Maybe what Mike Krzyzewski didn’t like was the challenge to his authority by a journalist.
Because he shouldn’t have been upset about the question, which was absolutely fair under the circumstances. And he shouldn’t have cared about the age of Duke Chronicle reporter Jake Piazza, who as an independent scribe had every right to be there. So perhaps when he unleashed his snark-filled response to the student reporter Saturday night after Duke lost 70-65 to Louisville and fell to 5-5 this season, he was just upset someone would confront his failure so directly.
It’s a mindset found consistently in the college ranks, where the heads of basketball and football programs double as university deities in many parts of the country.
“I’m just curious as to what the next step forward is for the team as you guys move into another week of basketball,” the reporter asked Coach K on a virtual news conference not long after Duke had turned the ball over 15 times while dishing just seven assists.
Not the most incisive query, to be sure, but one worth putting forward as Duke continues its worst start to a season in decades.
It was enough for Krzyzewski to dig in.
“Why don’t we just evaluate this game?” Krzyzewski said. “I’m not into what our next step forward is right now. We just finished a hard-fought game. What’s your major? What’s your major at Duke? What’s your hardest class?”
When the reporter answered that he was an economics major, Krzyzewski continued, “OK, say you just had the toughest econ test in the world, and when you walked out, somebody asked you, ‘What’s your next step?’ You see what I mean? Do you have some empathy? Just give us time to evaluate this game and we’ll figure it out, just like we always try to do.”
Coaches say far worse things to young interviewers — hazing rituals often target the most anxious and inexperienced questioners. It doubles as a sort of “test” from coach to reporter.
But what’s the point of the intimidation tactic? Why do the very people tasked with guiding the lives of teenage athletes — and who work those players as if they were paid pros — think it’s reasonable to belittle journalists of any stripe?
In the end, the exchange between Coach K and the Duke Chronicle reporter probably served as a different type of learning experience than intended. Rather than discourage tough questions, Krzyzewski shattered the illusion of his own infallibility. Now the writer knows the people he covers are not worth the pedestal many place them on, and that when he touches a nerve with a probe, it’s a sign he might be on the right track.
Unfortunately, we still don’t know how Duke plans to avoid its first NCAA Tournament miss since 1995.