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Mike Krzyzewski
Mike Krzyzewski
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Mike Krzyzewski Interview (page: 3 / 6)

Collegiate Basketball Champion

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  Mike Krzyzewski

Tell us about the first National title, how that felt. Did you feel, going into that season, that you had the championship team?

Mike Krzyzewski Interview Photo
Mike Krzyzewski: For a college basketball player or coach, to reach the Final Four is la-la land. You've achieved, you've got your stamp of approval. My first team to do that was in 1986. Then we did it in '88, '89 and '90. But we did not win the National Championship. I feel that, because we were achieving at a high level, I rationalized somewhat, at a moment when maybe I could have pushed my team a little bit more.

In '91, we were playing Nevada Las Vegas, and they'd won 45 in a row. It was almost like it would be okay to lose. Everybody would say, "Oh, that's all right." That, to me, was the biggest obstacle. I was most proud of that game, because, as a leader, I helped my group overcome rationalization at the highest level. When we beat them, and then beat Kansas for the National Championship, everyone was saying, "Boy, you won the National Championship," but for me, it was amazing because I got over that final hurdle, as a leader and a teacher. Now I know how to do that, and I thought it helped me the next year when we won it a second time.

I'm reminded of a scene in the film, Chariots of Fire, where a runner wins the race, and has a feeling of let-down. He says to his girlfriend, "You have no idea how hard it is, to be at this point." You had suddenly reached this exalted level, but how do you push on from there? Is that similar?

Mike Krzyzewski: Yes. It's the challenge of continuing success. What floor are you on as far as your success ladder?

Once you win a National Championship, how do you do that again? How do you get the passion to do that again? We won it again right away, the next year. A lot of it had to do with the fact that I didn't give myself an opportunity to enjoy the first one. I went right away into the second one. I didn't want any "computer viruses" getting into my mind. I even played a game, a mind game, a word game with myself. After you win the next year, people will say you're "defending" your National Championship. I prohibited the use of the word "defend." What I said, for that team, I said, "We've already got the National Championship for that year. We're going to pursue." And sometimes the difference between defend (protective) and pursue (go after), I think, was the difference in us winning it the second time.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Now you might ask, why didn't we win it the third time? I probably didn't do as good a job of coming up with those words, or someone else did a better job of coming up with their words and talent than I did. It's interesting, what the human mind can do.

How do you help the kids get over that kind of defeat? When they're so close, it must be devastating.

Mike Krzyzewski: Each group and each youngster is different. As a leader or coach, you get to know what they need.

In 1989, I remember, we lost in Seattle to Seton Hall. After the ball game, we came back to my suite where we meet. It was the last time our group of people were going to be together. That's the last game. But there were other kids who were coming back. I said, "Instead of going home, we're going to stay through the National Championship game, because we're eventually going to win a National Championship." Sometimes in a defeat, you can set the stage for future victory. I wanted them to feel good about what they had accomplished. Not to like losing, but to like the success that they had. And then to go on, maybe, to put them in a position where they might be able to. I try to do that, and now I'm teaching it in game situations. In November, I might do a thing where it's an end-of-game situation: "Well, this is what we're going to do, fellas, in the Final Four." Little things like that throughout the year create a championship mindset.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

So that's how it's done.

Mike Krzyzewski: That and good players. You need some good talent. Not everyone can be Grant Hill or Michael Jordan.

We should talk about that too. What about the teamwork of basketball? It seems to me that there are few sports that are as reliant on it.

Mike Krzyzewski: To me, teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless. Even though we want huge individual egos, our collective ego is unbelievable. The ability of people to throw themselves into that situation is remarkable. It becomes more and more remarkable in a time when people are so invested in their own interests. The ability to give and connect with others is the single most important thing that we teach. The quality that we need to teach the most is trust, to be honest with one another.

I have a rule on my team: when we talk to one another, we look each other right in the eye, because I think it's tough to lie to somebody. You give respect to somebody. "It's you that I'm talking to right now." As a result, I know that there are going to be times on that bench where there's two seconds to go, or where a kid's having a bad game, and I've got to say, "Look, you're playing horribly, but you're not horrible. So get your head going," or whatever words I might use. "I believe in you." I might not even say it that way. It might be two seconds, and we have to connect. If we haven't done the work beforehand, you can't wait 'til those two seconds to do it. I speak to a lot of groups, and with business groups, a lot of them ask about crisis management. "What do you do with crisis management?" Well, the main thing that you do with crisis management is trust one another. Well how do you get that? Wow, it takes a while. But being honest with one another is the very first and most important step.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

That's where teamwork comes in. If you have talent with teamwork, you've got a chance to be a championship team.

Do you manage the crisis by building trust well before the crisis, is that what you're saying?

Mike Krzyzewski Interview Photo
Mike Krzyzewski: You have to have that trust develop before the crisis. If you haven't had it up to that time, and you have a crisis, then maybe you can use that crisis to develop it, but you're probably going to lose during that time. Maybe you can use that to mold your group together, as long as -- when those things happen -- you have a thing called collective responsibility. Everybody wants to take responsibility when you win, but when you fail, all these fingers are pointing.

I tell my players, "A basketball team is like the five fingers on your hand. If you can get them all together, you have a fist. That's how I want you to play." If, when we lose I say, "You didn't do a good job," there's no fist. Collective responsibility is saying, "We lost. Why did we lose, and how can we get better?" If we can do that, an amazing thing happens.

I love that about my job. But in March or April, it ends. The life expectancy of a team is about eight months. Then the next year, it's a whole new team. So we try to cram in as much as possible. We can't wait two weeks. "Well, I'm going to see how Jimmy reacts to this." We don't have time for that. We've got to tell him, "Jimmy, you're not doing a good job," or "You're being selfish," or "You're great." We've got to cut to the chase right away. I like that about my job.

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This page last revised on Aug 26, 2008 12:19 EDT
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