With the school's longest losing streak in nearly 50 years still intact, the Duke basketball team yesterday lost something more than a game: The Blue Devils won't have coach Mike Krzyzewski for the remainder of the season.
After he missed the past two weeks because of complications from back surgery last October, it was announced that Krzyzewski would not return until the start of practice for the 1995-96 season.
The announcement comes as the Blue Devils, the country's most dominant college team the past decade, are 9-8 overall and 0-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time in league history.
They have lost five straight games for the first time since 1938-39, when Eddie Cameron -- the man for whom their famed arena is named -- was the coach. Duke's struggles come a year after it reached the NCAA final for the fifth time since 1986.
"The indecision of when I would return should be put to rest so the team could move forward," Krzyzewski said in a statement released last night.
Krzyzewski, 47, is in his 15th year at Duke, having led the Blue Devils to back-to-back national championships in 1991 and 1992. Duke has won 23 or more games in each of the last 11 years, and has won 30 games or more twice. Krzyzewski has a 431-188 record for his 20 seasons overall. He is 358-127 at Duke, including 9-3 this season.
"Coach K is a Duke treasure, and we want to take care of our treasures," Duke president Nan Keohane said. "We all miss him and we look forward to having him back next year. But we also want him to take the time. He needs to get better."
Duke athletic director Tom Butters was unavailable to comment last night.
Krzyzewski underwent surgery at Duke University Medical Center Oct. 22 to repair a displaced disc in his back. Ignoring doctor's orders to take nearly a month off and then come back slowly, Krzyzewski returned less than two weeks later and jumped right back into a hectic schedule.
According to members of his staff, including associate coach Pete Gaudet, Krzyzewski felt weak during the team's trip to the Rainbow Classic in late December.
Krzyzewski's final game was a loss at home to Clemson Jan. 4. He went back into the hospital four days later and was released Jan. 10, at which time Gaudet was named the team's interim coach. The Blue Devils have lost five straight under Gaudet, a former head coach at Army, going into tomorrow's game against Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
Duke, which is unranked for the first time since 1986, plays its next ACC game Saturday at Maryland. Though the Terrapins never have beaten Duke in his five seasons, Maryland coach Gary Williams said last night that he will miss Krzyzewski's being on the sideline.
"You just want him to get better," Williams said last night. "You don't worry about the coaching; you're just concerned about the person. He's one of the top guys in the business and in our league. Hopefully, he's going to be back."
When reached at home last night, Gaudet said that Krzyzewski's absence and the uncertainly surrounding his possible return had started to distract the young Duke team.
"The longer it went on without any clear timetable, the lack of stability had the potential to be a deterrent to what we're trying to accomplish," Gaudet said.
Asked how the players reacted to the news, which came during a 20-minute meeting with Krzyzewski yesterday afternoon, Gaudet said, "I think they were very understanding. They wished him well. They understand health problems. I don't know if they felt that 50 percent [of Krzyzewski] was better than somebody else, but they know he doesn't have the energy or the passion that he had before."
There had been speculation throughout the ACC that Krzyzewski's problems were not strictly back-related.
"I just did the [coach's] radio show and I heard the rumors, everything from cancer to leaving coaching," said Gaudet.
That the Blue Devils have another trip west -- to Los Angeles Feb. 26 to play UCLA -- probably meant that Krzyzewski would have had to stay out at least until the ACC tournament in early March. Duke now will try to become only the second ACC team in history to make the NCAA tournament after an 0-6 start; Maryland did so in 1985-86.
"Maybe it's good to know, and not to look for another change," Gaudet said of Krzyzewski's decision. "I don't look at ourselves as being in a pressure situation. Those who thought that Mike was going to come back and wave a magic wand, it's not going to happen."