A few years ago I read Coach K's book titled Leading with the Heart. It's about his coaching philosophy, how he has built the Duke basketball dynasty, how the principles he teaches can be applied far beyond sports into business and other fields.
One of the big takeaways for me was his belief in being completely honest with his players at all times. One story remains embedded in my mind: At the Final Four in J.J. Redick's sophomore year after the Blue Devils lost, Coach K broke real honest with his sharp-shooting guard. He told him he was not reaching his potential, partying too much, and did not deserve to win a national title because he was not putting in the work to deserve that. Harsh words at a tough time for a young man finding his way in the world of college hoops.
Being a sports guy who transcends athletics and fancies himself in the book as more than just a basketball coach but a leader of men-like an Army Colonel--I bet he saw the movie "Remember the Titans." It was about race conflicts within a high school football team and community in the early 1970s at T.C. Williams High School in Northern Virginia.
In that film there's a memorable scene in which two of the team's top players bicker about who is giving more effort, putting self above team. One player stopped and says to the other: "You want honesty. I'll give you honesty." He goes on to berate his teammate and tell him he's wasting his potential as a football player by being too concerned about himself and not the team.
Because you treasure honesty, Coach K, I'll give you honesty.
Last night I watched you interviewed on the TV sports talk show "Pardon the Interruption." You were asked how you felt about all five Miami players slapping the floor on defense as a clear imitation of what Duke has done over these past few decades. You were also asked how you felt about teams often storming the court after beating Duke.
"We take that as a sign of respect and don't think much about it. We've won big over the years."
If you're wondering why so schools love to hate Duke basketball, one of the reasons is when you say stuff like that. Everyone on planet Earth knows you have won big over the years. You didn't have to remind the TV audience. But you did. You were patting yourself on the back, touting your program, your philosophy, the Duke way, your spiritual powers. You irritate people when you say such things. It sounds arrogant and self-congratulatory. You should be pleased with your success. But by saying it on the air you make people want to beat you even more, hate you even more, and think of you as someone who really thinks a lot of himself. We don't need to be reminded Duke has won big especially. If your goal is to make them dislike you more, keep saying things like that. I honestly don't think you care what they think because you are so sure you are right in how you do things. That alone irks people because they sense it.
Regarding teams slapping the floor being a sign a respect, you're reading that wrong. They imitate Duke not because they respect you. They do it because they think when Duke does it that it's showing off how cool and unique the Duke players think they are because they play for Duke. They're showing off, saying "hey we play tougher defense than any team in the country." Other teams don't react too fondly to teams acting up like that. They don't respect your team more for slapping the floor; they dislike your team more. They slap the floor to express their disdain for your players-and by extension the Duke program-being so full of itself. You and your Duke players act as if you are part of some secret special group of human beings that have the inside track to ultimate wisdom, the blueprint for living the good life that gets your to everlasting Heaven first in line. Stop acting like this and maybe other teams will stop slapping the court and fans will stop storming the court. It's not respect as much as anger. Nobody likes snobs.
To the issue of Duke winning all the time, I think many people respect what you've accomplished. But they don't like the way you've done it . You've put on airs that you are better than others spiritually, intellectually, and morally. That's my honest opinion.
Your book title, "Leading with the Heart," deserves scrutiny. After reading your book and watching you coach all these years, I have to be honest: I don't think you lead with the heart as much as you do with your proverbial fist and mental intimidation. You lead with winning in mind above all else. Leading with the heart is something else entirely, It's caring about the players above winning. I think you care about your players, you lead them with your heart to some extent. But what you do more than that is lead with winning in mind. You want to win basketball games to boost your coaching legacy; the players are pawns in what is really your chess game against the basketball coaching immortals. You like the players and have feelings in your heart for them-but many other coaches do also. But you like leading the college basketball universe in basketball wins more than you like leading with the heart.
Frankly, you've been insincere about this winning thing over the years. Several years ago you were asked if coaching Duke basketball was all about winning. "That would be a sickness," you answered.
I didn't believe you then and don't believe you now. It is all about winning with you. You spun your answer to make yourself look like someone bigger, someone about bigger things than just mere basketball games. You wanted the world to think you weren't a maniacal basketball coach who would does anything to win. You weren't being honest when you answered this question. Like many college basketball coaches, you are saddled with this "sickness" of wanting to win above all else You know it's a sickness; you know it's who you are. Stop positioning yourself as above all that. It's phony.
A few years ago I was struck by Christian Laettner's comments when asked how tough you are as a coach. Behind closed doors, he said, you are much more like Bobby Knight than people would think. We all know what a tyrant and mind-manipulator Knight was of his players. To be honest, he was a great coach but a jerk at best. Yet at least he was out in the open about it. You go in the Duke locker room and become that jerk. Talk about respect, I would respect you more if you were more like Knight and unveiled your true self in public. Nobody likes a two-faced a two-timer. Sometimes you slip and I've seen it. On the bench you explode with anger. You're no different but you try to hide it and then go madman in the locker room.
Last year I heard you interviewed and asked about how upset you got at your team at halftime in a game in which they had played a lousy first half. You admitted you got irate explaining: "My team was breaking my heart so I wanted to [break their hearts]."
What? Sounds like this is mostly about you. Leading with the heart? That breaking of their hearts smacks of spiteful revenge. Think about what you did: You psychologically tormented college-aged students to play better so you could get another win. You would position this as you teaching them about life and working hard. I would position this as you wanting to win so much you would stoop low to do it. Leading with the heart?
On the Eve of March Madness, I have to be totally honest. I want your team to lose in the first round of the ACC and NCAA tournaments. There are many reasons but among the biggest are that you think your Duke program is special compared to all others in the country and, to be honest, it is in some ways. You have won a ton of games and championships during your tenure. But I don't like the arrogance I detect from you and your players. You are not better human beings than the rest of us, yet you seem to think that you are. Like or not, that's the vibe you spew. I believe basketball glory is best when spread around. With you as Duke's coach glory hast been hoarded. Too many Final Fours for one university. Too many national championships. Too many McDonalds All-Americans. Too many Olympic Gold Medals.
Too much. Too much.
I graduated from Wake Forest, one of those league opponents your Duke teams have been pummeling incessantly. Compared with Duke basketball from a winning point of view, we've been dirt. We've never won much of anything. If we win tonight in the first round of the ACC tournament, we will play Duke.
In all honesty, I hope we kick your ass.