SENECA, S.C. — When Mike Krzyzewski announced his retirement from Duke last week it sent shockwaves through the basketball world.
And while Krzyzewski has served as a formidable villain to Clemson fans over the years, a former coach of the Tigers hopes fans will honor him for his contributions to the game over his exceptional 47-year career.
Coastal Carolina head coach Cliff Ellis returned to the upstate on Monday for the Clemson Alumni Reunion Golf Tournament Benefit at Cross Creek Plantation in Seneca, S.C.
Ellis reflected on his 10 seasons as the head coach of the Tigers from 1984-1994 but paused to thank Krzyzewski for his career and friendship off the court.
“I’m kind of sad that Krzyzewski is leaving because there’s Jim Boeheim, myself and Krzyzewski there’s a group of us in that range,” Ellis said. “Now Krzyzewski is going to be pulling out and Roy Williams just retired he is a little younger but was still in his 70s.”
Ellis’ Tiger teams played in some intense battles against Coach K’s Blue Devils including a 97-93 win over No. 5 Duke on Feb. 28, 1990, that locked up Clemson’s only ACC regular season championship in men’s basketball.
After the game Krzyzewski and his wife Mickie Krzyzewski showed the side of him that fans often miss in the heat of the big games on the court.
“We beat Duke to win the regular season championship and wrap it up in 1990 and he and his wife Mickey when the game was over, he came in congratulated and Mickie said just to enjoy this moment,” Ellis said.
The coaching fraternity remains a tight knit group especially among those who have been in the business for as long as Ellis and Krzyzewski. The two have spoken a couple of times since last week’s announcement and remain friends.
Ellis is currently planning a way to honor Krzyzewski for his contributions to basketball with a few other coaches and former players.
He hopes Clemson fans will honor Krzyzewski this season if Duke travels to Littlejohn Coliseum one more time under his leadership this season.
“I hope and know that Clemson will totally honor him when he comes here because he has given to the game,” Ellis said.
Ellis hopes to remain in coaching for as long as his health allows and at age 75 shows no signs of stopping.
As far as Krzyzewski goes, Ellis is happy for his friend and colleague and grateful for all he has done for the sport.
“In the end it’s what he has done for the game of basketball, and he has done a lot for the game and an icon is about to leave and needs to be honored,” Ellis said. “I’m happy that he is happy, and he is in that category with John Wooden, Dean Smith and he is the winningest coach ever.”
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