-duster to Andalusia, Alabama to meet with Robert Horry. To this day, the brothers still don’t know which of them vomited on Horry during the crammed and bumpy plane ride when Capel was 12. Their father laughed and tried to clean it up, and Horry didn’t wind up at Wake Forest.

When the elder Capel lost his assistant job at Wake Forest in 1989, he told the boys everything would be OK, and it was.

He went on to become a head coach at Fayetteville State from 1989-93, North Carolina A&T from 1993-1994 and Old Dominion from 1994-2001.

He was fired from ODU in 2001 after the school asked why it would want a coach who didn’t think the team was good enough for his son, Jason, a top 5 recruit. Jason retained ODU on his final list because his father was the coach. Jason ened up at North Carolina, because he dad encouraged him to “fulfill his lifelong dream” of going to Carolina.

Capel wrote that the first time he ever saw his father cry was after losing his job at ODU, the last he’d have in college coaching.

When the family learned about the ALS, Capel said everyone cried but his father.

In his letter, Capel takes readers through moments that reveal why he idolizes his father. He is a provider, a teacher and role model who encouraged his sons to follow their dreams and not to quit when things get tough.

His freshman year playing for Duke, Capel thought he was slick when he only complained to his mother of how mean Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski was. But she was relaying the conversations back to his father.

It took Capel’s father telling him to “Stop calling home and complaining. And just play,” for Capel to realize how fortunate he was. Turns out, Krzyzewski was one of the first people Capel told about his father’s diagnosis.

I just sit there, in the office of one of the greatest coaches in the history of basketball, and I cry, and I cry, and I cry.

Jeff Capel wrote on The Players’ Tribune

“Sometimes I feel a little guilty about how good I’ve had it, in my profession, compared to my dad I’ve gotten to be a part of this amazing coaching tree that Coach K has built here in Durham,” wrote Capel, who became a first-time head coach at 27 when he was promoted from assistant at Virginia Commonwealth. He is the acting head coach at Duke while Krzyzewski recovers from back surgery.

Duke acting head basketball coach Jeff Capel talks about coaching the Blue Devils with Mike Krzyzewski out after having back surgery. Capel coached his team to a home win over Boston College.

Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan

  Comments