Last week, Pitt head coach Jeff Capel suggested a mid-season pause, citing growing concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With rising case and death numbers around the country, the third-year head coach said that players and coaches deserved to be at home with their families for the holidays, not playing a hectic basketball schedule.
Just days later, after Duke’s 83-68 loss to Illinois, a reporter asked Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski if he had heard his former assistant Capel’s comments regarding playing basketball during a pandemic.
The hall-of-famer’s response shook the basketball world.
“I would just like for the safety, the mental and physical health of players and staff to assess where we’re at,” said Krzyzewski. “People are saying the next six weeks are going to be the worst. To me, it’s already pretty bad.”
In a very similar statement to Capel’s, Krzyzewski was just asking for a reassessment of the plans for this season.
“Should we not reassess that?” he added. “See just what would be best? For the good of the game and the mental and physical health of players and staff, we need to constantly look at this thing. I think that’s a smart thing to do.”
Although his comments were very similar to Capel’s, Kryzyzewski’s resulted in tons of backlash, especially because they came after Duke’s second loss early on in the season.
This backlash also came because of another simple reason: he’s Coach K.
Every year, fans, media, and (specifically this year) other coaches criticize Krzyzewski of anything they can think of, in large part because he’s a winner. This week, seemingly everyone let out their frustration, whether it was on social media or in a press conference. Many of which accusing Krzyzewski of saying these things only because Duke had lost.
Jeff Capel saw this nationwide response to Krzyzewski’s comments and took exception.
“I think that’s ludicrous,” Capel said when asked about those who are relating Krzyzewski’s comments to Duke’s early struggles. “I think that’s absolutely ridiculous to say that about the person that’s won more games in the history of college basketball than anyone. I don’t think losing a couple of games this year is going to affect him. That has won more national championships than any active coach, that has done more for the game. Look, one of the things that sucks for Coach, is because of how much he’s won and his stature, he takes bullets. He’s an easy guy to take shots at.
Capel played at Duke under Krzyzewski from 1993-97 and served as an assistant coach at Duke from 2011-18. There, he recruited and coached countless NBA players alongside Coach K and the rest of his staff. However, Capel says, what most people overlook is how much Krzyzewski helps the game and helps other coaches, not just his players.
“For me, I get really upset by it because of how much I care about him, but also with working with him for 7 years I know how much he does for the game and I know how much he does for coaches. I’ve seen it,” Capel added.
After hearing Krzyzewski’s comments, Alabama head coach Nate Oats delivered a particularly snarky response to the public, criticizing Coach K for using this as an excuse for his early-season struggles.
“Do you think if Coach K hadn’t lost his two non-conference games at home that he would still be saying that?” Oats said. “We 100 percent should be playing basketball.”
Oats has since apologized publicly for his statement, but not without receiving backlash of his own, including some words today from Capel.
“The one coach in particular that made a comment, it was interesting because I know exactly what Coach did for him,” Capel said. “I know it because I was the one that helped facilitate it. So it’s disappointing. It’s something as a young coach myself, there’s a certain reverence that you have, whether it’s Coach Boehiem, Coach Izzo, coach Roy Williams, Mark Few, it’s guys that have done stuff that none of us have done. That there’s a certain respect level that should be there like it was for Coach Smith, like it was for Coach Thompson, and guys like that, and it’s just disappointing.”
Capel still keeps in touch with Krzyzewski and added that the night before Duke’s game against Illinois, the two spoke on the phone.
“I talked to him the night before he made the comment, and I think the thing that bothered me the most, he was asked the question after the game about me, about my comment,” said Capel. “That’s what spurred his comment. And the night before, he called me to tell me what I said was right, what he thought I said was right and he was proud of me for stepping out and saying that. He said to me, I hope we win tomorrow more than anything because I want our guys and things like that, but I’d like to say something. But I know if we lose and I say it, then I’m going to get killed. They asked him about my comments, and he said what he said. Now he’s been saying it for a while, and everyone wants to twist, but that’s what happens when you’re the best.
Capel and Krzyzewski are set to face off on Dec. 29 at Duke, which will be the Panthers’ third conference game of the year. In last year’s matchup, Duke took down Pitt 79-67 behind a stellar performance from Vernon Carey, who is now a member of the Charlotte Hornets. In that contest, Pitt was lead by Au’Diese Toney who finished with 27 points and four rebounds.