People often forget that in Mike Krzyzewski’s early days at Duke he struggled to win games and recruit talented players. Bobby Dwyer was an assistant coach and recruiter for Mike Krzyzewski during his head coaching years at Army and his first few years at Duke University.
In this interview Bobby and I talk about Duke basketball during Coach Krzyzewski’s earliest days as the head coach, recruitment wars and much more.
Bobby is currently the Senior Associate Athletics Director For Development at William & Mary College.
SHAFIN KHAN: How did you and Mike meet and what was your first impression of him?
BOBBY DWYER: We met through a mutual friend. I had been out of school for about eight or nine months and was interested in getting into college coaching and a mutual friend said if I was interested that he would put in a recommendation for me. Mike had just gotten the job at West Point and I said yes, I would be very interested. I interviewed and fortunately he offered me the job and I was up there a couple days later. Once we confirmed I was going to have the job things happened pretty fast. First impressions were extremely positive, Mike is always very candid and a very honest person. He was not just a boss or a mentor but he became more than that, he was someone I wanted to emulate, not just as a coach but as a person.
KHAN: How did Mike change from his five years at Army to his first few years at Duke?
DWYER: Our biggest change was that we had to modify our recruiting. You recruit more kids and recruit kids with a shotgun at West Point. When you go to Duke and most other schools you are going to recruit with a rifle. Your going to identify these three kids or these five kids and try to recruit those kids. At West Point you needed to have a bigger pool of potential recruits because there are a lot of kids who are not interested in going into the military so you have to get involved with more kids to end up with a similar number of recruits as other schools.
KHAN: In John Feinstein’s book “The Legends Club” it mentions that Mike considered the head coaching job at Iowa State before accepting the job at Duke. Did he inform you that he might take that job or tell about his thought process at all during that time?
DWYER: Yes, we talked about it. We thought it was a really good situation. It was a good school, great facility. Mike’s from Chicago, we thought okay, Iowa State is relatively close to Chicago and he had great contacts there. He was interested but it was not the same situation that Duke offered.
KHAN: What was life like as a recruiter, was it fun?
DWYER: Yes, it was. I was single, so I was traveling. At West Point, it was more driving but at Duke it was a combination of driving and flying. So I was just going around the country and basically just watching and talking basketball. It was fun, I really enjoyed it. Not that we didn’t work hard. Mike personifies someone who is a hard worker but it was enjoyable.
KHAN: You were a major part in helping recruit the class that helped take Mike to his first Final Four in 1986. Who would you say was the most crucial part to that recruiting class?
DWYER: As far as the players? Johnny Dawkins. Johnny was a national player of the year. He was a kid that so many other kids knew about. They read about him. You didn’t have internet back then but he was an McDonalds All-American. There were recruits who loved the idea of Duke and the great education and all that but there was an attraction to playing with Johnny Dawkins. He just had a positive impact on some other recruits and of all the kids in those early days he was the key guy.
KHAN: To this day, Mike still talks highly of Johnny Dawkins. He said publicly earlier this season that Johnny Dawkins and Grant Hill are the most unique athletes he has coached at Duke behind Zion Williamson and that is really saying something with the plethora of kids that Mike has coached at Duke.
DWYER: We had the whole team run a mile for time in the fall as a part of our conditioning. If memory serves me correct, Johnny ran a 4:26 mile. Our track coach at Duke was very involved in U.S.A. Track and Field as an assistant coach. He came to us and said “if he were to be interested in track and if I have him for a year or two he would be a world class miler.” We asked Johnny “How many times have you been timed in the mile?” and he said never. He said he used to go workout in high school and run but they never ran for time. So, he wasn’t just this phenomenal athlete in one sport, he had the potential according to our track coach to be one of the best milers in the country.
KHAN: Besides Johnny, who would you say were the best players you helped to recruit?
DWYER: I would say Mark Alarie. He was terrific at Duke and went on to have a great career in the NBA. It is hard to not include [Jay] Bilas and [Dave] Henderson. They weren’t quite as good as players as Johnny and Mark. The next year we got Tommy Amaker who was arguably the best point guard in America as a senior in high school. He was a great player and a guy Mike identified early that would be a perfect fit for Duke. He was smart, poised, very skilled, good athlete and a good shooter.
KHAN: Mike struggled mightily in those first few years, at what point in those first three seasons at Duke would you say was the lowest point for the coaching staff?
DWYER: Our second year where we came really close to get some really good recruits but it did not work out for a variety of reasons. That was a low point. We went from there to having the number one class in America, with the guys we just talked about. We weren’t down long. Mike is a guy that moves on, reassess, he sets goals and works hard. He motivates those around him to work hard but that second year was tough.
KHAN: Who were some of those recruits that you lost?
DWYER: Bill Wennington, he played at St. Joes and then played in the NBA. Seven foot guy out of Long Island. We came very really close to getting him. A German kid named Uwe Blab, who was seven foot two, he went to Indiana. A kid named Jimmy Miller out of West Virginia. He had visited us and Virginia and went to Virginia. We just came in second with some really good players.
KHAN: Who was the toughest competition those first couple years in the ACC?
DWYER: North Carolina and North Carolina State. That’s not to say Maryland wasn’t good, they just weren’t quite as good as North Carolina or State. Maryland was good, they had Albert King and Buck Williams and all those guys. Virginia had Sampson. I mean the league was really, really strong. So, we weren’t lacking on tough teams to play in the conference, that’s for sure.
KHAN: What is a favorite memory you have with Mike?
DWYER: I would say our first year at Duke when we beat North Carolina at home. It was my first experience as a coach with the Cameron Crazies. I played at Wake so I had been in Cameron before when we played at Duke but it was a different perspective. I can’t remember the exact way the game ended but it was a very exciting ending, I remember that and the students stormed the court. I got out of the way quickly and just watched. I know Mike and I both felt that this was another aspect that makes Duke such an attractive school for players to play at. Just how amazingly supportive the students are. That sticks out, that was our first really big win at Duke.