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DURHAM — Mike Krzyzewksi, Duke’s hall-of-fame basketball coach, sounded positively giddy Monday night, just three days before his 73rd birthday. And that’s a good thing not to be confused with a chuckling over a grandfatherly moment.
Coach K is not hanging onto his job just so he can be a famous basketball coach. He’s still working and enjoying the daily grind as if he were that 28-year-old first-time head coach at Army in the 1975-76 season.
His Monday night excitement was from watching his young basketball team, ranked No. 7, demonstrate maturity to avoid an emotional letdown in its win over No. 8 Florida State, an Atlantic Coast Conference showdown that was just two days after beating Tobacco Road rival North Carolina with an exhausting overtime comeback.
“This has been an incredible 48 hours,” he said after Monday’s game. “I’ve got good guys. I’ve got really good kids.”
By the time Duke (21-3, 11-2 ACC) resumed practice to prepare to host Notre Dame (15-9, 6-7 ACC) at 4 p.m. Saturday, the Blue Devils were back in a tie for first place in the ACC in the loss column. The step up was courtesy of Georgia Tech on Wednesday upsetting No. 5 Louisville (21-4, 12-2 ACC). Florida State (20-4, 10-3 ACC) dropped out of a tie with Duke with Monday’s loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Giddiness from the 73-year-old coach is the new 53. He still loves coaching, and the Blue Devils’ record demonstrates he’s still on top of his game.
“I love my team,” he said. “I love my guys. They’re 18, 19 and 20. These guys are developing. They were terrific. Not many teams would have won tonight after Saturday. I’m so dam proud of them. I’m so damn proud of them. I wish you could feel what I feel. I hope in your jobs you have a moment where you feel as fulfilled and proud of a group as I do of with this group with what you do. You get your moment through them. I’m not preaching. I’m just being real with you.”
If you think there is nothing unusual about this, consider the alternative when iconic coaches hang on too long.
Remember Florida State football and Bobby Bowden in 2009? FSU president T.K. Wetherell found himself in a fight with Bowden, who was noticably slowing down, to push him to retire at age 80.
Coach K may not be able to show a bounce in his step when he crosses the court before and after games toward the locker room, but that’s because he’s the jangling man with knee and hip replacements.
The bounce is in his heart.
Chase Brice’s decision to transfer to Duke from Clemson, where the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder was behind All-American Trevor Lawrence, deserves more comment. Especially given his reason — the 4-star high school recruit out of Grayson, Georgia, said he covets working under Duke head coach David Cutcliffe as a quarterback whisperer.
“I think (Brice) is a great fit for what we do here,” Cutcliffe said. “I think he will compete like crazy to win the position. I like our guys here, and this gives us another scholarship quarterback. We’ve been at three and we’ll be working at four.”
ANOTHER FOOTBALL SHUFFLE
Derek Jones, Duke’s defensive backs coach the past 12 seasons, has accepted a position at Texas Tech as co-defensive coordinator. Jones previously worked with second-year Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells and returning DC Keith Patterson at Tulsa (2006) before he joined the Blue Devils.
Tom Shanahan is a freelance writer based in Cary and author of “Raye of Light,” a book featuring Fayetteville’s Jimmy Raye as a pioneering black quarterback for College Football Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty on Michigan State’s “Underground Railroad” football teams of the 1960s.