Pete Gaudet sweats. Lordy, he sweats. At his most frazzled, (( he looks like he walked through a car wash en route to his job as the interim head coach of Duke's basketball team.
But don't blame Gaudet. First, his profession has long sent otherwise sane men into histrionics that would make John Barrymore's ghost blush.
Second, Gaudet is guiding one of the most curious college basketball teams in memory. The most dominant program since John Wooden's UCLA dynasty, Duke is in last place in the ACC.
And who stands in the cross-hairs? Not Mike Krzyzewski, the Blue Devils' revered coach during an astounding run of seven Final Fours and two national championships in nine seasons. A ** bum back has sidelined him since Jan. 7.
No, the man under siege is Gaudet, a 52-year-old, low-profile basketball purist whose idea of adventure was to coach for a year in Kuwait.
Gaudet was an assistant coach under Krzyzewski at Army. When Krzyzewski bolted for Duke in 1981, Gaudet replaced him. But after two seasons and a change in athletic directors, Gaudet left Army.
Out of work, Gaudet packed up the family and headed to Kuwait for a season, after which Krzyzewski brought him to Duke as a part-time assistant. Gaudet relished the role, a behind-the-scenes coach who scouted opponents and broke down tape.
Never mind the paltry salary mandated by the NCAA. Gaudet supported his wife and three children by running Krzyzewski's summer camp for approximately $60,000 a year. But the NCAA closed that loophole and limited part-time salaries to $16,000, prompting Gaudet to challenge the NCAA in court. Gaudet lost the case in January, but he is part of a larger, class-action suit to try to strike down a rule that is indefensible, if not unconstitutional.
In the midst of these legal maneuvers, Gaudet became Duke's interim coach when the pain and fatigue caused by October back surgery forced Krzyzewski to step aside until next season.
The Blue Devils were 9-3 when Krzyzewski left. Following a 64-58 loss at Virginia, they are 11-13, 1-11 in the ACC, and have no chance to make their 12th consecutive NCAA Tournament unless they earn an automatic bid by winning the ACC Tournament. "We are a good team," Gaudet insists. "I give the kids a whole lot of credit for not jumping ship."
And give Gaudet credit for maintaining his dry wit, for not becoming Captain Queeg, because Duke's fall has been mind-bending. The Blue Devils blew a 23-point second-half lead and lost at home to Virginia in double overtime. They lost to
then-No. 1 North Carolina in double OT. Last-second shots to win tie refused to fall against Florida State, Maryland and Wake Forest.
Krzyzewski might have turned some of those games, but remember, his last appearance was a home loss to Clemson, a clear sign that Duke would struggle. The Blue Devils are young, have no true point guard and are terrible perimeter defenders.
As this season's defeats mounted, the Blue Devils' confidence vanished. Once a team that embraced pressure, Duke now plays with a resignation that doom is right around the bend.
Maturity and Krzyzewski's return should change that. In the meantime, Gaudet and Duke are left to persevere.