I watched those last few games of Mike Krzyzewski’s amazing career as I would slowly watch the last couple episodes of a binge that I loved, not wanting it to end. But end it did, and despite several pundits already predicting that Coach K will pull a Tom Brady and come back, I think Krzyzewski is at ease with his decision to hang it up after such an illustrious career at Army (1975-1980) and Duke (1980-2022).
His career record at Army and Duke was 1,202-368. His record at Duke was 1,129-309. His record in the NCAA Tournament is an amazing 101-30.
In those 42 years at Duke, Krzyzewski was able to bring five national championships to the little school in Durham, N.C. It was simply a harsh twist of fate that saw two of his last three losses come at the hands of North Carolina, his most bitter rival.
And for four seemingly uneventful seasons of that illustrious career, I got to have the best seat in the house at Cameron Indoor Stadium — press row. It was crazy as a grown adult to sit this close to history and be a part of real ongoing greatness.
After my radio broadcast career ended in Baltimore and long before PressBox was anything more than a distant glimmer in my eyes, my wife and I relocated to Durham, where my wife had actually lived for many years previously.
During my four seasons in Durham (2001-2005), the Blue Devils combined to go 115-23 and win three ACC tournament championships and an ACC regular-season title. They topped out in the Sweet 16 three times and made the Final Four the other time.
Chris Duhon, Shelden Williams, Shavlik Randolph, Daniel Ewing, Lee Melchionni, Dahntay Jones and some guy named JJ Redick were some of the names during my years in Durham.
The most amazing thing about Krzyzewski’s program was how incredibly high the bar for excellence was. Even with all those great players and accomplishments from 2001-2005, I remembered those teams as good but not great. They were darned good, just not championship-caliber.
I’ll always look back fondly on my years in Durham because I got to rub elbows with greatness. That’s why I sipped down those last games of Coach K’s career, and, boy, did I savor this last run to the Final Four.
* * *
On the face of it, the Orioles’ decision to trade two qualified relief pitchers in lefty Tanner Scott and right-hander Cole Sulser to the Miami Marlins prior to the regular season for a competitive balance pick, two prospects and a player to be named later probably isn’t going to amount to a hill of beans.
The club has been stripped down to its core to make way for the next generation of Oriole heroes who should be along … any minute now. Seriously, GM Mike Elias marched into Baltimore needing to change the direction and culture of player development.
And, boy, has he done that and then some. He has essentially lived up to his code as a major rebuilder and he has had to do so in the midst of the pandemic and some incredibly bad baseball luck (Trey Mancini’s colon cancer battle, Heston Kjerstad’s myocarditis). Still, the system has improved dramatically. For the first time in their history, the Orioles are becoming a player in Latin America.
Time will tell if Elias can get the job done at the big league level. He lives in the toughest neighborhood in all of baseball. And while Elias is very smart, his neighbors are perhaps just as smart and mostly have deeper pockets.
I don’t feel sorry for Elias. He knew what he was doing in taking this thing down to its core. But as sure as I am sitting here, it wouldn’t matter who the manager was. Earl Weaver wouldn’t come close to winning with the pitching staffs Brandon Hyde has had.
Hyde has handled his leadership role with a type of grace not often seen when put through this kind of ongoing fight against the tide. With this recent trade of Scott and Sulser, Elias once again knocked Hyde’s legs out from under him.
If I could whisper in Elias’ ear, I would suggest he show a little bit of warmth and heart. Yeah, I know that doesn’t help you win games, either, but it would be nice to see the other side of Elias. Hyde deserves a two-year extension. He is owed that much. He is owed a chance to manage a real baseball team.
* * *
This one is about timing. A lot of people with whom I confer came to the conclusion after about six years of Mark Turgeon’s run at Maryland that he wasn’t even the best Division I coach in the state of Maryland. We had an inkling that Ryan Odom was in store for some big things at UMBC even before the Retrievers made history as the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed.
As Turgeon’s fortunes began to sink in College Park, we wondered if it would be possible that the University of Maryland might contemplate a coach as young as Odom, who was 43 years old when UMBC beat Virginia.
Deep down we knew Odom’s next job after UMBC wouldn’t be in College Park, so it really wasn’t a huge surprise to see Odom head out to Utah State a year ago.
But isn’t it interesting that Odom, whose father Dave was a big-time head coach at Wake Forest and South Carolina, has almost the exact same pedigree of new Maryland head coach Kevin Willard? Willard’s father, Ralph, was a longtime head coach at Western Kentucky, Pitt and Holy Cross.
The only real difference between Odom and Willard was the length of their resumes. Odom will get his day at a high-major program. Willard paid his dues with four years under Rick Pitino with the Celtics and another seven years under Pitino at Louisville. He then had three years as the head man at Iona before getting the Seton Hall job and putting in 12 years refining his craft.
Willard was ready for this moment. As much as I admire Odom, he wasn’t ready for this job at this time.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Duke Athletics