NORMAN AREY COLUMN: How about Alabama and Duke both losing Coach K?
The week’s news was dominated not by bowl games, but by none other than Coach K. Of course, it depends on your particular inclination as to which Coach K you’re most concerned with — Coach Mike Krzyzewski or Coach Lane Kiffin.
Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski pulled a surprise by announcing he would miss 6-8 weeks of action by having back surgery. It’s not the first time Krzyzewski has had issues with his back. He missed most of a season a decade or two back. But for the first time in perhaps 37 years, cracks may be starting to show in Krzyzewski’s fiefdom he’s built at Duke University. The season certainly didn’t start like that.
The Blue Devil boss and three-time U.S. Olympic winning coach was credited with bringing in the best recruiting class of his many years. He had 6-foot-10 center Marques Bolden, 6-foot-11 front court player Harry Giles and 6-foot-8 forward Jason Tatum in Durham for the start of the season along with the Blue Devils’ best player, Grayson Allen.
Duke was chosen No. 1 in the preseason polls. But then strange things started happening in Durham even before the season could get started. Giles went down with a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery, Tatum suffered a foot injury that kept him away from the court and Bolden hurt his lower leg.
And then the most telling of all things happened. Team captain and leading scorer Grayson Allen was suspended last week for an indefinite time and Krzyzewski stripped the high-scoring guard of his captaincy. The reason was because Allen intentionally tripped an opposing player from Elon and added to the two other tripping calls he accrued last season, Krzyzewski had seen enough.
Then Duke lost to lowly Virginia Tech last weekend. In fact it was a downright weird weekend as Georgia Tech beat North Carolina, Wake Forest dropped one to Miami and Clemson beat N.C. State. All four major basketball powers in the state lost on the same weekend for only the second time in the history of the ACC. It was, indeed, a black weekend.
But back to Duke. The Devils have lost already to Kansas and now Virginia Tech. With Krzyzewski gone and Jeff Capel running the show, it’s hard to know what to expect.
Can the Blue Devils play to their talent, or will they sink into morass and despondency without their leader? Can their heralded freshmen class become healthy as a unit and can Duke still make its way through a rough, tough ACC schedule relatively intact?
For the fourth time in as many jobs, Kiffin has left a team high and dry, and quite unexpectedly, by forgoing coaching in the biggest game in college to tend to his duties as the new head coach at Florida Atlantic, wherever that is.
First, Kiffin was fired as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Then he skipped out on Tennessee after only one year to go to Southern Cal. Then he was fired at Southern Cal and Alabama head coach Nick Saban rescued him by hiring him as offensive coordinator.
And then six days before the Crimson Tide plays for the national championship, he’s off the staff and was last seen somewhere in the southern part of Florida. The official story out of Alabama is that coach Saban and Kiffin met and it was mutually agreed that the offensive coordinator should go ahead and assume his head coaching job at his new school. But those of you who know Saban know that he doesn’t agree with anybody, and he basically told Kiffin to hit the road.
Remember Kiffin was quoted of saying some unflattering things about Alabama and Saban in a big Sports Illustrated magazine article. Perhaps the most damning was, “Coaching at Alabama is like dog years. I’ve been there three years but it seems like 21,” or something close to that.
Now Steve Sarkisian takes over the offensive reigns and that isn’t all that bad since Sarkisian has been with the Tide all year and is familiar with the personnel and the playbook. But do you think that perhaps somewhere along the way, somebody’s gonna wise up about Kiffin and leave him somewhere high and dry? It would seem meet and right.
Norman Arey is an award-winning journalist and a columnist for the Rome News-Tribune. He can be reached at NArey@RN-T.com.