Krzyzewski rebukes lucrative Lakers offer

Updated: July 12, 2004, 12:57 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

DURHAM, N.C. -- Mike Krzyzewski is staying at Duke, ending talks with the Los Angeles Lakers about becoming their coach.

"Your heart has to be in whatever you lead," Krzyzewski said Monday. "It became apparent that this decision was somewhat easier to make because you have to follow your heart and lead with it and Duke has always taken up my whole heart."

Krzyzewski, who has won three national titles at Duke, said the timing of the Lakers' offer, reported by ESPN's Stephen A. Smith as a five-year, $40 million deal, and their prominence as one of professional sports' most famous franchises made the chance to coach them tempting. But he never got to the point of being ready to leave.

"The decision has always been to stay at Duke. It would have to be something changing [that]," he said at a news conference on campus.

Krzyzewski said Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak first made his interest in hiring Krzyzewski clear during conversations the two had around the time of the NBA draft. Kupchak met with Krzyzewski in North Carolina last Thursday to discuss the job.

Even Lakers star Kobe Bryant was reportedly trying to persuade Coach K to take the job.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Bryant told Krzyzewski that he wanted the Duke coach to head to L.A. Some Duke basketball people were in a campus gym when Krzyzewski came in and told the group, "You'll never guess who called. Kobe Bryant. He wants me to come coach him."

"We're disappointed because we would have liked to have brought Coach Krzyzewski to Los Angeles," Kupchak said Monday night. "We thought he would have been a wonderful coach."

The announcement was welcome news for Duke fans, players and administrators, who had waited anxiously for a decision. When the coach said he waited until Monday morning to call new university president Richard Brodhead because he didn't know Brodhead's sleeping patterns, Brodhead was quick to joke, "They'll be better now."

Still, Krzyzewski, who three years ago signed a lifetime contract with Duke but has had several flirtations with the NBA, coming close in 1990 to leaving the Blue Devils to coach the Boston Celtics, declined to rule out the possibility of ever coaching in the pros.

"I don't want to say never, but I also don't want to lead anyone on. ... I want to coach for a long time," he said.

Kupchak said he believed the Lakers' chance of getting Krzyzewski was remote even after the parties met.

"We knew what we were up against, but if you don't ask, you don't know," Kupchak said.

The Lakers have been searching for a new coach since June 18, when coach Phil Jackson stepped down three days after an NBA Finals loss to Detroit.

Kenny Randolph, father of Duke forward Shavlik Randolph, said Krzyzewski told him in a phone call late Monday morning that he would stay with the Blue Devils.

"He just basically said the thing sort of ballooned out of proportion and that he appreciated our friendship and confidence, and that he'd remain at Duke," Randolph said. "And that's all that had to be said.

"I told him, 'Gosh, Coach. I've got chill bumps.' And he said, 'I do, too.' "

The 57-year-old Krzyzewski has a 621-181 record at Duke, leading the Blue Devils to championships in 1991, 1992 and 2001. Under Krzyzewski, the Blue Devils have 10 Final Four appearances, eight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championships and 10 conference regular-season titles.

His Duke teams have been ranked No. 1 in 12 seasons, including each of the last seven. With his team's success on and off the court, Krzyzewski -- like John Wooden did at UCLA and Dean Smith at North Carolina -- has become synonymous with Duke basketball.

Current Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said he wasn't surprised by Krzyzewski's decision.

"Mike has accomplished so much at Duke, and his roots are so deep that I thought it would be difficult for him to leave," Williams said. "I'm sure he felt it was in the best interest for him and his family. I know it is great for college basketball."

Krzyzewski called his players Monday morning to tell them he was staying.

"When I first heard about this situation, I was pretty upset," guard Sean Dockery said. "Today, it was the best news when I heard he's coming back to coach us."

David McClure, a Duke recruit from Ridgefield, Conn., was also heartened to hear the news.

"It was an incredible relief," McClure told The Associated Press. "All I can say is I'm speechless. I'm so happy he's staying."

Gary Melchionni, father of junior Lee Melchionni and a former Duke basketball player, expressed relief that Krzyzewski will try to add to his impressive Duke resume.

"That's great news,' Melchionni said. "I just want him to get back to work."

Krzyzewski has had several flirtations with the NBA and has said he came close to leaving Duke in 1990 to coach the Boston Celtics.

Following the loss to the Pistons, the Lakers said Jackson wouldn't return. Jackson, who signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Lakers in June 1999, guided them to championships in his first three seasons.

Former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich has been considered a front-runner to succeed Jackson. He has met with team owner Jerry Buss and Kupchak.

Former Lakers coach Pat Riley, an executive with the Miami Heat, also met with Buss and Kupchak, but issued a statement saying he wasn't a candidate.

Others mentioned have been Kurt Rambis and Jim Cleamons, members of Jackson's staff.

But the Lakers appeared most interested in trying to lure Krzyzewski from Duke, a private school where basketball has a rabid following among the 6,300 students.

The Cameron Indoor Stadium hardwood is named "Coach K Court." Outside the arena, a sign designates the grassy plot where students camp out to attend games as "Krzyzewskiville," where the coach has been known to occasionally buy pizzas for the waiting "Cameron Crazies."

After the Lakers' interest became known, Duke officials said they were open to improving Krzyzewski's contract.

John Burness, Duke's senior vice president for public and government relations, said Monday the university has spoken with Krzyzewski about the contract "and it's reasonable to assume some modifications will be made." He would not elaborate.

Athletics director Joe Alleva said that the school was "able to do a few things for Mike in his contract, but believe me, he didn't make his decision based on a financial situation."

Krzyzewski agreed.

"The allure of coaching in college has no price," he said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE