When Mike Krzyzewski announced he would retire as head coach of the Duke men’s basketball team at the end of the 2021-22 season (following one last Final Four run, of course), wheels started turning all over campus to find the perfect way to honor his legacy. Folks quickly realized that no single tribute was going to be enough.
Duke Alumni wanted university grads, fans and students alike to ponder Coach K’s career while engaging in some happy nostalgia. Sterly Wilder ’83, senior associate vice president of constituent engagement at Duke Alumni Engagement and Development, gathered her staff to tackle the challenge.
A gold watch? No. A tropical vacation? Not right. More than anything, Wilder and staff wanted to convey a sense of celebration. And what better way than an iconic symbol of campus – and notable Duke basketball victories – a bench.
“When you think about Krzyzewskiville and the sixth man and bench burning, it made sense to build that iconic throwback to honor him,” Wilder said of the Coach K Bench, which now sits at Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center. “It feels like a small thing but also a permanent way that alums can celebrate him.”
Once the idea was approved, Duke University landscape architect Mark Hough took pencil to sketch pad. The typical Duke residence hall bench is an imposing, almost head-high piece of outdoor furniture with an elevated footrest that spans its width. “I wanted to take that design and make this bench look like it was in the same family,” Hough said, “so it was low enough that people of all ages and abilities could actually access it and sit on it.”
Hough removed the footrest, lowered the seat height and enclosed the lower front. Durham contractor O.C. Mitchell Jr., Inc., which builds the Duke dorm benches, fabricated the Coach K Bench using fir for a more durable, refined look than the yellow pine of the student benches. Duke Alumni Engagement and Development staff designers created a logo that mimics the Coach K Court lettering on the floor of Cameron Indoor Stadium. JW Image Co. of Raleigh 3D-printed the logo directly onto the fir planks before they were covered in protective polyurethane.
The bench was announced in March 2022 on the occasion of Krzyzewski’s final home game. It was installed during the summer in the courtyard behind Forlines House, and it was dedicated at Homecoming last fall. Already, it’s an Instagram hit with visitors to Karsh as a prime spot for selfies. “It’s the kind of thing that makes a campus a campus,” Hough said. “Traditions and memories really make it fun.”