The record-breaking coach almost took a different job—and even when he arrived in Durham, he struggled at first
Walking across the Madison Square Garden court Tuesday night after winning a record 903rd game, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski finds Bob Knight, his mentor. Coach K embraces Knight with the same kind of hug a prizefighter gives his trainer after a bout that's been going on for 36 years.
"Just keep it going," Knight tells Krzyzewski, still holding the back of his friend's head. His star protégé—whom he coached and worked with for five years at West Point and Indiana—has just passed him for first on the men's college basketball coaches' all-time wins list.
It could have been different if the man once tabbed "the brightest young coaching talent in America" took the other offer he was given in March of 1980. Krzyzewski, then the coach at Army, had finished a disappointing 9-17 that season. But nonetheless he was on the move. The landing place—Duke or Iowa State—remained uncertain.
For all the attention given to the relationship between Krzyzewski and Knight, the role that Col. Tom Rogers had in shaping Krzyzewski's basketball trajectory cannot be understated. When Krzyzewski first arrived at West Point as a student in 1965, Rogers was his officer representative, a liaison for the institution's military administration, much like the colonel had been for Knight when he was the freshman coach years prior. Their relationship became even closer during Krzyzewski's senior year in 1969 when Mike's father, Bill, died of a cerebral hemorrhage. From there, Krzyzewski leaned on Rogers and Knight, turning tragedy into motivation.
"Dad always thought of Mike as a son and that's the kind of way Mike saw Dad," says Marleah Rogers, daughter of the colonel, who now suffers from Alzheimer's.