NEW ORLEANS — After the final game of his 47-year career, Mike Krzyzewski walked up to the podium in a makeshift media room in the Superdome and spoke afterwards duke’s 81-77 loss to North Carolina in the Final Four – exactly four weeks after the Tar Heels spoiled his last home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
But he wasn’t interested in talking about his legacy or his career, which ended in defeat to his greatest rival in New Orleans.
“First of all, congratulations to North Carolina,” said Krzyzewski. “Hubert and his staff and these kids did a hell of a job and tonight was a struggle. It was a game where the winner would be happy and the loser would be in agony. And that’s the kind of game we expected. We would have liked to have been on the other side, but I’m proud of what our boys have achieved.”
He added: “It’s not about me, especially now. I’m just worried about these guys. I mean, [they were] I’m already crying on the pitch and I mean, that’s all I can think about.”
In June, Krzyzewski announced that the 2021–22 season would be his last and assistant Jon Scheyer would replace him. With 1,202 wins, 13 ACC championships and five national titles, he is widely regarded as the greatest coach in college basketball history, tied with John Wooden, the legendary UCLA leader who won 10 national titles in 12 years.
For Krzyzewski, Saturday marked the end of a 47-year career that spanned 42 seasons at Duke.
In 1975, Krzyzewski secured his first head coaching job with Army, where he stayed for five seasons before being hired at Duke ahead of the 1980-81 season. After finishing under .500 in league play in three straight seasons at Duke, Krzyzewski was in the hot seat. But he steered the program into national title contention in its sixth season, beginning a reign that would span generations.
Krzyzewski got his Division I job more than 10 years before the NCAA instituted a three-point line in 1986, and he thrived throughout the era. The Duke team that reached the Final Four that season was the youngest team in Krzyzewski’s tenure.
Duke and North Carolina had never met in NCAA tournaments prior to Saturday’s Final Four clash.
“It’s something I never thought of and never will,” Hubert Davis said when asked if he would bring Krzyzewski the final loss of his career. “All I think about is those players. Coach K is incredible and this team is the best team we’ve played so far. We just played more games tonight.”
While disappointed with the loss, Krzyzewski said the game – teams swapped leads in the dying minutes – lived up to the hype.
“Both teams’ kids did their best and the crowd stood up for most of the game,” he said. “It was a damn good game, so it came true [hype]. … I’m proud of my boys. We had our chances in the last few minutes but they’re good.”
Krzyzewski repeatedly told reporters there would be another time and place for him to reflect on his career and legacy, but he wanted to focus on the players who were struggling with their emotions following Saturday’s defeat.
“We gave everything and it’s a shame we didn’t come up well, but I’m proud of the effort we put in and the way we ended,” said Paolo Banchero after the game .
Now college basketball will thrive without Krzyzewski, who has been a beacon for the sport for more than four decades.
On November 28, 1975, he led Army to a 56-29 win over Lehigh in his first game as college coach.
On Saturday, his Duke team lost to North Carolina 81-77 in the last game of his career.
“I’m fine,” said Krzyzewski. “I’m blessed to be in the arena. And when you’re in the arena, you’re either going to feel great or you’re agonizing, but you’re always going to feel great when you’re in the arena. And I’m sure that’s what I’ll miss when I look back. I won’t be in the arena anymore. But damn, I’ve been in the arena for a long time. And these kids did it. My last time in the arena was amazing.”
Krzyzewski then walked down a flight of stairs into a waiting area while his wife Mickie stepped through the black curtain with family and friends in tow.
And Coach K was gone.