When Mike Krzyzewski came back from London, he was done. There was no equivocation in his voice when he said his time with USA Basketball, successful as it was, had come to an end.
“It’s time to pass the baton, without letting it drop, so we keep this thing going,” Krzyzewski said on August 13, his feet only minutes back onto the soil of North Carolina.
Nine months later, in the time-honored tradition of search-committee chairmen finding the best candidate in the mirror, Mike Krzyzewski came to the conclusion that the best person to take the baton from Mike Krzyzewski was still Mike Krzyzewski.
“I really thought I wasn’t going to do it,” Krzyzewski said Thursday. “But now that I am doing it, I can tell you I’m doing it with 100 percent commitment and passion.”
How he had this change of mind and change of heart says as much about his future at Duke as it does his future with USA Basketball.
Krzyzewski was ready to step away from the Olympics job because he wanted to give USA Basketball the opportunity to change direction. He was worried about losing time otherwise spent with his family. And the gold medal aside, he was coming off one of the most frustrating Duke seasons of his entire career.
He was not in a mood to make expansive long-term commitments. He was in a mood to retrench, to concentrate on his family at home and his family at Duke. It was as good a time as any to walk away from USA Basketball.
Jerry Colangelo, though, was never quite ready to let Krzyzewski go. The managing director of the men’s national team for USA Basketball never gave up hope Krzyzewski would change his mind. After the season, he made the call to Krzyzewski. The Duke coach is usually on the other end of that kind of recruiting pitch, but this time, he was willing to listen.
“I’m kind of old-fashioned,” Colangelo said. “I never really accepted the fact he wasn’t coming back. I felt time would be what he needed, in terms of a tonic, to think through the positives and also weigh the positives and whatever negatives there may be.”
Really, the tonic was a more fulfilling season at Duke, one Krzyzewski has said he enjoyed as much as any in his 33 years there. That, along with his excitement over the increased basketball potency of the ACC with the addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame (and Louisville shortly thereafter), had restored Krzyzewski’s coaching vitality at age 66.
The idea of coaching the United States at 70 – and by extension, Duke at 70 – was no longer so far-fetched.
“I wasn’t sure, before London, how much longer I would coach, not that I gave a time frame,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t see an end. Obviously, I’m not going to end before the Olympics.”
The obstacle was no longer Krzyzewski’s own resistance, but that of his family. If his decision to coach in 2008 was his alone and 2012 saw him seek only slightly wider counsel, this time the process was driven by his wife Mickie, his three daughters, his eight (soon nine) grandchildren. When they were on board, so was Krzyzewski.
Krzyzewski couldn’t have been more clear Thursday that his two coaching jobs go hand-in-hand. His commitment to four more years with USA Basketball may be a reversal of course, but it’s also a commitment to Duke for at least four more years as well – one he may not have been willing to make nine months ago.