Why Everybody Hates Coach K

The record-breaking Duke basketball coach inspires a remarkable amount of resentment

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Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Emma Carmichael (writer, Deadspin), Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), and Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic) try to understand why there's so much resentment toward Duke's head basketball coach.


Hey, guys,

Mike Krzyzewski's Duke Blue Devils defeated Michigan State at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, 74-69. With the win, Coach K surpassed his mentor Bobby Knight as the most successful coach in men's college basketball history with 903 career wins. (You'll probably hear a lot this week that he's the most winningest coach "in college basketball history"; that's flat-out wrong. Pat Summitt has won 1,071 basketball games as head coach of Tennessee's women's team.) And despite the obvious esteem that comes with such a record, no one—perhaps least of all, yours truly—wants to see this man succeed.

It's hard, in any sport, to consider an opposing or rival coach "likable." It's against our nature. There are exceptions, of course; we just don't like to make them. But Coach K is a special case. Coach K, it often seems, is considered a special kind of evil in the sporting world. I've always understood my personal distaste for the man to go hand in hand with the fact that I'm a Tar Heel fan. But for hundreds of Duke haters across the country—or even the world? OK, maybe I'm exaggerating—there's a more deep-seated disdain at play here. No one outside of Durham and, more precisely, Krzyzewskiville, is likely to celebrate Coach K's milestone (and in that generalization, I'm intentionally ignoring the circle of unassociated Duke fans I grew up with in Vermont because they are unmentionable).

I've always thought that the general public's dislike of Krzyzewski, and of the school and basketball program he works for, has to do with a very particular elitism that's been rubbed in our faces over the years (sample prose: scholar-athletes at a private university). Still, that explanation ignores that teams like Kentucky, Kansas, and even, I'll admit, UNC, have achieved similar success without earning the same wrath. So what's the real problem with Coach K and his basketball program? Jake, do you have any insight into our (or my) dislike for everything Blue Devil?

–Emma

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