10.19.07

The Cost of Leadership, Coach K Style: $1,600

Posted in Basketball, College Spurts at 2:28 pm by

That number above — a round, plummy figure that’s about equal to what I make in a slightly-below average month as a writer of sports cards and orotund, fact-deficient NFL previews — is but a drop in the bucket to some. But it’s still not very difficult to imagine a better use for that amount of money than this, via Luke Winn at SI.com. Our scene opens at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Arena, where someone who looks like the puppet from Saw is going over videotape with some tall people. But something unusual is afoot…


Coach K has a wireless mic clipped to his black Duke polo shirt, and his voice is being projected into Cameron’s upper level, where approximately 250 businesspeople are sitting in on what would otherwise be a closed practice. They have all paid between $1,350 and $1,600 to attend this week’s Fuqua School of Business & Coach K Leadership Conference, a three-day event that includes not only this practice but also a gala dinner and speech by Krzyzewski, who’s listed on its Web site as both Duke’s head coach and “Executive-in-Residence, Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics.”

Time and travel constraints prevent me from making preseason visits to all 336 Division I schools. But I’m pretty sure this is the only program whose coach’s profile has transcended sport to the extent that one of his practices is now doubling as a corporate seminar.

As the lights come back on in the cathedral, a team of assistants breaks down the video equipment, clearing the court so players can stretch. They temporarily become the backdrop for a Coach K speech directed solely at the business folk; he looks up toward their perch, explaining why his players need the tape (“It’s tough for them to visualize what happens on the court,” he explains.) and then how his organization is structured: “Instead of trying to fit people in certain spots, we try to form an offense that fits the personality of the team at this point,” Coach K says.

A lesson very easily applied to reorganizing the marketing department of your midsize business, to be sure. The rest of the article is a preview of Duke’s team, the members of which are pretty familiar to anyone who watched them flame out against Virginia Commonwealth in last year’s NCAA Tournament follows new developments in the field of leadership. What I don’t get — other than the whole thing, top to bottom — is why people would pay that much to get useless, decontextualized cliches from Coach K when there are cheaper, more effective motivational speakers available.

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