Success, ego drive Coach K, Bill Belichick
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BY DAN McGRATH
For the Sun-Times
What Bill Belichick and Mike Krzyzewski have in common is barely challenged coaching supremacy in their sports of choice: pro football for Belichick, college basketball for Krzyzewski.
Where they part company is in the court of public opinion. Coach K has crafted the image of an authentic American hero, from his military service through his restoration of our international hoops prestige via two Olympic gold medals. Along the way, he also accumulated four NCAA championships at Duke, an unprecedented and much-celebrated 1,000 career victories and an unsullied reputation for doing things ‘‘the right way,’’ all of it adding up to a plausible case for best ever.
He has blown past the man considered his mentor in that discussion, in part because his achievements have eclipsed those of Bob Knight but also because Krzyzewski gets and values the PR component of high-profile coaching more than the notoriously stormy Knight ever did or cared to.
As Reggie Jackson might say, Krzyzewski grasps the magnitude of being Coach K and is always mindful of how he presents himself. But he’s as competitive as ever and not above a little snark on the rare occasions when he loses.
When a reporter sought his take on the raucously exuberant sellout crowd that witnessed Notre Dame’s four-point trimming of his Blue Devils last week at Purcell Pavilion, Krzyzewski looked at the man as if he’d asked to use his toothbrush.
‘‘It’s like that for us every night and has been for the last 25 years,’’ he smirked.
Irish coach Mike Brey is the first former Coach K assistant to beat him, and he has done it twice in a row. An inquiry regarding that stinger brought another condescending response.
‘‘I want all my assistants to become head coaches, and a lot of them have,’’ Krzyzewski said. ‘‘Mike has had a lot of success here.’’
The humble son of working-class Chicago isn’t without ego.
Neither is Belichick, though it’s hard to tell because he is openly disdainful of media interaction as he seeks to go where no man has gone before with a sixth Super Bowl appearance Sunday. A victory would be his fourth, tying Chuck Noll for the most in history.
Unmatched as a strategist, innovator and architect, Belichick has compiled a .729 winning percentage in 15 seasons with the Patriots while never departing from the dour, aloof persona that suggests he’s not really enjoying the ride and that it’s none of our business whether he is.
Belichick is also the heavyweight champion of control freaks — he has a prior for surreptitiously taping opponents — so it’s a stretch to believe he had no knowledge of a scheme to make slightly deflated footballs more pleasing to Tom Brady’s persnickety touch.
What’s the wiring like under Belichick’s hoodie? Why is the ruling monarch of America’s most popular sport drawn to petty crime? Why would Barry Bonds alter the most efficient body in baseball with chemicals of dubious origin? The easy answer is that obsessives and egomaniacs are alike in their single-minded pursuit of an edge, by whatever means necessary.
Tom Thibodeau’s obsessions were part of his appeal during his first four seasons as the Bulls’ coach, but his consistent embrace of more work as the solution to all problems more recently has branded him a weirdo. Instant information and instant gratification are joined at the hip in the age of social media, so a three-week rough patch is cause not only for concern but for a change in Bulls leadership.
Upon hearing Thibodeau had ‘‘lost’’ his locker room, my inclination would be to find him a new locker room. The guy is at the elite level of his profession, by far the sharpest mind and steadiest hand on the Bulls’ bench since Phil Jackson.
Never mind that Derrick Rose became the NBA’s most valuable player on his watch, that Joakim Noah evolved into the Defensive Player of the Year or that Jimmy Butler has developed into an All-Star-caliber player. When trouble arises in sports, it’s customary for the boss to be replaced rather than the workers. That’s especially true in the NBA, the ultimate in star-driven enterprises.
Rose is the only star on the Bulls’ roster, and he has been an injury-idled spectator for two of the last three seasons. Thibodeau has done what he has done with his best player available roughly half the time, and three weeks of uneven play is cause for firing him? That’s crazy.
The man can coach. The Bulls should let him.