Mike Krzyzewski diagrammed plays with chalk and a blackboard in the locker room before walking up a set of stairs to the gym and sitting on a wooden bench. He had yet to win five national titles at Duke or reach a record 13 Final Fours when he started his coaching career 47 years ago with humble beginnings at the U.S. Military Academy.
Krzyzewski, whose Hall of Fame career will end Saturday or Monday at the Final Four in New Orleans, would rise to be one of the iconic coaches in American sports history. But in the late 1970s, Coach K wasn’t even yet called Coach K.
“Not really,” said Bob Hutchings, the Stockton University assistant coach who found himself on Army’s staff in 1975 as one of Krzyzewski’s first assistants.
Hutchings, a star in the 1960s at Millville High, returned home from a brief stint playing in Holland — “They wanted someone who’s 6-foot-8. Well I’m not 6-foot-8,” he said — and enlisted in the Army. He was stationed in New Jersey at Fort Dix when two representatives from West Point approached him at the rifle range.
Knowing Hutchings had a business degree, they offered him a job working in the military academy’s football office. Hutchings said he’d let them know and called his dad.
“What are you, stupid?” his father, Robert said.
“I guess so. That’s why I called.”
Hutchings went to West Point, where his duties included making carbon copies of invoices for football tickets. A Hall of Famer at both Millville High and Wheeling Jesuit University, Hutchings played basketball every day at lunch.
It was great, said Hutchings, who was named the athlete of the year in 1975 among all the soldiers stationed at West Point.
And then the military academy made a coaching change, swapping St. Joseph’s Prep grad Dan Dougherty, who became one of Philly’s legendary high school coaches, for Krzyzewski.
The new coach, who had played at West Point and been an Army officer for five years, asked the guy who was dominating the lunchtime hoops if he wanted to stop making carbon copies and take a job as an assistant coach. Hutchings said he’d let Krzyzewski know, and called his dad.
“What are you, stupid?” his father said again.
”I was in the right place at the right time,” Hutchings said.
Krzyzewski had spent the previous season as an assistant at Indiana under Bob Knight, his coach at West Point. This was Coach K’s first chance to be a head coach and Hutchings said Krzyzewski was “very young, very direct, and very professional.”
So was Hutchings, who remembers driving 300 miles with a fellow assistant to scout an opponent and then driving back to West Point once the game was over. The long night was worth it a few days later when Army won by two points.
“That’s Coach K’s best quality by far. He gets you to understand what’s at stake. He’s going to demand a lot out of you, but what you get out of it is way more than that,” Hutchings said. “That’s part of the job. Joe Carideo at Stockton would always say, ‘You do what you have to do.’ That separates a lot of guys and it’s not that hard to do. Just do it.”
Krzyzewski, a stellar defender during his playing career at Army, molded his teams after his own playing style. They played man-to-man defense, wearing out opponents in an era before the shot clock. Their offense was based on fundamentals as Krzyzewski drilled everyone to know their jobs.
“We had Gary Winton about 6-foot-5, Matty Brown was our shooter, and Pat Harris was our guard,” Hutchings said. “His job was to get the ball to get the ball to Gary Winton. It didn’t matter how long it took. That was how the game was played.”
“There was no shot clock back then and we got the ball where it had to get to and to the right guy. Coach K knew what he was doing back then because the idea was to get one more point than the other team. I don’t care what analytics you have. As far as the game, it still comes down to can you make a play or can the guy get the ball to you to make a play when it counts. He was very direct and knew what he was doing.”
Army, coming off a 3-22 season, went 11-14 in Krzyzewski’s first season to start turning the program around. The players bought into his style as Army finished the 1976-77 season with a 20-8 record. You could start to see, Hutchings said, that Krzyzewski’s career could be special.
The success carried over to lunchtime, when Hutchings and Krzyzewski went undefeated for two years playing against other faculty members. Coach K ran point with Hutchings and Bill Schutsky — Krzyzewski’s college teammate — as his options.
“We’re not losing,” Hutchings said. “Ultra competitive. That’s what it’s all about.”
Hutchings’ time in the service was up after those two seasons — his military occupational specialty had been changed to physical education during his time on Krzyzewski’s staff. He spent the next 18 months coaching the Saudi Arabian national team under former Penn star Stan Pawlak before returning home to South Jersey.
Hutchings found success in the 1980s coaching Bridgeton High and later coached at Cumberland County College , becoming known as a defense-oriented coach just like the guy who gave him his first job.
“You learn defense from him and that’s always been one of my things,” Hutchings said. “So many games come down to one or two plays if you think about it. Can you stop the other guy or not? We learned that. With no shot clock, you learn that.”
Hutchings has been an assistant for 16 seasons at Stockton, the Division III program near Atlantic City.
“I love the game and I’ve always loved the game,” he said. “It’s taken me all around the world. I have so many friends in basketball that it’s unbelievable. I still love it. I see people that stop doing what they love, and I don’t get it. I don’t understand it. I’ll go as long as I can go. I love it so much. There’s so many good people out there and it’s remarkable the friendships that you make and keep.”
“I just enjoy it. I get to coach. We went to the Sweet 16 this year at Stockton and I was so happy for those kids. It was unbelievable. We had been there before and been to the national championship, but I was just so happy for them. They’d ask me if I was happy and I’d say, ‘Yeah, I’m happy for you.’”
Hutchings remains friends with Krzyzewski and helps coach at his camp each summer. He was at Madison Square Garden in 2015 when Krzyzewski won his 1,000th game and was at Cameron Indoor Stadium for a game earlier this season to see his friend coach one last time.
Hutchings drove to Duke with an old Millville teammate and headed back to South Jersey once the game was over, driving through the night like he did on that scouting mission decades ago when two longtime basketball coaches were just getting started.
“I still love what I do,” Hutchings said. “And a lot of it is from Coach K. That itself is an experience that I’ll never forget and I loved it.”