Duke basketball: Tales of Coach K hating his players’ faces

Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

Duke basketball gems have been sharing funny stories about Mike Krzyzewski.

Perhaps the most critical ingredient to Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s success is his frequent saltiness over the past 42 years. The five-time national champ, who will retire at this season’s end and pass the reins to former Blue Devil and current assistant Jon Scheyer, doesn’t hold back in telling his players how he feels about them when they are playing like, well, losers.

Blue Devil legend JJ Redick saw this side of Coach K firsthand, once again, when sitting behind the Duke bench with his family for a recent home game. Then last week, during an episode of his podcast, The Old Man and the Three, Redick recounted to his special guest, former Blue Devil one-and-done Jayson Tatum, what he heard the 75-year-old say to his team:

“There was a timeout in the second half. And I could see it: the body language was bad on the court…And [Krzyzewski] comes back to the huddle, and all he says is — he looks at each kid — and he says, ‘I hate your f—— faces. Your f—— faces suck.’ And that was the timeout. I thought to myself, how many times has that happened, some version of that?”

Tatum then detailed his own experiences, including when Coach K lit into the entire team at his house and openly suggested that the future No. 3 overall draft pick only cared about getting to the NBA. The next day, as Tatum remembers it, the Duke staff locked the Blue Devils out of the locker room and had them practicing in plain warmup gear that probably came from Walmart.

Still, Tatum seemed to agree with Redick that the Coach K brand of discipline is among his most appreciated memories from college.

Jay Bilas’ take on the Duke basketball treasure

While appearing on The Rich Eisen Show this week, one of Mike Krzyzewski’s early Blue Devil recruits, current ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, reacted to JJ Redick’s and Jayson Tatum’s chat. He explained the magic touch in Coach K’s ways that too often goes overlooked amid the constant criticism from many outsiders:

“On one hand, we are rightfully so throwing rose petals at Coach K’s feet. But when people tell stories about years ago or things that happen when times get tough, I think sometimes some people can take the wrong thing from it. Coach K is an amazing competitor…He is not perfect. But he’s as close to perfect as a coach as I’ve ever seen.”

Bilas continued, noting why Krzyzewski should get both a pass and praise for his in-your-face coaching methods:

“Some people may clutch their pearls and express disgust…I’ve always taken this from Tony Dungy: ‘You can be demanding without being demeaning.’ Coach K may have used some salty language…But I don’t remember a time where he was ever demeaning, where he went to your character. He would go to your play. It would be about being the best version of yourself.”

Love him or hate him, Coach K’s “face-hating” and other brutally honest techniques have led to Duke basketball being the best version of itself for decades.

Next. Ranking Coach K's first 40 Duke teams. dark

Stay tuned to Ball Durham for more on Coach K’s final season, plus other Duke basketball news and views.