By Dave Glenn
September 13, 2006
ACC Sports Journal editor David Glenn recently conducted an in-depth, one-on-one interview with Duke athletic director Joe Alleva. With only minor editing, this is the transcript of their conversation.
DG: From the outside, this looks to have been a year of black eyes for the Duke athletic department, because of the lacrosse situation, your boating accident, the J.J. Redick drunk-driving arrest, etc. You go to work every day. What's the atmosphere inside the Duke athletic department right now?
Alleva: Our athletic department is one of the best athletic departments in the country. The unfortunate incidents that happened with lacrosse brought national media attention to Durham and to Duke University. As far as the other incidents, J.J. Redick's was just an unfortunate thing, and my boating accident was a rainy night, it was dark, and we had an accident. Those kinds of things happen in life.
But the spirit in our department is as strong (as ever), and maybe stronger than ever. I think all of the things that have happened have bonded the department and the staff and coaches together. I think everyone's got a resolve to show the world that we're still one of the best athletic departments in the country.
DG: From your chair, do you feel there was unnecessary piling on? Do you think you were treated unfairly as a whole? Is there any misperception out there that you could clear up about any aspect of any of those situations?
Alleva: I can't speak about the (lacrosse) case because it's still in court, and it's going to be in court, so I can't really speak about that.
I just think that as you follow the media through the course of the last (five) months, I think that too much emphasis was put on this case and not giving it a fair opportunity to play out. I think when it's all played out, then we should talk about it. Right now, I think we just need to let it continue to play out.
DG: The worst of the critics really have singled you out and said there needs to be a change at the athletic director's position. Do you still consider yourself a part of the long-term future of Duke athletics?
Alleva: Yes. Absolutely. I don't think that what has happened at Duke, if you look at all of the positive things that have happened over the last eight or nine years under my leadership, I don't think that the situations that happened this spring warrant any changes in the direction of where we're going.
DG: One of the positive things was the recent news that Duke was honored as the top performer among all Division I-A schools in a calculation ( See Academic/Athletic Rankings) that takes into consideration both on-field performance and academics. As an AD, how does that figure into your evaluation of your progress from year to year, even if it didn't get much play in the media?
Alleva: Well, I don't think it got any (media) play, and I appreciate you mentioning it. Actually, it's the second year in a row that we've won that award from various agencies. Those are the kinds of things I would love to see the media play up a little bit more.
DG: You've been a part of Duke's athletic department (in various capacities) for more than 25 years, and you've had a chance to get to know and understand the school's fan base. When it comes to feedback from fans, every school has those who say, "All we care about is winning games." In your experience, does Duke have more of those fans, or those who will appreciate the athletic/academic balance even if you're not always winning as many games?
Alleva: One of the things I really love about Duke University, and the people associated with it, and that includes the alumni and the fans, is that it's really not a win-at-any-cost mentality. It's more of a win-and-develop-the-total-student-athlete (mentality). Academic performance is very important, graduation is very important, as well as winning. That's one of the reasons I've stayed at Duke for so long. I really believe in that philosophy.
DG: Moving to basketball, Coach K obviously has made a lot of national headlines lately, and mostly for positive stuff. When did that idea (Krzyzewski as the USA Basketball coach) come up between the two of you? How did those initial conversations go? Did you have any reservations?
Alleva: Well, it was really very simple. When Mike brought it up, I said, "Mike, you have to do this. If you get offered the opportunity to do it, you have to do it. It's an honor. It's a tremendous opportunity for you. If you get the chance, you have to do it." So I encouraged him 100 percent to do it.
DG: Coach K still has to recruit for Duke, obviously, and this commitment will take away from that in some way. Were there any reservations on your part? Is there any downside in your eyes?
Alleva: There's only one. The downside in my mind was that he would get exhausted, that he would get so tired and run down. I've been with Mike for a long time, and I know that if he has a tendency, it's to work too hard and get run down. That's my only worry. When he (got) back, school has started. He's not going to have much of a break before the basketball season starts again. That's my biggest concern, is that he'll get worn down.
DG: How about the NBA factor? It wasn't too long ago that the Los Angeles Lakers opportunity popped up. Is there any chance that this face-to-face experience with NBA players could somehow whet his appetite in the long run and end up with another flirtation with the NBA? Or has he stated to you or others that the Lakers were the last fork in the road and that's the end of that?
Alleva: I really believe that's the end of that. On the other hand, his opportunity to work with those NBA players now gives him the opportunity to (experience the NBA). He's kind of got the best of both worlds, where he can still coach in college and have a great program with us, and then in the summertime he gets a chance to work with the best players in the world - the NBA players - and coach them. So I think he has the best of both worlds right now.
DG: This may sound like a weird or facetious question, but I mean it in all seriousness. You're an athletic director at a prominent university, and you have Coach K, who let's face it is a living legend and as big as it gets in the world of college athletics, and you're his supervisor. I hope you take this question the right way, but how in the world would you ever say "no" to Coach K?
Alleva: Well, Coach K ... I'm very fortunate, because I've known him for a long time, and we respect each other. I like to use the term that we work together.
If he comes to me with a proposal, and it makes sense, and he can make a clear statement about why he wants to do something, I'm probably going to go along with him. On the other hand, if I have reason to believe that what he's trying to do is not propitious, and I can make an argument to him that it's not, we're both very rational people and we tend to agree with each other.
So, I've been very fortunate, in my years with Coach, that we get along pretty well and we usually agree on most issues.
DG: You and Coach K have been friends for a long time. When things like the American Express (endorsement) opportunity comes up, I know he has plenty of business advisors, but how does that relationship work between you and Coach K? There are some things he's obviously allowed to do in his private life, but at all times he's also a representative of Duke. What would your role be, or Duke's role be, when Coach K is considering these things?
Alleva: We have to approve all of his outside activities like that, so, yes, I get involved with all (outside business opportunities). I have to approve all of those kinds of things. Yes, I get involved with them.
DG: One of the most common complaints we hear about Coach K, especially from fans of other schools but even some Duke supporters, is his profanity on the sidelines or with officials. Is that something that's ever come up in your conversations with him?
Alleva: Oh, we chat about it from time to time. But I think it's like a lot of other things, where he's not the only one that does that. I think there's a lot of coaches that tend to use profanity, and the media and the television cameras don't necessarily get in their face for the whole time the game's going on. So I really don't think that Mike is much out of line with all the other coaches in the country. So, we've chatted about it, but most of it I think is because there's always a television camera in his face.
DG: You really don't think Coach K uses profanity more than the typical coach? You really think that's a byproduct of TV more than anything else? Don't you think it's more of a product of being a Chicago guy, and that's been a part of his language for a long time? It can't entirely be a media-created thing, can it?
Alleva: Well, there's no question Mike cusses from time to time. But I think it's exaggerated, and people who don't like him can't find many things wrong with him, so they pick on that.
DG: Anyone can cite the records and other obvious things Coach K has done for Duke over the long haul. Because you have known each other for so long, and as someone who has seen him behind the scenes, what are some things that you think make up what Coach K is and what he stands for that are not as obvious to the general public?
Alleva: Mike is a very giving person. He does lots of charity work with (Duke Hospital), he does work with our Fuqua School of Business. He's created the Emily Krzyzewski Community Center in Durham, which is just a fantastic new facility to help young kids. He helps our other coaches tremendously when it comes to recruiting; he'll never turn down a coach if they want a recruit to talk to Mike.
So he's a real giving person. He really is a team person. He cares about Duke, and he cares about Durham. He's just a wonderful guy to have on our team.
DG: Last question about basketball. If you're the Duke AD when the day comes that Coach K decides it's time for him to do something else, how much weight will you put on his own input for his successor?
Alleva: Well, hopefully, I am around, but I hope he's going to coach for a long time. I would put a lot of emphasis on his recommendation for a new coach. I think it would be foolhardy not to listen to his advice.
DG: Moving to football. Ted Roof is in his third full season, 0-8 in the ACC last year. When do you, as an athletic director, get to the point where - even if you see other, positive things happening in the program - you need to see more wins?
Alleva: Well, I'll tell you what. I spend a lot of time with the football coaches and the football players. The last two (recruiting) classes - the current sophomore class, and the freshman class - are very, very, very talented. The talent level of those two classes is the highest that we've had at Duke in a long, long time. Now, granted, they're freshmen and sophomores. And, also granted, this league in football has gotten so good. It's still underrated. The ACC is just a tremendous football conference.
It's tough. At Duke, football is a tough game, to get it going. But Ted has done a terrific job, with those two classes, of recruiting. As (the freshmen and sophomores) mature and develop, I think you're going to see some real improvement in our football program. You know, football is not like basketball or some other sports, where freshmen can come in and really have an impact. It's really hard for a freshman to come in and have an impact. It's really even hard for sophomores. But I'm really optimistic about the kind of recruits that (Roof) has brought in, and we've gotta give him a chance.
You know, Duke (football) has had, what, three winning seasons in the last 40, something like that? So I think people need to be patient and hang with Ted Roof and give him a chance, because I've been around a lot of head coaches at Duke, and his work ethic and what he's been doing is as good as anybody we've ever had and better than most of them.
DG: This past year, Duke's star tight end decided to transfer to a Division I-AA school for his senior season, even though he had eligibility remaining for the Blue Devils. Two starting offensive linemen also left with eligibility remaining. As Coach Roof's supervisor, do you get into the details of why those things happen, or is that something that's mostly left to the coach himself?
Alleva: Oh, no, I take a very strong interest in anything like that, and I definitely look into almost all the kids that transfer from Duke University. That is very important to me. Those kinds of things are critical when you evaluate the program and where it's going. So, yes, I take a very, very strong interest in those kinds of things.
DG: Transfers happen everywhere, obviously, but when starters and promising players leave that sets off some red flags. Do you actually have exit interviews with players who are leaving to find out why they are leaving?
Alleva: Yeah, we definitely talk to the kids to find out what's going on, where they're coming from. But we also talk to the coaches, because you have to understand that there's always two sides to a story, always two sides to a story.
DG: A guy you know, John Feinstein, is a Duke graduate and a nationally known author and journalist. He actually has said that Duke is unfair to its own football players by asking them to play under what he thinks are extreme academic standards, to roughly paraphrase. What is your response to that?
Alleva: Well, I think John ... There are other schools in the country that play football that have strict academic standards, like Stanford, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and so on. There's no question, it's much more difficult to build a football program at Duke University, but we're going to keep trying to do it, and our goal is to be very competitive in the ACC in football.
DG: It seems that Duke's marketing folks do everything they possibly can to try to jumpstart interest in Duke football. Most recently, there was the ticket giveaway to certain segments of the community for the Richmond game this year. Obviously, you have the smallest football fan base in the ACC. Does there come a point where you feel like the people in your department are doing everything they can, and it's just going to take wins to develop that fan base?
Alleva: Well, there's no question. I'll tell you what, I can remember back to 1976, when I first came to Duke University. Our basketball program wasn't very good. At that time, you could go to Cameron Indoor Stadium and walk into the game, get a ticket on the day of the game. Half the stadium was empty, and the students didn't come, and it was purely a factor of winning. I can also remember in 1989, when we won the ACC championship in football, we sold out the last four games of the year.
Winning is a huge factor. If we win, people will come. There's no doubt about it.
DG: As you look forward, what are some of the biggest issues facing the Duke athletic department?
Alleva: One of the things is our finances. When I look at how things have changed ... A scholarship at Duke, when I first started, I believe was like $4,000. This year it's $45,000 (per year). Everybody knows what's been going on with coaches' salaries. Coaches' salaries have gone crazy. Finances are a big part of what we do.
For our department right now, our big focus is on (scholarship) endowments. We've got a couple of facilities we need to get going. We're working on a new practice facility, an academic center for our basketball program and for all of our athletes academically. Hopefully, we can get that started here pretty soon. Other than that, our endowment is our No. 1 fundraising goal right now.
DG: Last question, and it's a goofy one. Are there teams in the ACC that you find yourself pulling for or rooting against, even if they're not playing Duke and there are no repercussions for the Blue Devils in the standings?
Alleva: (Laughs.) That's a terrible question. (Laughs.) I'll pull for any ACC team against an outsider. There's no doubt about that. ACC versus ACC, and Duke's not affected? You know what, I'm not going to go there. (Laughs.)
I'll tell you one thing. You know, everyone thinks, Duke and Carolina, there's this hatred between them and a great rivalry. But I want to tell you something, (athletic director) Dickie Baddour at Carolina is one of my best friends in the whole business. I have a tremendous respect for Dickie. A lot of people probably would be surprised by (the friendship), but it's the kind of thing that rises above competition and the rivalry between the two schools, and I think most people understand that's the way it should be.
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