The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday January 31st

Column: In defeat, Krzyzewski's grand farewell tour got the sendoff it deserved

Head coach of the Duke Men's Basketball team Mike Krzyzewski enters the court for his last game in Cameron Indoor Stadium against North Carolina on March 5, 2022. UNC won 94-81.
Buy Photos Head coach of the Duke Men's Basketball team Mike Krzyzewski enters the court for his last game in Cameron Indoor Stadium against North Carolina on March 5, 2022. UNC won 94-81.

He couldn’t have planned it any better.

Right after a disappointing 2020-21 season that saw his Blue Devils miss March Madness for the first time since 1995, head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final year would be the one to turn it around. A star-studded incoming class highlighted by unicorn Paolo Banchero, paired with an already-stacked roster highlighted by McDonald’s All-American center Mark Williams, would give the 75-year-old another shot at winning it all.

And then, on June 2, 2021, Krzyzewski announced that he would finally hang up his hat and retire at the end of the season. With his replacement, Jon Scheyer, selected and ready to go, all Krzyzewski would have to do is coach his team one last time and take in the ensuing media circus.

He really couldn’t have planned his farewell tour any better.

And for most of the season, the tour carried on smoothly. Despite some losses, the Blue Devils never fell out of the AP Top 10, and Duke cruised its way to the ACC regular season title match, clinching it before its schedule even ended. Heading into the final week of the regular season, articles and videos galore poured in from across the sports media world, giving Coach K all of his flowers, fanfare and more.

The final stop of that tour, his final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, would be the grand finale with all the bells and whistles — a College GameDay special, a mass of former Duke players returning to honor their skipper and a postgame ceremony to once and for all cement his legacy before the Cameron Crazies.

All he had to do was defeat their unranked rivals, the North Carolina Tar Heels, something he had done just a month prior, and by 20 points no less.

Easy … or not.

Instead, the upset-minded Tar Heels had other ideas, punching the Blue Devils in the mouth early and pulling ahead late for a 94-81 win, Hubert Davis’ first over Duke and far-and-away the most important of his rookie coaching campaign. 

After all the pomp and celebration, Cameron was quiet when the final buzzer sounded. The Tar Heels wheeled away in celebration.

That sweet farewell tour had been soured, and as Krzyzewski silenced forgiving fans during his postgame speech, his face showed it.

Lots of things made this win especially meaningful for the Tar Heels — a huge upset against a top-five Duke team in their territory, the final victory UNC would ever be able to earn over its most prominent villain of all time. For Tar Heel fans, the game was rife with reasons to rejoice.

But I want you to dig into your heart, to look deep inside and ask yourself, what makes this win that much more meaningful? For me, it’s obvious.

Think back to Roy.

Every villain needs a hero, and for 18 years, that hero was Roy Williams. He was the perfect foil to Krzyzewski — those western North Carolina roots, that southern drawl and that teamwork-makes-the-dream-work attitude made him exactly the man to take on the flashy Northern coach over in Durham.

And in 2021, after a disappointing season where a Williams-led team lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, when that good night finally came for him, Williams went gently.

No faff or fuss, no pomp and circumstance — just a surprise April Fools’ Day announcement, a press conference and a humbling admission that he was no longer “the right man for the job.”

We didn’t know that season was the last we’d see of ol’ Roy. It just wasn’t the way the greatest coach in UNC history was supposed to go out — quietly, somberly, mournfully.

It was everything Krzyzewski didn’t want for himself. 

Krzyzewski’s been riding highs all season. He had his own ACC miniseries, adoring feature stories in newspapers nationwide, big wins over ranked teams and a thrashing of his rivals in their home arenas. A final win in Cameron Indoor against those same rivals would just be the icing on that cake.

The farewell tour was approaching its finale — a finale K so desperately wanted on his terms. But Davis, the hardworking handpicked successor of ol’ Roy, wouldn’t allow that to happen.

In defeat, the faff was soiled by failure, the honorifics and parading ruined by the sting of bitter defeat.

At the end of the day, you want to know what makes this win that much sweeter?

Roy may not have gotten his proper ending, but Krzyzewski got exactly the one he deserved.


@dthsports |

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