The relationship between Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski began as one between teacher and student. Knight was Krzyzewski’s coach at Army from 1966-1969. But as Krzyzewski took the reins at Duke and became a rising star in the coaching ranks, the tone gradually shifted.
“Coach K,” Ian O’Connor’s new book, details the contentious relationship that ended with Krzyzewski saying he “was finally done with Coach Knight.”
A Sports Illustrated article from 1987 caught Knight’s attention ahead of Indiana’s meeting with Duke in the 1992 Final Four.
“In 1987 Indiana beat Duke in the Midwest Regional semifinals, a crucible that a friend of Krzyzewski’s describes as the ‘divorce’ between the two coaches, because Krzyzewski wanted so badly to eliminate the notion that he was nothing without Knight’s patronage,” the article read. “Since then Coach K has taken every opportunity to outline their many differences while still staying on Knight’s good side – wherever that is – undoubtedly a stickier task than teaching dozens of trophy makers how to spell his name.”
Before the national semifinal game tipped off, O’Connor says Knight handed Duke special assistant Colonel Tom Rogers an envelope, and asked him to give it to Krzyzewski. Duke held off Indiana 81-78. After the game, Krzyzewski approached Knight for the traditional postgame handshake.
“Only Knight did not break stride when grabbing and releasing Krzyzewski’s hand,” O’Connor wrote. “It was a drive-by handshake, meant to send a clear and cold message. Coach K said a few words as their hands met; the losing coach seemed not to say much of anything at all. Krzyzewski looked shaken as he walked away.”
After Knight addressed the media in a postgame news conference, he congratulated the waiting Duke players, but “walked right by (Krzyzewski) without saying a word or shaking his hand.”
“Knight wrote that if Krzyzewski wanted to sever their relationship, that would be easily arranged,” O’Connor wrote. “‘He wrote that you should remember how you (expletive) got your job,’ said one prominent friend of both men.”
O’Connor wrote that Krzyzewski “had tears in his eyes and sure did not look like a man who had just advanced to the national championship game for a third straight year. When his wife Mickie asked what was wrong, Krzyzewski answered, ‘Knight,’ and then told her about the note.”
O’Connor details additional rifts in the relationship, including Knight’s anger that Krzyzewski did not accept his offer to help him scout for Team USA prior to the 2008 Olympics.
“Knight said, ‘You know what, Mike, if you want, I’ll go over there with you. I’ll scout the other teams. I’ll do this, do that, and we can talk about the other team before the games.’ And he never got back to him, which was literally the worst thing he could’ve done. … Coach said he did more (expletive) for (Krzyzewski) than he did for his own kids, or as much.”
But the final break in the relationship, O’Connor says, came in 2015. Knight was being honored by his former Army players in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Krzyzewski showed up.
“And it was a disaster,” O’Connor quoted Krzyzewski’s former Army teammate, John Mikula, as saying.
“According to people in the hotel ballroom where the event took place, Knight was holding court with friends at his table when his former point guard approached,” O’Connor wrote. “Mike came in and said, ‘How are you doing, Coach?’ recalled Jim Oxley, Krzyzewski’s close friend and old backcourt partner. ‘And (Knight) barely even hesitated and continued with his story, that kind of thing. That was the start of it.’”
Mikula told O’Connor that Knight was sitting in a corner table with several former Army coaches when Krzyzewski went over to him and “got down on a knee just to see him eye to eye, and everyone else kind of continued their conversations. Mike got up, walked away, and went over and stood outside the room and said, ‘That’s the last (expletive) time. That’s it.’
“It never came up again with family. That was it. It was clear-cut. He finally said, ‘OK, that’s the end of that,'” Krzyzewski’s son-in-law Chris Spatola told O’Connor. “He was finally done with Coach Knight.
‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort