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What made Coach K’s 42 years at Duke special? A look at at the basketball legend’s career

College basketball legend, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski — often called "Coach K" — will end his four-decade-plus coaching career after next season. He is the winner of five national titles and the winningest coach in division one men's basketball history. Sports writer John Feinstein profiled him in his book, "The Legends Club," and joins Judy Woodruff to look back at Coach K's legendary career.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A college basketball legend is retiring.

    Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski, often called Coach K, will end his four-decade-plus coaching career after next season. He is the winner of five national titles and the winningest coach in Division I men's basketball history. He's won Olympic gold medals for USA Basketball and has been to the NCAA Tournament and the Final Four more than any other coach.

    Some perspective now from a sportswriter who has interviewed him and covered him for years, John Feinstein. He's written multiple books on college hoops and profiled him in his book "The Legends Club."

    John Feinstein, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So, what does it mean that Mike Krzyzewski is going to step back after this next season?

  • John Feinstein:

    Well, to say that it's the end of an era, Judy, is a vast understatement.

    As you said, at the end of next year, he will have coached at Duke for 42 years. He's won more games than any Division I college coach in history. But he's so much more than that. He's always stood for the right things about the sport. There's so much that's not right about big-time college athletics, as we have discussed often in the past.

    But Mike Krzyzewski stood for the right things. He's an incredibly loyal person. I speak firsthand on that subject. And the thing that many people won't remember is that, after three years at Duke, when he was 38-47, most Duke alumni and boosters wanted him fired.

    And Tom Butters, the athletic director who had hired him, stood by him, gave him a contract extension next year, and, literally, the rest is history.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I will be very candid. This is one of the stories I can't process to be fair or objective about, because I'm a — I went to Duke University and am certainly a fan of him and Duke basketball.

    But what else it about Coach K, John? What made him the successful coach that he's been?

  • John Feinstein:

    Well, there's several things, Judy.

    First of all, he was all sort of ahead of the curve in terms of figuring out ways to have close relationships with his players. Early on in his years as Duke, when a recruit would visit campus, Mike would get on the plane and fly back home with him, because he wanted to be one-on-one with him after his visit and to understand how he felt about Duke and also to understand how his players felt about the recruit.

    The NCAA changed the rules so as to not allow that after a while. But Mike again was ahead of the curve there.

    But the other thing is that I don't think I ever met anyone in sports who learned better from his mistakes than Mike Krzyzewski did. Remember, he went to West Point. When you're a plebe at West Point, you're only allowed three answers when an upper classman speaks to you: "Yes, sir," "No, sir," "No excuse, sir."

    And no one used "No excuse, sir" more than Mike Krzyzewski did. When his teams failed, he — it was on him. It was never on anybody else. When Duke lost to UNLV in the 1990 national championship game by 30 points, the largest margin in history, a year later, they came back and beat that same UNLV team to go on and win his national championship.

    He was always looking at failure as a way to lead to success. I'm not sure that many people do that.

    And one other thing I'll mention. Jay Bilas, who was the starting center on Mike's great team in 1986, went on to be an assistant coach for hike when he was in law school. And he said, when he sat in the room and listened to him talk to his coaches, planning, preparing, whatever it was, it occurred to him that all the wins weren't an accident, that this guy was the smartest guy in the room.

    He never had the need to tell you he was the smartest guy in the room, but he was the smartest guy in the room.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, as Mike Krzyzewski steps away after this next season, what is it that college basketball doesn't have anymore?

  • John Feinstein:

    They don't have the go-to guy when it comes to answering questions on important issues, when it comes to guidance for the sport.

    I'm not talking about winning games, I'm talking about, how can we fix college basketball, which needs fixing? Mike has made a lot of suggestions over the last 10 years. Some have been listened to. Others haven't been.

    But he's the first guy people turn to. That's why they call him Coach K. I always like to remind him that I knew him when he was just Mike.

    But there will be a vacuum there. Regardless of who becomes Duke's next coach or how much he wins, there will be a vacuum. There's only one Mike Krzyzewski. Unique is a very overused word in sports, Judy, but it fits him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    John Feinstein on a man who's truly a legend, Coach Krzyzewski, stepping down.

    Thank you, John.

  • John Feinstein:

    My pleasure, Judy.

    And it's an emotional issue for me, too. I know how you feel.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you.

    Tough day for all of us Duke fans.

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