Head Coach of the Duke Blue Devils Mike Krzyzewski (pronounced SHUH-SHEV-SKI), but better known as coach K, is widely recognized as one of, if not THE greatest college basketball coaches of all time. Only John Wooden from UCLA is in the discussion for the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), but the hall of fame coach has run into some PR issues following the 2016 NCAA tournament.
The former West Point graduate has constructed one of the most impressive resumes that a coach could ever dream of, and is respected so much that he coaches the USA Olympic Basketball team. You could almost call him the Peyton Manning of college basketball coaches. In part because of his success, but also because of the bad press that they have both attracted (for the first time) in the twilight of their careers.
After the Duke Blue Devils lost to the Oregon Ducks in the sweet sixteen of the 2016 NCAA tournament, coach K had a few choice words for Oregon’s star forward Dillon Brooks that sparked controversy for the coach. He decided to extend his coaching hand outside of the blue uniforms and tell the Oregon player that his celebration was excessive. That “[he] is better than that”. Although some may see this as encroachment onto another coach’s turf, the player took it as constructive criticism and was extremely respectful about it. The coaches response, though, is what warranted scrutiny.
When questioned about the post-game interaction, the coach denied that it happened.
For a coach who lives and breathes blue, coach K just got caught red handed in his lie to the reporters. In public relations, when a crisis arises we are supposed to tell the truth, tell it all, tell it fast, and move on. It is safe to say the coach K did not follow this model very well.
His immaculate history has been his best defense for this issue. Up until this controversy, the coach has done as good a job as any at maintaining his reputation. Over his 36 year tenure at Duke he has been one of the most respected men in sports. His demeanor demands respect, but in the most comforting and approachable way.
Jimmy Valvano (Jimmy V), a highly influential basketball coach who passed away from cancer in 1993, even accredited him with being an even better person than he is a coach during his highly moving speech at the ESPY awards (that I personally consider one of the greatest speeches of all time).
All this begs the question as to why coach K decided to lie to the reporters. In the grand scheme of things, this is a very minor event that (deservedly) probably won’t affect his reputation too much, but as a public relations major, his response makes me cringe. He could not have handled this situation worse. He lied about what he said ( most likely because his behavior has never been in question before) and then made a weak attempt at apologizing which actually seemed to fuel the fire even more.
Most people who followed the story will probably tell you that coach K handled this pretty much as poorly as you can, but nobody can be mad at that face too long. Although he looks a little like Pee-wee Herman in the picture above… which is unsettling for a number of reasons, but was the only picture labeled for reuse.