There’s a debate as to what the single most iconic moment in college football is. Some may say the Stanford-Cal play. Others may argue Hail Marys by Doug Flutie or Kordell Stewart. Younger fans would lobby for Vince Young’s 4th-and-5 run to beat USC in 2006 or the Boise State Statue of Liberty to win the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
In an interview for the Bloomberg network with the David Rubenstein Show, Mike Krzyzewski explained what he told to his Blue Devils in the moments before that shot went through, projecting a thought he wasn’t even sure he believed himself, because his team needed to hear it.
“They went ahead 102 to 101 and so our guys call a timeout with 2.1 seconds. I think the very first thing a leader has to show is strength, and so I met them as they were coming to the bench and I said, ‘We’re going to win. We are going to win.’ I don’t know if I really believed it, but I kept saying it.”
Rubenstein is much closer to Larry King than, say, Jay Bilas as an interviewer of Coach K, and the position of ignorance he starts from actually leads to some interesting places that a sit-down with someone who covers college basketball day-to-day likely wouldn’t have touched. For instance, some members of Coach K’s family, including his own father, changed their last name to Cross to avoid anti-Polish bigotry in post-War Chicago.
Here were some of my favorite parts:
Coach K on recruiting: “I work harder at recruiting now than I’ve ever worked because you have to do it more often. It’s not so much what do in the home. Before you ever get to their home, it’s what you do in social media, the texting, how you communicate. Relationship building is so much more different now than it was then. That whole landscape is changed dramatically.”
Coach K on his main lessons of leadership: “In order to get better, you change limits. And in order to change limits you’re going to look bad and you’re going to fail. At West Point I learned that failure is never a destination. In other words, when you are not back, figure out why, then change.
“The other thing is that you’re never going to get there alone. Be on a team. Surround yourself with good people and learn how to listen. You’re not going to learn with you just talking. When you do talk, converse. Don’t make excuses. Figure out the solution, and you don’t have to figure it out yourself. That’s what we’ve tried to build our program on for the 40, 42 years that I’ve been a coach.”
On what Coach K wants his legacy to be: “Make every day like it’s my first day, but with the experience of 42 years…. That I was hungry every day, that I gave everybody my best shot. I always wanted to be part of a team, and obviously I wanted to lead that team. What an interesting life it is to be a leader.”