That’s not what coaches like Krzyzewski do.
“It was very easy to walk away, but I just don’t think people who are accustomed to competing or high achievers walk away,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said. “You just keep competing.”
So that’s what Krzyzewski plans, right on through the 2012 Olympics.
USA Basketball announced Tuesday that Krzyzewski will return to lead the United States in next summer’s world championships and when it defends its gold medal in London.
The Americans won the championship last year in Beijing and will bring the leadership of that team back for another run. Krzyzewski’s entire staff of assistants also will return — New York’s Mike D’Antoni, Portland’s Nate McMillan and Jim Boeheim of Syracuse.
“We all felt as a staff the work wasn’t over,” Krzyzewski said at a press conference. “Our goal this time is to make it even better.”
Colangelo, who hired Krzyzewski to lead the national team in 2005, already had committed to returning. He never pushed Krzyzewski for an answer about a return — even as they shared a pizza and bottle of wine until well past midnight in April in a Chicago hotel lobby — because he could tell all along that’s exactly what the coach wanted to do.
Leaving became even harder for Krzyzewski once players started talking about playing again in Beijing.
“It would have been really hard,” Krzyzewski said. “In my coaching career, I don’t really have any regrets. Obviously you’d like to have won a certain game or two, but as far as decisions of where I coach and what I’m doing, I’ve led a very charmed life. And I think if I didn’t do this, I would have regretted it.”
Krzyzewski will become the first U.S. coach of multiple Olympic teams since Henry Iba, who won gold in 1964 and ’68 and coached the team that lost the controversial 1972 gold-medal game to the Soviet Union.
“We don’t have term limits at USA Basketball and so when you have a great thing going, you keep it going,” Colangelo said.
The return of Krzyzewski, a college coach who was well liked by the NBA’s best, could influence some top American players to suit up again, especially since both he and Colangelo have said the Americans must make the worlds a higher priority.
“I think they understand that their job isn’t over, either,” Krzyzewski said.
Colangelo spoke with the core of last year’s team, including recent league MVPs Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, in February and believes they are interested in competing next summer in Turkey.
That’s partly because they enjoyed playing for Krzyzewski, who took over after the Americans had tumbled to the lowest point in their basketball history.
“I had a wonderful experience playing for Coach K and his staff. Winning the gold medal in China last summer was one of the highlights of my career,” NBA scoring leader Dwyane Wade said in a statement. “I believe his return will make many players want to join the senior national team and represent our country.”
After winning gold in the 2000 Olympics, the Americans fell to sixth place in the 2002 worlds and managed only a bronze medal two years later in the Athens games. Colangelo took control of USA Basketball following those embarrassments and instituted a program to better prepare the Americans for international competitions.
He chose Krzyzewski as the program’s coach even though no U.S. senior team had been led by someone from the college ranks since NBA players began competing in the Olympics in 1992 — Krzyzewski assisted Chuck Daly on that squad.
“I said at the time he was the right guy at the right time, and that certainly proved to be the case,” Colangelo said.
Krzyzewski led the Americans to a 36-1 record from 2006-08, and developed strong relationships with his players, after previous coaches Larry Brown and George Karl had publicly bickered with them. And it’s those relationships that drove Krzyzewski to sign on for another tour at age 62.
“I know that the guys who played for us in Beijing, they became part of our family,” Krzyzewski said. “Why wouldn’t we want to do it again”?
The graduate of the U.S. Military Academy has been on U.S. staffs in 11 competitions and couldn’t pass up a chance to come back, agreeing with Colangelo that the Americans should keep a good thing going. He and Colangelo spoke throughout the winter and spring, but Colangelo told Krzyzewski not to decide until he his family and his superiors at Duke were comfortable with him giving up at least two more summers.
Now the Hall of Fame coach can fill one of the only holes in his resume. He has only a pair of bronze medals from the world championships, leading a team of college players that lost to a powerful Yugoslavia squad in 1990 and a team that included James and Wade but was upset by Greece in the 2006 semifinals in Japan.
The Americans are holding a minicamp this week for 23 young players who could be candidates to play for Krzyzewski, but he won’t run the practices, leaving those duties to Toronto’s Jay Triano. Krzyzewski will take the reins again next summer, and again if the Americans don’t win the worlds and are forced to play in the Olympic qualifier in 2011.