Luke DeCock

From the archives: A season that turned two coaches’ fates

In the wake of Mike Krzyzewski’s decision to have back surgery Friday, leading to his indefinite absence from the Duke team, there have been many questions about what happened in 1995, when Krzyzewski missed the final 19 games of that dismal season. This story,originally published May 22, 2005, looked back and what happened -- and what changed. (Two words have been added to correct an error in the original story introduced in the editing process. Also, it should be noted that Gaudet now appears in Krzyzewski’s coaching tree in the media guide.)

A decade ago this week, Pete Gaudet walked away from Duke basketball after a dozen years as Mike Krzyzewski's top assistant and closed the door on one of the strangest seasons in the program's history.

His name forever will be entwined with what happened at Duke in 1995, when the Blue Devils went 13-18 and Gaudet spent three months as interim coach after Krzyzewski was hospitalized for exhaustion.

"I don't think about it. I don't talk about it," said Gaudet, 63, who now is a member of the women's basketball staff at Ohio State.

"It's just kind of part of my past."

For Krzyzewski, the lessons learned amid the wreckage of 1995 still resonate. He has spent the past decade retooling both the Duke program and his approach to life with tangible results. An unheralded Duke team won the 2005 ACC Tournament title; next year, the Devils hope to win a national title.

It is no coincidence two of his assistant coaches -- Steve Wojciechowski and Chris Collins -- played on the 1995 team. They know, as Krzyzewski does now, that Duke's tradition is fragile and success is not guaranteed.

"It seems like that never happened. I know it did, but it's gone by fast, let's put it that way," Krzyzewski said. "I still have a hard time understanding I'm 58, because it goes by fast. If you love what you do and you throw yourself into that, all of a sudden it's another season, that type of thing.

"But certainly what happened 10 years ago helps shape for me a better understanding and a better perspective of what you have to do to maintain something at a real high level."

What happened 10 years ago threatened all that Krzyzewski had built in his first 15 years at Duke. Overburdened and overcommitted, he was hospitalized for exhaustion after 12 games, and the Devils finished last in the ACC under Gaudet. Watching the disaster, Krzyzewski learned the Duke brand he created, without a change in philosophy, would wither without him.

When Krzyzewski went to his first Final Four in 1986, he was a young, insightful coach who had restored the pride of a traditional power. By 1992, when the Devils won their second straight NCAA title, he had become a national figure, with national demands on his time. He had charitable causes to support, personal appearances to make and books to write.

That summer, he served as an assistant coach on the Dream Team in Barcelona, winning an Olympic gold medal but working through an entire offseason. Krzyzewski was gambling his stamina could hold out, that his body and mind could hold up.

In 1995, he lost.

A wife's ultimatum

In October 1994, Krzyzewski had surgery to correct a bulging disk in his lower back. He hurried back, against the advice of his doctors, but his players weren't fooled. Collins, then a Duke junior, saw a different look in his coach's eyes that fall -- fatigue.

He wasn't the only one to see it. On Jan. 5, 1995, Krzyzewski's wife Mickie delivered him an ultimatum: her or basketball. As she would later explain, her 47-year-old husband looked, "80 years old, gray-looking, hunched over."

The next day, he was hospitalized. Duke was 9-3 when the program was turned over to Gaudet.

Three games into his tenure, Duke blew a 23-point second-half lead to Virginia at home, one of nine straight losses to open the ACC slate. By the time it was over, Duke set a school record for losses.

"Miserable," Collins called it.

For other Duke teams, Krzyzewski's absence may not have been insurmountable. Earlier in the 1990s, his teams had leaders such as Bobby Hurley, Brian Davis, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill. After Hill graduated in 1994, the only seniors were forward Cherokee Parks, an offbeat Californian, and role players Kenny Blakeney and Erik Meek.

"Those guys, for whatever reason, didn't do a good job," said Virginia Commonwealth coach Jeff Capel, a sophomore in 1995. (Parks, through his agent, could not be reached for comment.)

Still, the upperclassmen on the 1995 team all had been to at least one Final Four. The freshmen included Trajan Langdon and Wojciechowski. And Gaudet, a former Army head coach, tutored big men such as Laettner and Danny Ferry and had in the past been able to keep the team loose with a keen wit.

It wasn't enough to overcome the sense of entitlement that had enveloped the Duke program. Collins admits the 1995 team took winning for granted.

"You learn you make those things happen," he said. "The players and the coaches make that happen. It's not just a rite of passage. I think that's a lesson that the players in 1995 had to learn, and we didn't have our leader there to snap us out of it. When everything hit the fan, we didn't have the rock or the foundation that was always there, who knew the right buttons to push. We didn't have the right instincts of what our team needed."

Gaudet resigned after the season to teach in Duke's physical education department. Another assistant, Mike Brey, left to become the head coach at Delaware and is now at Notre Dame.

With a wife and three children, Gaudet had been the team's "restricted earnings coach" despite being the senior assistant and made just $16,000 a year. A week after he resigned, the NCAA -- prodded by a federal judge's response to lawsuits filed by Gaudet and other coaches -- ended the salary restrictions.

Gaudet did not pursue a return to his old job.

"At that point, you make a decision, and all of a sudden, it's settled," he said. "It's hard to say everything is OK as it was. I had taken a new step, and just like a lot of other things in life where you make a decision -- an old girlfriend calls, or something like that -- I made the decision and this was the direction we were going in, that all parties were going in. It was kind of a moot point."

K's life redefined

As Gaudet had been coaching the team, Krzyzewski had been re-prioritizing his life on and off court. He redirected his energy from building a winning team to building a winning program and preventing another collapse.

"We didn't want to be back to where we were before. We wanted to be better," he said. "We wanted to be more well-rounded. We wanted to have a broader base than what our program was doing. It wasn't just about trying to win an ACC championship or whatever. It was trying to be more a part of the university community and the community at large.

"It was a better plan, and part of it is probably because I had time to think. Going to seven Final Fours in nine years, you don't have time to think about anything else. ... Probably someone else would have, but I couldn't. Being out like that gave me an opportunity to look at it with a broader stroke."

Krzyzewski gave up management of ancillary areas of his job, from community involvement to charitable causes, to concentrate on his family and his basketball team. Once praised for his accessibility, he continued to withdraw from the local media.

Instead of hiring assistants from other programs, he groomed his own. His staff today consists of three former Duke captains: Johnny Dawkins -- the program's all-time leading scorer -- Collins and Wojciechowski.

After the '95 season, Krzyzewski invited Collins and Capel to his house and made it clear that he would be different in the future, but Duke would again be Duke.

"He talked to us about how his commitment now was first to his family and then his team," Capel said. "You could kind of get a sense of it. We had maybe been insulated from that, but you saw a different look in his eye, almost like he felt like he had to prove himself all over again. ... I'm sure he felt extremely guilty about what happened in '95. He wanted to re-establish himself and re-establish the program."

Krzyzewski did it by adding the toughness that had been absent in '95. His next recruiting class, which arrived on campus in fall 1996, included Chris Carrawell, who grew up on the tough streets of St. Louis, and Nate James, son of a Marine sergeant. That fall, Duke's uniforms went from inoffensive royal blue to trendy black.

Gaudet moves on

While Krzyzewski was rebuilding, Gaudet had a career to consider. He spent a year teaching classes at Duke while continuing to work at basketball clinics and camps. In fall 1996, he was at a clinic in Korea when his wife called to relay an offer to become an assistant men's coach at Vanderbilt. Gaudet wasn't interested.

On the endless journey home via Japan and Chicago, Gaudet changed his mind. Coaching had not lost its appeal.

"I really enjoyed teaching in the classroom, and I thought the students really liked it," he said. "The coaching class was a very popular course, and I taught some skills classes, too. In the end, it was about getting back on the floor and doing what I felt I did best."

In 1999, he switched from the men's to the women's team at Vandy, then moved with Jim Foster to OSU in 2002. Earlier this month, he was reassigned from assistant coach to video coordinator.

Though the four wins and 15 losses under Gaudet in 1995 were removed from Krzyzewski's coaching record, Duke does not list Gaudet among its head basketball coaches. Nor does Gaudet appear among the 19 former coaches and players included in Krzyzewski's "coaching tree" even though Krzyzewski once referred to him as "my main guy."

His departure from Duke basketball, only a decade past now, feels like much longer. "It just seems like a career ago," Gaudet said.

Lessons learned

Krzyzewski, meanwhile, has learned not to take winning for granted. Ten years after his health and his program crumbled, three trips to the Final Four and another national title later, he applied the lessons of 1995 to find success in 2005 after two key players jumped to the NBA.

Knowing strong legs would be essential, he insisted on the toughest offseason conditioning program of any Duke team. He softened the schedule -- Duke played only home and neutral-site games until the ACC season began in January -- but approached every game as a must-win.

He simplified the offense and issued more instructions from the bench. He decided to apply less defensive pressure and steer more shots to Shelden Williams.

"There were a lot of question marks coming in, and he took it upon himself to make sure we went in the right direction," Duke's J.J. Redick said.

Duke, picked to finish fourth in the ACC, won the title. After losing to Michigan State in the NCAA regional semifinals, Krzyzewski's disappointment with the loss clearly was tempered by an appreciation for the achievement.

"It's one of the greatest accomplishments I've had in coaching, for this group to finish up ACC champs and get a No. 1 seed," he said. "Believe me, it's a heck of a thing."

Duke's success last season -- and promise for the next -- remains a product of the changes made after the 1995 season. The legacy of that season lives on in the minds of Krzyzewski and Collins and Wojciechowski, who are determined never to repeat it.

Pete Gaudet, though, still is trying to forget.

"Good things are still happening," he said. "It's a blip for me. I don't really address it."

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

A SEASON OF TURMOIL

Pete Gaudet, who joined Duke's staff in 1983, served as interim coach during Mike Krzyzewski's leave of absence in 1995. The Blue Devils struggled to the most losses in team history.

The school does not list the team's 4-15 record under Gaudet as a part of Krzyzewski's career record, and instead has an asterisk in the record book to denote that Gaudet coached the team in those games. He resigned after the season, 10 years ago this week.

OCT. 21, 1994: Krzyzewski has surgery to correct a bulging disk in his lower back.

OCT. 31: Krzyzewski puts in a brief appearance at Duke's practice.

NOV. 25: Duke opens at home with an 80-38 win over Brown.

JAN. 4, 1995: Duke loses at home to Clemson, 75-70. The Devils are 9-3.

JAN. 5: Concerned by his condition and appearance, Krzyzewski's wife Mickie tells him to choose between her or basketball.

JAN. 6: Krzyzewski is hospitalized at Duke for exhaustion, which a Duke statement attributes to back problems related to his workload. He misses Duke's Jan. 7 loss at Georgia Tech, Gaudet's first game as interim coach.

JAN. 10: Krzyzewski is released from the hospital, but his coaching status remains uncertain.

JAN. 22: Krzyzewski announces he will not return during the season.

FEB. 4: After conferring with the NCAA, Duke decides to exclude wins and losses after Jan. 4 from Krzyzewski's career record.

FEB. 9: Duke beats Georgia Tech 77-70 for its first ACC win to move to 1-9 in the league.

MARCH 6: Krzyzewski announces his intention to be back on the bench in the fall.

MARCH 10: Duke loses to Wake Forest 87-70 in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals to finish 13-18, 2-14 in the ACC.

MAY 19: Gaudet resigns, citing financial difficulties caused by NCAA restrictions on coaches' pay. He remains at Duke as a physical education teacher.

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