Cover Image: Coach K

Coach K

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Member Reviews

As a non-American, I’ll never quite understand the passion and pride generated by collegiate sports in the US. I really enjoy watching college football and basketball, but the reverence and status given to the games and especially to the coaches suggests a strange miscalculation of priorities for academic institutions!

The constant turnover of players provides a fascinating dimension to the sports. No other leagues give you an absolute maximum of four years with any player while also preventing the signing of experienced players to help guide the young players (who are almost exclusively under 23). Longevity and culture is therefore primarily provided by the coach and supporting staff.

It’s in this context (and overlooking the ludicrous salaries relative to other employees of the college or State!) that I find the careers of successful college coaches utterly fascinating. The reverence for successful coaches across the US is remarkable and is evident across sports media and popular culture. As one the most successful coaches in college basketball, arguably no coach is quite as revered as Mike Krzyzewski (universally referred to as Coach K).

Coach K was a player and subsequently coach for the US Army’s college team (talk about an educational institute with odd priorities!) and a protégé of world class coach and bully Bobby Knight. Krzyzewski ultimately, and surprisingly to most observers given his limited success at the time, became head coach of Duke University, a perennial basketball powerhouse. Over the ensuing decades he would amass one of the most successful records in the sport’s history.

O’Connor is a masterful biographer grappling with the challenges of competing narratives and telling the story of a complete life in a limited amount of space. Capturing 50 plus seasons of action requires a delicate touch and wise judgment in where to focus and no-one does it better. The book is especially strong in telling the story of Krzyzewski’s youth and identifying how his early days and playing career helped to shape the man and coach he would become. It also rightly delves into greater detail on some of his most famous teams - none more so than the era of Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill.

Coach K’s more recent seasons however feel somewhat out of character as he embraced the one-and-done superstar era. O’Connor explains this approach as a combination of the coaches his own adaptability and his growing taste for coaching the very best players acquired during his stints coaching Team USA.

The best biographies are those that realize every life story can only be properly told through the person’s relationships. Most obviously Krzyzewski’s ever-changing relationship with his mentor Knight stands out. Coach K is often described as possessing many of Knight’s best qualities but much less of his ridiculous, fiery temper.

The other key relationship in Krzyzewski’s life is, unsurprisingly, his marriage. A major failing across lesser sports biographies (and all biographies really) is a failure to capture the role that spouses play in athlete’s and coaches professional lives. O’Connor avoids this mistake and highlights Mrs’ Krzyzewski and the wider family’s role in Coach K’s success and thought process.

O’Connor ultimately paints the picture of a man who combined a relentless desire for success with a genuine affection for other people. This is an excellent biography of a fascinating basketball coach and highly recommended for any college basketball fan.
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I am a diehard Duke fan and I am glad this book was published before the end of the final season for Coach K. I thought the book was greatly detailed and think this would make a great book for the Duke fan in your life!
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March 5th  - It is an exciting day for Duke basketball with the last home game for their legendary Coach, Mike Krzyzewski. Apparently, seats are selling like Superbowl tickets and many of those fans may want to pick up the new book called COACH K by Ian O'Connor. I think, however, they will be surprised because it is not a particularly flattering portrayal. The introduction includes a scene of Coach K screaming at a player, swearing and using foul language. Honestly, that was a surprise. Other sections of the book do stress the importance of his upbringing in a Polish neighborhood in Chicago and the influence of the priests, some of whom regularly dispensed corporal punishment. O'Connor, who has also written biographies of Derek Jeter and Bill Belichick, was not able to interview Coach K for this book, but he did have access to an inner circle. Hence, there is discussion of how Duke's recruiting efforts sometimes shift close to impropriety and limited insight into the choice of Jon Scheyer (also from the Chicago area) as the new head coach. Of course, Krzyzewski has contributed to the sports world, as a five-time national champion coach at Duke, amassing over one thousand victories, and as coach for Team USA's three Olympic Gold medals. O'Connor does point to those leadership strengths, noting "Krzyzewski's ability to connect with people from all walks of life, his ability to motivate people to achieve things they did not believe they were capable of achieving, and, above all else, his ability to build lasting bonds with his players assistants, team managers, childhood friends, and former teammates and coaches." Those bonds will be evident in the audience at today's game. COACH K received a starred review from Kirkus.
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He’s the winningest Division I men’s basketball coach in NCAA history. He’s won multiple national titles and been to even more Final Fours. He’s been in charge of USA Basketball and led the national team to gold medals more than once. He is an iconic figure, one of the titans of the game’s last half-century.

You know who he is … even if you might not know how to spell his name.

Ian O’Connor’s “Coach K: The Rise and Reign of Mike Krzyzewski” purports to be the definitive biography of the man who is arguably the definitive figure in college basketball in the past 50 years. From his early days growing up in Chicago to his time as West Point – first as a player, then as a coach – to his ascension to the top job at Duke, where he turned a decent ACC team into one of the greatest college basketball programs ever.

O’Connor dives deep, digging through extant sources as well as conducting his own interviews with scores upon scores of people with close connections to Coach K. The result is a fascinating portrait of sporting greatness, a long look at a man who ascended to the heights of his profession. A man who, for all his flaws, would prove to be a beloved figure in the history of his sport.

We meet young Mickey Krzyzewski as he grows up in Chicago in a Polish-American household. He’s a good kid, keeping more or less out of trouble and avoiding the real bad news that other kids got swept up into. He was a gifted athlete, turning himself into one of the best point guards in the city while in high school in the early ‘60s, though his relatively small size – he stood just 5’10” – kept him off the radar for most collegiate programs.

And so it was that he wound up at West Point, playing the point for the man who would become his mentor, his friend and eventually his adversary – Bobby Knight. From 1966-1969, Krzyzewski – now going by Mike because when the woman who would eventually become his wife was also named Mickie – ran the floor under the aggressively profane and bombastic eye of Coach Knight.

After graduation, he served for five years in the U.S. Army before moving on to become a grad assistant to Knight, who had taken the job at Indiana that would define his career. It was on Knight’s recommendation that Krzyzewski would land his first head coaching gig at his alma mater, taking over the Cadets and helming them for five years.

And then, in 1980, Coach K managed to land the Duke job, leapfrogging a number of more qualified candidates. While his resume might not have been as impressive as others, he brought an energy and desire that seemed to fit what the school was looking for in a head coach.

Forty-plus years and over 1,100 wins later, it seems as though they made the right pick.

Now, that’s just basic biography. You can get that from a Wikipedia page. In “Coach K,” O’Connor has crafted something that is so much more. Oh, all that stuff is in there – the nuts and bolts of Coach K’s personal and professional journey – but it’s the rest of it that takes this book from a good read to a great one.

There is a staggering amount of reportage at work here, so many details from every aspect of the Coach K story. We hear from his old buddies from the neighborhood. We hear from guys he played with at West Point, as well as guys who played for him. We get the lowdown from Blue Devils across generations – players, coaches, administrators, you name it. All of it focused on this singular guy who, through sheer force of will and a masterful grasp of motivation, turned himself into the winningest DI coach to ever sit on the bench.

All of this refracted through the lens of O’Connor. He’s tackled iconic figures before – Bill Belichick, Derek Jeter – so he’s no stranger to dealing with the rarified air in which these stories tend to accumulate. His reporting bona fides permeate the book, with a clear, concise authorial voice that informs and entertains without the passing of judgment – an uncommon feat in a biography, particular a sports biography.

(It should be noted that Krzyzewski himself did not speak to O’Connor for the book, though by all accounts he was receptive to the idea of others – from all chapters in his life – sitting down with the author. Make no mistake, however – this book is PLENTY thorough.)

It's not all sunshine and roses, though. Krzyzewski went through his share of hardships off the court and on it. He’s dealt with loss, with complicated emotional connections to his family. The job of a college basketball coach was all-consuming back in the 1970s; it has only grown more so as the sport has grown. And while most of those who have crossed his path look back at their connection with admiration, there are some who still bear some resentments toward the man and his methodologies.

One of the fundamental truths that O’Connor teases out is the fact that there is a high cost to high achievement. And to reach these heights – 12 Final Fours and five NCAA titles, three Olympic championships – the cost is that much higher. The toll it takes on one’s health – physical and emotional – is significant. And yet, Coach K soldiers on.

This year marks Coach K’s last on the Duke bench. He’s walking away after the season, heading into a retirement that his family undoubtedly thinks is long overdue. It’s interesting to think about what a guy with this kind of competitive fire will do without that outlet; who can say what he’ll do next?

“Coach K” is an outstanding work of sports biography, one that really delves into an iconic figure in the history of American athletics. Celebratory without being hagiographic and extremely well-crafted, it’s a great read for any fan of college basketball in particular or of sports in general.
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An amazing history of Coach K's historical career, Any fan of college basketball should definitely read.
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I have never been a fan of Mike Krzyzewski because he seemed so sanctimonious. I decided to read this book to see if there was a hidden depth that I had missed. While I am a little more sympathetic to the coach, I am sticking with my impression of him. Winning justifies anything. The good news for Coach K is that he is better than Bobby Knight, but that is a low bar. The book lightly examines some of the questions that surround the Duke basketball program. I probably wanted a deeper or more scandalous book, but Krzyzewski likely wouldn’t have allowed that.
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Ian O'Connor's Coach K: The Rise and Reign of Mike Krzyzewski is a fabulous look into the leader of Duke basketball. 

Having been a fan of Duke basketball and Coach K for most of his time at the elite program, I was thrilled and honored at the chance to review this book. 

This book is an absolute must read for any fans of Duke and Coach K. The author does a wonderful job looking back through the coach's career; thoroughly revisiting many of the important moments of his career. 

As a Duke fan, this book carries me back to the highs and lows of Coach K's time at Duke. I cried many times, as the author brought me fully back to some emotional wins and losses through the years. 

This is a look at many pivotal moments. From the start of his own basketball career, to his time at Army, and his rough start at Duke, this is a fantastic read. Many important games are discussed, many former players and coachs are talked about, as well as the way Coach K had to adapt through the years. 

I love this book. It takes me back to some moments I will never forget. It reminds me of the way the game has changed over the years, with Coach K right there adapting throughout. 

This Coach K book is a great way to honor a legend as he's about to retire. Love him or hate him, he has had an insurmountable impact on the sport over the years. His name will forever be up there as one of the greats. I enjoyed every moment of this look back at his journey
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I would rate this book at 4 1/2 stars out of 5.

I started watching college basketball in 1979 with Magic and Bird championship game. Remembering through the 1980's onward not liking the Duke Blue Devils and Coach K because they were so darn good. I did realize the struggle Coach K had in his beginning at Duke and how the fans and alumni almost ran him out of town looking back that sure would have been a mistake. This is a very detailed book starting with Mike Krzyzewski rise through high school and his time at West Point and his playing and eventually coaching with his mentor Bob Knight through all facets of their relationship.
I gained a lot of respect for Coach after reading another book and this one based on his relationship Jim Valvano and Dean Smith even though when they coached against each other during their time in the ACC and really was moving reading about how he was with Jimmy V right up to the end of his life.
It was also amazing to read his relationships with the many players he has had contact with most by his coaching. I did not realize how many times they were so close to winning his first NCAA championship and come up short before he finally got the first one. I would begrudgingly say that he would only be second to John Wooden when you list the greatest college coaches of all time. If you are Duke fan you will really love this book if you are college basketball fan you should like it is a great and detailed book.
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The definitive biography of a legendary coach.  The author's exhaustive research and reporting shines through on every page.  The flow of the book is excellent as it doesn't get bogged down in the minutiae of a career's worth of games.  The author dos not shy away from the most controversial aspects of Coach K's life, namely his tumultuous relationship with Bobby Knight and any allegations of impropriety in recruiting at Duke.
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With the debut of the first two episodes of the ACC Tournament documentary last week and heading into March Madness soon, this was the perfect time to read this biography about the winningest coach in NCAA history, Coach K of the Duke Blue Devils. The book opens with a tear-jerker of personal story, which sets the tone for talking about Coach K as a person and not just a coach. The biography is laid out in roughly chronological order with a factual and straightforward writing style. It hits all of the basketball highlights, but also provides a lot of insight into Coach K as a husband, father, mentor and more. It's mostly even-handed and not too fawning in its praise of Coach; perhaps the only negative was a bit too much of a focus on Coach K's relationship with Bobby Knight as a continuing theme throughout the book. Regardless of your fandom, I think you have to appreciate Coach K’s leadership, character, and commitment to winning.
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NOVEMBER 14, 2021


If you have read and enjoyed
you're going to love
Coach K by Ian O'Connor

Admitting to being a bit long in the tooth, I found this new and complete bio of this great man a fascinating and complete study of a life to be respected and admired. Mr O'Connor's depth of understanding and easy flowing prose grab you on the first page and don't end until you snap the back cover. The most thrilling plays from a storied career are recreated with all the original excitement. In addition you get to look at what makes the man click. The coach as a man and mentor, a teacher, a father and husband is portrayed with personal stories and little known antidotes that expand the total understanding of how his legend was created. Worth every minute of the read time, for the great basketball history relived for some or new to those just coming aboard it's a five star journey all the way! The sports page will give you the stats. Ian O'Connor will give you the color commentary necessary to complete the story.

Spencer Birt
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