It’s been three days since Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils won their fourth championship during his legendary tenure.
Nine years after he last stood atop the college basketball world, Mike Krzyzewski’s team triumphed again Monday night, 61-59, over a gutsy and scrappy Butler Bulldogs team that captivated the nation’s hearts with their improbable run.
The victory was only assured at the final buzzer, when a half-court shot by Butler star Gordon Hayward bounced off the rim and out, sparking a wild celebration among Duke fans and deep pain for Butler supporters.
Those looking to gain perspective and insight on the ingredients to Coach K’s success should consider reading John Feinstein’s A March to Madness.
Although he may have been replaced in recent years by Bill “The Sports Guy” Simmons as America’s most popular sportswriter, Feinstein, himself a Duke graduate, has had a reign of excellence in sportswriting that is similar to Coach K’s record of achievement.
He has averaged close to a book a year during the past two decades, on subjects ranging from basketball to football to former Tom Watson caddie Bruce Edwards, who died of ALS.
In A March to Madness, he spends a year in the life of the Atlantic Coast Conference during the 1996-1997 season, a year that turned out to be North Carolina Tar Heels’ coach Dean Smith’s final one.
For years the ACC was widely considered to be the nation’s toughest conference, a title that some have since bestowed at different times on the Big Ten or the Southeastern Conference.
During this season, Coach K and his team got off to a rocky start before he drew a proverbial line in the sand and told his squad in no uncertain terms that it was time to make defensive stands. In a memorable scene, he invoked the Duke tradition he had worked so hard to establish during the previous scenes and talked about what the team would do from that day forward to change their losing ways.
Although the team did not win the championship, or even make the Final Four, something it has done 11 times during Krzyzewski’s illustrious career, it did end up winning the conference with a 12-4 record. This outcome seemed improbable, if not completely impossible, in the season’s early days.
In addition to showing Krzyzewski’s ability to get the most out of a comparatively untalented squad, Feinstein describes the conflict between the two coaching legends when Duke and North Carolina played each other. Feinstein does an effective job of showing how both highly driven, intensely competitive and somewhat sanctimonious men could be perceived as grating by the other.
A March to Madness has many other elements, too, as Feinstein writes about Bobby Cremins of Georgia Tech and Herb Sendek of North Carolina State, among others. At base, though, you can feel his admiration for Coach K and his love for his alma mater.
Many others share the love.
For those for whom the glow of the championship is beginning to fade, A March to Madness might supply a little kindling to fan the warm memories.