There will be a feature story on Duke’s Jeff Capel running in Thursday's newspaper. During the reporting for that story, Capel talked extensively about how he’s enjoying being back at Duke. He also opened up at what happened at the end of his time with the Oklahoma Sooners.
Not all of Capel’s quotes made it into the story. Here is what Capel had to say about a couple of topics that weren’t written about as extensively as they could have been:
Has the time at Duke reinvigorated or reignited your passion for the game of basketball?
“My passion for trying to help young people and for teaching and for helping guys become better players and better men has always been very high. Certainly when you go through something like I did the last year and a half or two years at Oklahoma, it knocks you back a little bit. At times, it makes you question yourself and question, ‘Are you good at what you do? Is your message getting through?’
“When you’re not winning and you’re being criticized the way I was out there – you’re human. You have emotions, and as much as you say you don’t want to hear those things, again you’re human. It knocks you back a little bit. What this has done for me is: A) It’s helped me learn a lot. It’s helped me learn a lot more about the game, about teaching, about leading, about coaching. But it’s really helped me learn a lot about myself and some of the things that I was doing when I was a head coach that were good and some of the things that maybe I’d change or do things a little bit differently when or if that opportunity presents itself again.”
How has the adjustment to being an assistant coach again gone?
“It’s been tough, to be completely honest with you. I haven’t been an assistant coach in 10 years and I was only an assistant coach for two years. So, I come here with two guys that are incredibly established and very, very good at what they do in Chris and Wojo. Those guys are very good and are going to be really good head coaches.
“I think I’ve learned how to be a better assistant coach. When this opportunity presented itself, one of the things I told Coach (Krzyzewski) is that I think I will be a better assistant than I was 10 years ago, and I thought I was pretty good then. I think I have been because to a certain extent – certainly Coach is at a different level than anyone – but to a certain extent, I know what he’s going through at times. I know of the challenges that he has and sometimes how he feels.”
With the benefit of some space and distance, what are your reflections of the time at Oklahoma?
“When I took it over, we had lost a lot of guys to graduation – the main guys. That year, we had lost a whole recruiting class, basically. Then we had a cloud over our head with NCAA sanctions. When I took the job, Oklahoma had yet to go in front of the committee on infractions for the phone call incidents. It was a lot going on. …
“I tried to take the same model that I did at VCU, which was: You come in and you coach the returning guys and you build through recruiting. The philosophy I learned here at Duke of the older guys teaching the younger guys and laying the foundation and teaching the standards. The thing that I’m most proud of during my time at VCU was the fact that we changed the culture. We changed the image; we changed the perception from where it was.
“That was a big goal of mine at OU, and I thought we were doing it. My first recruiting class and we get very fortunate and we get Blake Griffin along Cade Davis and some other guys. The other guys we thought would be program guys that would be there and really help change the culture – in fact, that was the selling point with those guys. It was with Blake, too, although I knew Blake wouldn’t be a four-year guy. And then the next class was really where we felt we made some inroads in Texas. We got the best player in Texas – not only the best player, but a kid who was incredibly popular nationally in Willie Warren.
“My thought was, ‘Ok, you have a talent like Willie, you have Blake coming back. Not only Blake, you have Blake’s brother, Taylor, who’s older. You have Austin Johnson. You have these guys coming back – Tony Crocker – who are your foundation. Those guys would teach the younger guys, the freshmen that were coming in. Certainly, we had a great year. We went to the Elite Eight. We had a great recruiting class the next year. We got the two best players from the state of Texas.
“That’s kind of where things fell apart. We lost some guys – some guys transferred that we didn’t expect to transfer, I dismissed some guys from the team. What we thought would happen – the older guys teaching the younger guys – did not happen. …
“Some things unexpectedly happened. Some guys tried to turn pro that you didn’t think when you recruited them would do that. We had some attrition from guys transferring that we didn’t think would happen. Some things in coaching, you can prepare for – we knew Blake was leaving, so we were prepared for that. …
“It was tough, it was hard – especially that last year with an NCAA cloud hanging over. That really impacts recruiting. It was tough when you don’t feel like you have the support of the people you work for. That was really tough, and it made everything tough.
“The way I look at it is it’s the best thing that happened for me, and it’s the best thing that happened for OU. I have really, really positive thoughts about my time there. My two daughters were born there. We met some really great people there, and we have a few relationships with people that will last.
“It’s a tough thing, but I’d say the nature of our profession – about 90 percent of coaches get fired.”