After all, he was supposed to be Team USA's savior, plucked from his perch atop Duke University to salvage America's international basketball pride following a sixth-place finish at the 2002 Worlds and bronze at the Athens Olympics. Hailed as the perfect blend of disciplinarian (he attended West Point), patriot and motivator, Coach K was the man for the job of assuaging millionaire egos and returning basketball gold to its rightful home, the inner-city blacktops and sweaty YMCA gyms in which the sport was reared.
But after the U.S.' stunning defeat yes, despite our recent failures, these losses still shock Coach K should dump his $100,000 motivational speeches in the Pacific. Because, at the moment, American basketball fans just want answers, not sermons.
And here's one to consider: how much blame, really, should fall on the coach? Well, on the positive side, he certainly deserves some credit for his team's comportment unlike some past teams, this collection of classy superstars (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade) and role players (Shane Battier, Brad Miller) played hard, stayed humble, and was easy to cheer for. They reflected the character of their coach.
But against Greece, Coach K gave it the old college try, and that seemed to backfire. Throughout the tournament the U.S. played pressure defense, one of the staples of the college game. But the Greeks countered by drawing amped-up U.S. defenders out high, and slipping their big men like 6-10, 280-pound baby-Shaq center Sofoklis Schortsanitis down low, where they were open for easy buckets (Schortsanitis finished with 14 points on 6 of 7 shooting). Without a single NBA player on their roster, the Greeks executed the most basic NBA-type play the pick and roll to near-perfection. So here's another one of those questions: Would a pro head coach who sees the pick and roll in his sleep have designed a better defense, or adjusted sooner?
To be fair, Krzyzewski deserves a smaller portion of the blame for the U.S. roster, which was primarily constructed by ex-Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo. But from the beginning the pair preached that they were partners, so if Krzyzewski didn't have final say over the players, he should have shouted louder: more shooters, please! During the Team USA meltdown in Athens, every weekend warrior with a backyard jump shot said, " Put me on the team! " And these guys had a point; more than anything, the U.S. needed a stand-still shooter, a guy whose sole role was to linger 23 feet from the basket and fire away. With defenders collapsing on America's more athletic stars, wide-open shots are easy to find overseas.
This roster, for some head-scratching reason, had the same shooting deficiency as the more recent disappointing U.S. squads, which is amazing considering all we heard after Athens about constructing a team with the right NBA players not necessarily just the best. You can't win while shooting 32% from three-point range, which the U.S. did against Greece. Where was Detroit's Richard Hamilton, who shot 46% from three-point range this year, tops in the NBA? What about Kyle Korver of Philadelphia? He doesn't do anything else, really, but shoot threes, but that's OK. We could use him. The Americans did not bring a single top-30 three-point shooter in Japan, which is simply inexcusable. And Krzyzewski, who is not afraid to lecture you on leadership, should have told Colangelo that.
History hasn't been kind to losing international coaches. Georgetown's John Thompson won a bronze with college players at the '88 Olympics and never made another Final Four. George Karl's cachet dropped after the '02 loss, and Larry Brown, the '04 Olympic coach, is currently out of work after his debacle of a season with the Knicks.
Luckily for Krzyzewski, he has two more years to reverse American fortunes gold in Beijing will erase this sour memory and put to rest all these questions. But he has to change his mind-set. "For this sport, we shouldn't just win, we should set the standard," Krzyzewski told TIME before the tournament began. "And to be quite frank with you, the rest of the basketball world wants in some ways for us to do that."
Many observers would beg to differ, Coach K. Forget about setting the standard. The world has already showed us how to play. Now you have to just work on catching up.