Coach K’s retiring. I’m not sad.

BY VICTOR HENSLEY, News + Record Staff
Posted 6/9/21

I’ll go ahead and say it: I’ve never liked Coach K.

There hasn’t been a single moment in my 23 years of life that I’ve felt differently.

As a kid, I was fortunate to grow up in a …

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Coach K’s retiring. I’m not sad.

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I’ll go ahead and say it: I’ve never liked Coach K.

There hasn’t been a single moment in my 23 years of life that I’ve felt differently.

As a kid, I was fortunate to grow up in a household full of Tar Heels.

Our Christmas tree was covered in Carolina blue ornaments. Woody Durham’s voice on the radio was a constant presence. Our belongings — everything from coasters to t-shirts to pillowcases — were plastered with the iconic UNC logo.

My hero was Roy Williams. My idol was Dean Smith.

And, naturally, my enemy was Coach K.

As much as I disliked some of the players on his teams over the years — I’m looking at you, Mason Plumlee — my disdain for Coach K was the one thing I could always count on. He wasn’t going anywhere, no matter how many of his minions moved on.

I lived through the years of J.J. Redick being the most hated player on planet earth, Gerald Henderson intentionally breaking Tyler Hansbrough’s nose and Grayson Allen tripping players left and right. I was constantly in awe of the things Duke players attempted — and succeeded in — getting away with.

And who was behind it all? None other than “K” himself.

In my early teen years, I spent an embarrassing number of hours on Facebook getting into arguments about why Duke was so despicable, made countless jokes comparing Coach K to rodents and enjoyed YouTube videos that poked uncensored fun at Duke Basketball.

I hated Mike Wazowski so much, I never even learned how to spell his name correctly.

This brings me to the news that broke the sports world last week: Coach K plans to retire after the 2021-22 season, relinquishing the fiery throne sitting atop the Blue Devils’ basketball program after more than 40 years of service.

Whoa. I knew this day would come eventually, but still. Whoa.

It didn’t take long for Coach K to come to terms with his retirement — at an upbeat press conference that entertainingly featured Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch” as the intro song — after his longtime rival, Roy Williams, did the same earlier this spring.

The difference is, while Williams chose to go ahead and step down — foregoing a retirement tour and paving the way for now-UNC head coach Hubert Davis assume the role — Coach K chose to make this season about himself. Now, all of the schools he faces this year will feel forced to give him gifts and tell him how much they’ll miss him, keeping the spotlight on him instead of his student-athletes.

What a classic Coach K move.

Relax, I’m (mostly) joking.

If I wanted to get sentimental, I could tell the story of when I heard the news and how, for the days following, I reflected on what it’ll mean for the sport of college basketball, for the ACC and for the UNC-Duke rivalry — undoubtedly the most iconic in all of American sports — to lose a legend, one that has built a program unlike any other and provided some of the most entertaining, polarizing basketball we’ve ever seen.

But that’d be a lie.

In reality, I was shocked — as shocked as I could be to learn that a 74-year-old man who’s been at his place of employment for 40-plus years was retiring — but I wasn’t sad or bummed. I was relieved.

Maybe I felt a wave of relief because, for the first time in my life, there finally might be a chance that Duke won’t be the powerhouse he’s created over the last four decades.

Since 1998, the year I was born, his Blue Devils have earned 665 wins, which would rank 40th all-time among college basketball coaches. And that’s only half of his career.

Since he arrived in Durham in 1980, he’s racked up 1,097 wins (1,170 total if you include his 73 wins from his five-year stint at Army), the most all-time in the NCAA and over 100 more than the coach in second place (Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, 982).

In the sport where winning championships is arguably the hardest, Coach K led Duke to five of them (second all-time to John Wooden’s 10), along with 12 Final Four appearances, 15 ACC Tournament titles and 12 ACC regular-season titles.

As college basketball has evolved in recent years to a game where one-and-done players reign supreme, Coach K has adapted to become one of the best recruiters in the game, helping to produce a total of 41 first-round NBA draft picks over the course of his career.

What hurts the most, for me anyway, is his 23-19 record against Williams. Many of those wins still pain me to this day. (Though he did go 14-26 against the late, great Dean Smith — so take that.)

He’s a Hall-of-Famer, a three-time Olympic gold medal-winning coach and — as much as it pains me to say it — quite possibly the greatest coach in NCAA history. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due, I guess.

It’s safe to say that once he retires after this upcoming season, the UNC-Duke rivalry simply won’t be the same.

The look of defeat on Coach K’s face when Carolina upsets a top-ranked Duke team or stuns the “Cameron Crazies” in Cameron Indoor Stadium with a last-second shot or late-game comeback is a thing of pure beauty. There’s nothing quite like a frustrated Coach K.

Now that’s something I’ll miss.

Just like there will never be another Smith or Williams, there could never be another Coach K.

He’s etched himself into North Carolina coaching greatness, grouped alongside Smith, Williams and N.C. State’s Jim Valvano as part of the Mount Rushmore of N.C. college coaches.

No matter how much I dislike him, it’s hard to argue with his place in college basketball history. It’s pretty darn close to the top.

So for his final season, if you happen to be in attendance for a Duke game this fall/winter, make sure to soak in the greatness in front of you, boo him generously and cross your fingers that you’ll get to see the look of defeat on his face in person.

Trust me. It’s glorious.

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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