On the evening of Tuesday, January 12, the dispatcher for the sheriff’s department in Floyd County, Virginia took a call.
The caller expressed concern about a man walking alone on Virginia Route 8. The only description given to the dispatcher was the man was wearing athletic warm-up clothing, and the man was talking out loud to himself.
The dispatcher sent a deputy to investigate.
It took a while for the deputy to locate the walker, but he did find him heading south on Route 8.
In the darkness of this narrow, twisting road as it cuts through the Blue Ridge Mountains, the deputy saw the man in his headlights.
The man was walking properly facing on coming traffic, and as the caller indicated, the walker was wearing athletic clothing, and the walker appeared to be yapping out loud to himself in a military cadence.
The deputy notified the dispatcher that the walker had been located. He stated he was getting ready to approach the walker.
So the deputy slowed his car, he turned on his blue lights and emergency flashers. He positioned the spotlight by his driver’s side mirror on the walker, and tooted his horn.
The walker froze, the deputy pulled the car over on a narrow shoulder, and the deputy exited his car.
“Good evening, deputy, how can I help you?” stated the walker.
The deputy explained he was responding to a safety call on the report of a singular walker, talking to himself, out here on Route 8.
The deputy asked, “Sir, if you don’t mind, could I see some identification?”
The walker complied. He reached for his wallet and handed the deputy his driver’s license.
With his flashlight in hand, the deputy shone the LED light on the license.
The deputy read out loud “Michael William Kra-zew-ski, Durham, North Carolina.”
“Sir,” the deputy continued, “You are a long way from Durham, North Carolina. What the heck are you doing out here in the hollers of these hills on this cold winter night babbling to yourself like a chipmunk that found a still?”
The walker replied, “Deputy, I’m just clearing my head.”
The deputy responded, “Clearing your head, in the middle of the night, on Route 8, walking alone, and Google’s best guess tells me you are at least 130 miles from Durham. I’m not so sure I don’t need to take you in for observation and a mental health check.”
“Well, deputy, I appreciate your concern, but that won’t be necessary. You see my team’s next game isn’t until Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. I’ve got plenty of time to get to Durham,” the walker responded as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
The deputy was silent for a few seconds. He took a step back.
He took his flashlight and focused it on the royal blue capital D on the fleece jacket the walker was wearing.
Next, the deputy shone the light on to the walker’s face.
He saw the jet black hair, the piercing eyes, the large nose, and the tightly aligned mouth and chin.
Then, the deputy exclaimed to the walker: “You’re Coach K, you’re Coach K, the dispatcher isn’t going to believe this! I stopped Coach K walking home to Durham. But now, it’s coming to me, you are walking home because my Virginia Tech Hokies beat your team tonight in Blacksburg. Clearing your head, I get it. I guess coaches must find ways to clear their heads, especially after losing a game you thought your team should win.”
And this was followed by a few seconds more of awkward silence.
That silence was broken by the dispatcher on the radio asking if the deputy had an update.
The deputy searched his mind for a response.
Then he stated: “Walker in good shape, stable, he’s just doing some personal research about his chosen profession.”
Coach K looked at the deputy and whispered, “thank you.”
The deputy said to Coach K, “You sure, you want to walk all the way back to Durham? Could I at least give you a ride to the next county line?”
“No, I’ll be fine, besides, I worked this all out with the bus driver. Sometime in the next few miles that bus will be coming up behind me and pick me up,” Coach K said with a smile.
“Well, that makes me feel better. I’d hate for you to run into an ornery pole cat or the ghost of Murray the Moonshiner,” the deputy stated.
“Hey coach, before I depart, if its ok with you, I would like to give you a bit of advice about clearing your head,” said the deputy with a bit of hesitation.
“Yes, sure go ahead, my wife, my daughters, even my grandchildren offer me advice about basketball,” the Hall of Fame Coach replied.
“Ok, now, don’t get mad, don’t come unglued like you do sometimes with a referee, just remember, you gave me permission to offer you some advice,” the deputy confirmed.
So he started, “Personally, I think you need to think long and hard about the word—experience. Take a look at the boxscore from the game tonight against Virginia Tech. Compare the class rank of your starting five compared to their starting five. I think Virginia Tech beat Duke tonight for lots of reasons. But at the end of the game, I believe the Virginia Tech players are older with more basketball wisdom on the court than your very gifted youngsters.”
And with a bit more of confidence in his voice, the deputy continued, “ I also believe you were a much better molder and shaper of your players before you started chasing all of these one and done players. Your last national championship was in 2015. You can’t build experience in your players chasing the one year blue chippers. I suspect you know that. And, I think deep down in your heart, you really know that, but you don’t want to admit it. My take on why you don’t want to admit it is simply this— I think you are blinded by your desire to win.”
Silence returned between the coach and the deputy.
Internally, the deputy was thinking, I better get out of here before he erupts and pushes me off the side of this mountain.
“Well, Coach K, I reckon your ride will be along soon. I need to get back on patrol. It has been an honor to meet you. Thanks for for listening to my heart, maybe in your head clearing, you’ll listen to your heart,” the deputy said this as he turned to head back to his car.
He took a couple of steps and then he heard these parting words from Coach K, “Deputy, you’re a good man, I like the courage in your heart, be safe, thanks for your leadership out here.”
“We try to create a legacy that binds the past to the present.”
Mike Krzyzewski page 185 Chapter 12 from his book Leading With The Heart
Photo by Bill Pike map courtesy of the Virginia Department of Transportation 2006-08