Master Of Motivation

Coach K

If you passed him on the street, you might think he was an accountant. But this mild-mannered fellow is one of the most inspiring men in America – the master of motivation. Charlie Rose reports.

His name is Mike Krzyzewski, and he is the head basketball coach at Charlie Rose's alma mater, Duke University in North Carolina. "Coach K," as he's known, has put his teams near the top of the NCAA basketball tournament nine times in the last 16 years – three times as champion. And he has done it with a style unlike anything you would expect.

He doesn't talk like a typical coach, or act like one. Though he can be tough, and temperamental, Krzyzewski is hardly a tyrant. He hugs, he listens, he supports. He wants every player at every game to feel he has something at stake.

Says Krzyzewski: "You have a chance for everybody to have ownership. That's the ultimate goal. You know, where the team is owned by everybody on that team… It's always we."

He says that psychology is the most important aspect of his success: "I think it's the most important factor. What happens in sport a lot is that – and it happens in business too. People try to learn the business or they learn the sport – they learn the X's and O's and all that. And the time they spend on that is so disproportional with the time they spend learning about people. There has to be a combination there. There has to be an excessive amount of time just being spent with people. These are the people who make the X's and O's work."

Krzyzewski's emphasis on "we" – on teamwork -- extends in every direction, including the Duke student body. This makeshift village outside Cameron Indoor Stadium is called K-Ville. Before big home games, students camp out for weeks for their chance to get tickets. They're called the "Cameron Crazies."

The reason they're doing it is because they're part of the team, we win and we lose together," says Krzyzewski. "In other words, whenever we play Maryland or Wake Forest or North Carolina or whoever, it's not just the Duke basketball team on the court; it's all of us. They're not just part of the team, they're passionately part. You know one of the rules in there is that you stand for every second of every game. You want to stand the entire game."

That kind of devotion and enthusiasm has made Krzyzewski not only a winning basketball coach, but one of the most sought after speakers in the country. Companies hire him to fire up employees. His approach is thoughtful, almost fatherly.

In the huddle, he will tell each of his players that they are good. "There hasn't been a player that I've coached that at some times doesn't need to be told, 'You're the best guy right now.' We all feel insecure at times. And a lot of times, the guy who's the leader, or the top player, can be the loneliest player on the team because the other guys on the team don't think he needs anything. But the lead guy needs stuff, too, otherwise, he gets drained."

That kind of sensitivity is surprising when you consider the man who was Krzyzewski's mentor: Bobby Knight – the controversial but successful coach who recruited Krzyzewski to play for him at West Point, and later assist him at Indiana. Krzyzewski learned a lot of skills from Knight. But chair-throwing, evidently, wasn't one of them.

One example of the Coach K method: In last year's NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils got to the championship without one of their star players, Carlos Boozer, who mad been sidelined with an injury. Boozer's replacement, Casey Sanders, had played well. But at half time of the final, the game was close and Carlos Boozer was ready to play. With the championship on the line, here's how the master of motivation handled it.

At halftime, Krzyzewski made sure that both Sanders and Boozer were comfortable with the fact that Boozer would start the second half. That's probably not how Bobby Knight would have done it. But it worked for Krzyzewski - Duke won.

Krzyzewski grew up in Chicago, the son of an elevator operator and a cleaning woman.

Coach K: "My mom was the happiest person alive. And for her whole life, she had two dresses in her closet. She didn't take any money with her. You know what I mean? It's not about what you accumulate, it's about what you do."

What he wanted to do was teach. Basketball was his way to do it. When he came to Duke in 1981, he was 32. Both the Duke alumni and the local press were skeptical. There were lots of questions about this Krzyzewski. Five hundred wins later, they named the court after him.

Charlie Rose: What does this mean to you, Coach K Court?
Coach K: "Well, the main thing it means is that I have a long name and they couldn't get the whole name on there or that a basketball court is too small."

To make it on Coach K's court takes a special kind of player. Recruiting those players is the first part of Krzyzewski's method – and he isn't just looking for basketball skills.

"First of all, I choose people who have already understood looking up to authority," he says. "They've had some authority in their life. You know, good parents, good teachers."

But to be in the family, there's a price. Nobody knows that better than his wife, Mickie: "He wants something back. He wants the investment from those people that he's putting in, he says I will give you 100 percent, how much will you give me? And it better be 100 percent. Or you break his heart. He's not gonna yell at you, not gonna kick you off the team. He's not gonna berate you in public, do anything like that. But he's gonna get heartbroken, and the guys can't handle that. They hate when they break his heart."

He takes every loss personally. He may nurture his players. But he's brutal on himself. His wife remembers one loss in particular, earlier this year. She says her husband was looking in the mirror and cussing himself out. He called himself a compromising son of a bitch, she says.

Why is he so hard on himself? "I don't have anybody coaching me. I have to coach me. I mean I have to be the most realistic with myself. I have to be the most self-critical."

Now 54, Krzyzewski recently signed a lifetime contract to stay at Duke. He says he's happiest here in North Carolina, finding ways to inspire his team. Motivating them is what motivates him.

"I love the kids that we bring into our program. And basically, because I feel like they're part of our family."
  • David Kohn

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