Is Coach K the main reason everyone hates Duke?

Israel Gutierrez of Miami Herald writes that everyone hates Duke, and it starts with Mike Krzyzewski.

No one wants Duke to win (Duke alumni excluded, of course). Not even a game. Not even a half.

Everyone hates Duke, and we’re not even sure why. For some reason, we know that if the devil had a face, it would have little beady eyes (like Mike Krzyzewski’s). If he had a voice, it would be nasally and annoying (like Krzyzewski’s) and if he had a name, it would be impossible to spell and the sound would follow no laws of language (like, well, you know).

Well, we all know that first part isn’t true. Any successful program/franchise is going to have fans outside of its alumni base and the Blue Devils are no different. Some might call these “bandwagon” fans, but as a 12-year-old back in 1986, I really liked Johnny Dawkins and loved the color blue, so I rooted for them all the way to the final, where they lost to Louisville. (Damn you, Pervis Ellison! And the color red!)

There’s no arguing that he elevated a basketball program into elite status upon arrival. From 1986 to 1999, he reached a ridiculous eight Final Fours and won those memorable back-to-back national championships, when NCAA basketball was still drenched with NBA talent.

But since then, it seems a lot of his colleagues have placed themselves in similar company, and yet, the head Blue Devil remains the most arrogant of the bunch.

To this day, he carries around a superiority complex that doesn’t match the success — at least not in the past decade.

Just last weekend, when he was asked about Duke’s “drought” about not reaching the Final Four since 2004, Krzyzewski offered this ego-heavy response.

“There are two words when you compete that are interesting — `since’ and `never,’ ” he said. “I’m glad we’re in the `since.’ ”

That’s not the most considerate thing to say when you’re about to face a Baylor coach who was on the “never” side of that coin.

But that’s who he is.

Gutierrez uses words like “arrogant,” “superiority complex” and “ego-heavy,” but what is this based on — that quote about “since” and “never”? Really? I’ve heard Krzyzewski interviewed plenty of times, and while he’s justifiably confident (not unlike any of his less-successful peers), he never has come off as cocky, at least not to me. Maybe he tires of the same questions over and over and he’s determined to put those last few tournament exits into perspective.

I’m sure this is a case of the “eye of the beholder,” but it’s the same type of rhetoric we hear about the players being elitist. Aside from Christian Laettner and J.J. Redick, which Duke players have walked around like their shit didn’t stink? And doesn’t every successful program have a couple of cocky players like those two in their history?

It comes with the territory.

Somehow, though, Krzyzewski carries a sense of entitlement, even on the court, when he attempts to, and often does, intimidate officials. Ask any Hurricanes fan who watched the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals and you will be convinced it was his complaining that changed the direction of that game.

Let’s assume that Coach K is more successful at working the officials than his peers. We’re supposed to hold this against him? One way or another, every coach in the country works the officials from tip-off to the final buzzer, hoping to get his team their fair share of calls because they know the guy down at other bench is doing the exact same thing. Again, Gutierrez uses an ambiguous, subjective phrase like Krzyzewski “carries sense of entitlement” — what does this even mean?

Look, I don’t hold it against anyone if they dislike one team or another for being successful. I don’t like the Patriots or Yankees for a variety of reasons, but my reasons aren’t all that subjective. This ambiguous “air” that surrounds the Duke program is not as cut-and-dried as the Patriots’ videotaping the opponent’s sideline or stonewalling the press when they ask about it. It’s not as black and white as buying up all the good free agents and outspending every other team in the league in the hopes of buying another World Series title (even though the Yankees are just taking advantage of a broken system).

Duke haters throw around subjective terms like “arrogance” or “elitist” as if they are provable personal characteristics. Maybe the Duke student body or a few stars from years past are guilty of these traits, but this Duke team is neither arrogant or elitist. And that goes for the coach, too.


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