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A Coach for All

After retirement, Coach Mike Krzyzewski's lessons will guide Duke colleagues

Coach Mike Krzyzewski
Duke Men's Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski sits on the bench during last October's Countdown to Craziness. Photo courtesy of Duke Athletics.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski consults with Associate Head Coach Jon Scheyer during a practice earlier this season. Photo: Duke Athletics. Few people at Duke can appreciate the wisdom of Mike Krzyzewski quite like Jon Scheyer. For half of his life, Scheyer, associate head coach of the Duke men's basketball team, has leaned on the guidance of Krzyzewski, who has led the Blue Devils program for more than four decades.

As a high school basketball star, Scheyer talked with Krzyzewski about where his life could go. As a Blue Devils player, he saw first-hand how Krzyzewski's lessons about trust, communication and collective responsibility built championship teams.

Now, as a 34-year-old father of two with a third child on the way, and the person who will succeed Krzyzewski this spring, Scheyer still relishes opportunities to hear the Hall of Fame coach's insights on basketball and life.

A teenage Jon Scheyer shares a moment with Krzyzewski. Photo: Duke Athletics. "I'm trying to soak up every single day with him," said Scheyer, part of NCAA championship teams in 2010 as a player and 2015 as a coach. "I know when the time comes in April, we won't have as many of these moments. So, I cherish the times when we're traveling, or when we're in here early in the morning, and those natural organic conversations pop up and we just start talking about life. I'm thankful for those."

This spring, Krzyzewski, the winningest coach in college basketball history, will lead the Blue Devils for the final time, ending a tenure that began when Duke hired him as a 33-year-old in 1980. Krzyzewski, who turned 75 in February, leaves behind a program that he built into a global brand, and gold standard.

And at Duke, Coach K's legacy extends well beyond the court. His ability to build and motivate teams, stay nimble amid change, and never lose sight of the people who make success possible, set an example for the Duke community.

"It's so important to have leaders like Coach K who can model the values and behaviors that an organization aspires to in its culture," said Sanyin Siang, leadership expert, author and founding executive director of the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics (COLE) at Duke University. "The more visibility we have for leaders throughout the organization who embody those values, the more organizations can create enduring success."

From Duke's frontline caregivers to those at the heart of the university's educational mission, Krzyzewski – through leadership and example – leaves a legacy of inspiration among colleagues he worked alongside, and those he never met. Here are some of their stories.

Mike Krzyzewski speaks to a class at the Duke Fuqua School of Business in the 1990s. Photo: University Communications.

Erica Hill

Stay Curious

Around four years ago, Erica Hill, now director of development for Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, was part of a group of consultants examining the feasibility and goals of a fundraising campaign for the Emily Krzyzewski Center in Durham.

Mike Krzyzewski created the non-profit center that builds the academic, career and leadership potential of students from populations often underrepresented in higher education, in honor of his mother. When it came
time to present the report, Hill and her colleagues did so to Krzyzewski in a boardroom near his office.

While a bit starstruck at first, Hill, a 1998 Duke graduate, said that Krzyzewski led a fruitful conversation, digging into details to gain a deeper understanding of paths forward.

"He was a gracious listener and had so many good and thoughtful questions," Hill said. "You could tell that he's great because he knows a lot, but then he tries to keep learning."

When it wrapped up in 2020, the Emily Krzyzewski Center's Game Changer Campaign raised over $18.5 million. And long after her work was done, Hill said that Krzyzewski's curious approach is something she brings into how she looks at the world.

"I think that's a great way to go through life," Hill said. "Just be curious and keep learning. Especially on a university campus, it fits in with what we do."

Todd Robbins

Meet People Where They Are

When the "ECHO" program, an expansive research initiative examining factors shaping child health, kicked off in 2017, Todd Robbins took on a leadership role as part of a large team of people who collected and monitored data from around 100 research sites.

In the team's early days – and during the pandemic, when it adjusted to fully remote, and later hybrid, working situations – Robbins, a devout Duke hoops fan, leaned on lessons drawn from Mike Krzyzewski's books on leadership.

Mike Krzyzewski and his wife, Mickie, visit pediatric patients at Duke University Hospital. Photo: University Communications. The most important cue he took from Krzyzewski was the value of being adaptable in how you lead individuals. Or, as Robbins put it, meeting people where they are.

"Almost every year, he has to start from scratch because he lost so many players to the NBA," said Robbins, a lead clinical research associate with Duke Clinical Research Institute. "He has to go with the flow and adjust with his team. That's so important because, for example, my team comes from various backgrounds, and some of them have different strengths. So early on, we really had to learn about each other and establish our bond."

By shaping his team members' roles to suit strengths – such as having better communicators serve as contacts for sites or having detail-oriented people process documents – Robbins said his team weathered challenges.

"That's the key, you have to know people's strengths, and when to pass something off to somebody who can run with it," Robbins said. "It just goes back to meeting people where they are."


Mike Krzyzewski speaks at a Black Lives Matter rally on campus in the summer of 2020. Photo: Duke Athletics.

Bonita McMorris. Photo by Stephen Schramm.

Choose the Harder Right

In the summer of 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, Mike Krzyzewski voiced his feelings in an online video.

"Black lives matter," Krzyzewski said looking directly into the camera. "Say it. Can't you say it?"

Over the next few minutes, an emotional Krzyzewski pleaded with viewers to acknowledge the role racism plays in society and aspire to do better.

As a Black woman and behavioral health case manager in Duke University Hospital's Emergency Department, Bonita McMorris has a keen understanding of the ills Krzyzewski referenced. In her work, she sees how the lack of access to health care, education and opportunity can leave Black citizens and families in crisis.

She saw Krzyzewski's video not long after it was released and was struck by his passionate, direct message.

"I was pleased to know that Coach K had the feelings he has," McMorris said. "He's exactly right."

In the video, Krzyzewski, a West Point graduate, recited a line from the school's cadet prayer.

"Lord, help me choose the harder right, instead of the easier wrong," Krzyzewski said.

Not only has McMorris turned that line into a personal mantra, that spirit led her to join a group of hospital colleagues that meets weekly to discuss race and forge a more inclusive future.

"I'll never forget," she said.

Duke men's basketball players, from left, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones with Duke faculty member Ingrid Bianca Byerly. Photo courtesy of Ingrid Bianca Byerly.

Ingrid Byerly

Inspire Others

Since 2013, Ingrid Bianca Byerly, a faculty member in the Thompson Writing Program, has taught public speaking courses that have been useful for Duke men's basketball players destined for careers in the spotlight.

"It's wonderful having basketball players in the class, they contribute so much," said Byerly, whose classroom stories often feature names such as Quinn, Justise, Grayson and  Jahlil.

She gets glimpses of the culture of the basketball program through her experience with the players, who bring a sense of confident calm to class and are usually quick to build camaraderie among classmates.

Through personal anecdotes about how they overcame obstacles, rebounded from disappointment, or faced fears, the players often share in their speeches how they built resilience and determination. And in many of the stories, lessons from Mike Krzyzewski are at the core.

"It's always really heartfelt and inspirational, I can just hear Coach K's voice in there," said Byerly, who draws her own inspiration from the speeches. "When I hear some of them talk, I think ‘I cannot believe I have a job like this, where I can learn these wisdoms from people a fraction of my age.'"

Mike Krzyzewski speaks with his team at practice earlier this season. Photo: Duke Athletics.

Becca Murphy

What Would Coach K Say?

Growing up in Lynchburg, Virginia, Becca Murphy watched plenty of ACC basketball and developed a deep respect for how Mike Krzyzewski led his teams.

She admired how he took players from different backgrounds and built tight-knit teams with a unified sense of discipline and purpose. And when games got tense, and emotions ran high, Murphy appreciated how Krzyzewski's teams never seemed to shrink from the moment, usually staying focused and calm when opponents were rattled.

As a licensed practical nurse, Murphy often remembers the qualities Krzyzewski instills in his teams when facing her own trying times or important moments, such as caring for COVID-19 patients while working in a hospital in Idaho, or helping vulnerable patients in Duke's Adult Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinic, where she's worked since May of 2021.

A big part of Murphy's role in the clinic is caring for patients recovering from bone marrow transplants. Patients have depleted immune systems, so caring for them requires extreme discipline and attention to detail. It's at these times when she'll think of how Krzyzewski's teams execute.

"It doesn't do you any good to freak out, that's not going to help you think clearly," Murphy said. "So, I'll often think, ‘If Coach K were here, what would he say about what I'm doing?'"

Mike Krzyzewski, fifth from left, takes part in the groundbreaking of the Emily Krzyzewski Center, which opened in Durham in 2006. Photo: University Communications.

Cam Wolfe

Find a Higher Purpose

After successfully navigating the 2020-21 regular season with no players or coaches testing positive for COVID-19, the Duke men's basketball team headed to the ACC Tournament last March hoping to collect marquee victories and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament field.

But during the ACC Tournament, a positive test result by a member of the program brought about conversations among coaches, school officials and infectious disease experts about what needed to happen next.

Duke Associate Professor of Medicine Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease expert who serves as an advisor to Duke Athletics on COVID-19 matters, was part of the Zoom meetings and phone calls where these conversations unfolded. He recalled when Mike Krzyzewski opened the meeting with his insight, along with the health of Duke team members, Krzyzewski was equally concerned with Duke's opponents. No matter the decisions, he didn't want to jeopardize someone else's season.

Wolfe said that Krzyzewski's selfless statement set the tone for discussions that eventually led to the decision to withdraw from the ACC Tournament, ending the season for the Blue Devils, who ultimately had several members of the program test positive.

"I can't tell you how refreshing and how much easier it made my thought process to have the coach say that, straight from the outset," Wolfe said. "It's reassuring to know that there's a higher purpose here than just to win."

Celestina Torres, a housekeeper with University Environmental Services, cleans display cases in the Duke Basketball Museum. Photo: University Communications.

Jacqueline Tate

Everyone Deserves Respect

Around 2008, Mike Krzyzewski spoke at an event in the airy lobby of North Pavilion. Several floors up, Jacqueline Tate and fellow housekeepers gathered by a railing and listened.

"Some of the girls I was working with were Duke fans, so they wanted to watch," Tate said.

In his remarks, Krzyzewski told the story of his mother, Emily, who cleaned office buildings at night when Krzyzewski was growing up in Chicago. He spoke of his deep affection and respect for her and how, regardless of her work, she led a life of dignity.

"He said no matter what position someone has, always treat them with respect," said Tate, who didn't know much about Krzyzewski prior to his talk. "That really spoke to me. I looked at him as a down-to-earth, wholesome person with integrity. Once you know someone's background and values, you look at them differently."

Over the next several years, Tate enrolled in Duke's Professional Development Academy and moved into Duke Radiology, first as a scheduling assistant and now working at the reception desk. All these years later, Krzyzewski's words about treating everyone with respect shape her interactions with patients and colleagues.

"I work with thousands of people doing different jobs and we all need to work together," Tate said. "So you've got to have respect for everyone, regardless of their story. Everybody's human."

Mike Krzyzewski By the Numbers


   USA Olympic gold medals as head coach


   National championships


   Former players or staff members who are currently college head coaches


   Final Four appearances


   ACC tournament championships


   Seasons at Duke


   Former players selected in NBA draft


   NCAA tournament victories


   Career victories entering 2021-22 season


   Approximate undergraduate and graduate degrees awarded during Coach K's tenure at Duke