John Roth shares his thoughts on the Encylopedia of Duke Basketball, Coach K and more

[private]One of my favorite books on Duke hoops, if not the favorite is the  Encyclopedia of Duke Basketball.  John Roth put together a book that is a must have for both reference and entertainment.  The book is well researched, accurate in every detail and offers the reader an enlightening collection of information and little known facts. In short, it is a timeless work that you can go to again and again to learn something new.  Roth has a rich history with Duke Athletics where he produces the coaches show for Cutcliffe and Krzyzewski alike.  He also produces and co hosts The Kevin White Show with Duke's new Vice President and Athletic Director.

Author, Columnist, Father and Producer John Roth
Author, Columnist, Father and Producer John Roth

You can hear him on the basketball and football radio broadcasts as well with Bob Harris and or read his well researched work in Blue Devil Weekly where a link is provided below for those who wish to subscribe.   Roth is one of the hardest working individuals that you will ever meet and his professionalism is more than just a little impressive.  The Blue Devil Nation is happy to bring you an interview with the man behind the scenes in so many ways with Moore Productions and Duke Athletics.  Be sure to read his following comments on Coach K and Duke for when Roth talks, it's worth a listen.

Tell the Blue Devil Nation about your roots.  Where did you grow up and what sparked your interest in sports?

I was born in Cincinnati and lived there until my family moved to North Carolina when I was in the second grade. Cincinnati is a baseball town, so I have always been a Reds fan. One of my earliest sports-related memories was my dad taking me to a Reds game at old Crosley Field when I was very little. When we moved to N.C., I could still occasionally hear Reds games on radio at night on WLW, and one year I clipped out every Reds box score from the newspaper. Those were the only ways I could follow the team at that time. Believe it or not, I can still recite the batting order of the 1970 Big Red Machine that played in the World Series. I still follow the Reds results, and have been to one game at their new park, but I probably couldn’t name more than three players in the starting lineup these days.

When did you get involved with or become a fan of ACC BasketbalI?

I gradually became an ACC basketball fan after moving here. Or, more accurately, a Big Four basketball fan. My feeling for ACC tradition dates back to watching the game of the week on TV, with Jim Thacker and Billy Packer calling the action, and sneaking the old transistor radio to school during the ACC Tournament to listen in to some of that action during the quarterfinals. Most of the younger fans today probably don’t realize this, but even when I first enrolled at Duke in 1976-77, when a game was on the ACC television network Billy Packer would announce the starting lineup from out on the court. I don’t remember paying much attention to the NCAA Tournament until 1974, when David Thompson led N.C. State to the title. I remember watching their game with Maryland in the ACC final at a friend’s house, and it remains one of the best games I have ever seen in any sport. I thought the 1970s were very captivating times for college basketball here on Tobacco Road, with the three classic arenas (Cameron, Reynolds and Carmichael) and all the rivalries. Naturally I enjoyed Duke’s return to prominence with the 1978 team, as both State and UNC had been to the Final Four in the previous few seasons. That was a great time to be a Duke student.

Do you enjoy any other sports beyond ACC Basketball?

Aside from ACC and college basketball, one of my other sports interests is watching NFL football. I’ve adopted the Cincinnati Bengals as my favorite team, even though they didn’t exist when I lived in Ohio, but I also enjoy watching just about any good pro football game — which is a good thing for me, because the Bengals are just about never on TV around here. I’m also a fan of major world sporting events such as the World Cup, the Tour de France, and especially the Olympics, winter and summer. Needless to say, I enjoy following most Duke sports, but there’s usually a work component involved there as well.

What sports did you participate in?

For personal participation, I was heavily into baseball and pickup basketball back in the day. I have enjoyed running since high school and still do that on a regular basis. I also enjoy cycling (indoor and out) and have gotten into yoga a little bit the last few years, though I am not a fanatic.

And what does John Roth enjoy away from his duties with Moore Productions?

As for other forms of entertainment, I’m a big Bruce Springsteen fan and enjoy a wide range of music. I like movies and several of the forensics shows on television. My favorite reading materials are Smithsonian Magazine and well-researched biographical books. During my down time each summer I typically will read several biographies of noteworthy historical figures, though not usually presidents and very rarely sports people. My list last summer included Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover, Houdini, Babe Ruth, Walt Disney and Malcolm X. No common denominators there. A couple of years ago I focused on the Duke family, mostly James B. and Doris, and was amazed at what I didn’t know.

You're a Duke University graduate.  What led you to the Gothic Wonderland?

If I could have named my career when I was a little kid, I probably would have picked playing for the Cincinnati Reds or being the next John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics. After getting a little older and realizing those kinds of genes weren’t in my pool, I didn’t have a clear-cut career path in mind. I never thought that much about a sports career and didn’t realize there even were many careers in sports beyond players, coaches, writers and announcers. When I first came to Duke I think I intended to major in Forestry, but the school got rid of that major and I eventually went with Anthropology.

You attended Jordan High School in Durham.  Did you venture over to campus a lot in those days?

Even though I went to high school in Durham, I had not been on campus much before enrolling here. Maybe one football game, definitely no basketball games. One of the first things I did was join the student radio station for an extracurricular activity. I have no idea why — I had never done anything related to radio. But it was a great experience broadcasting some football and basketball games, doing a weekly sports show and doing a weekly shift as a DJ. I remember one of my first one-on-one interviews was with basketball star Tate Armstrong. I was a freshman and he was a senior. He had broken his wrist and was out for the rest of the season. As Senior Day approached, I wondered if there was any chance he could come back for the UNC game so I just called him up on the phone in his room and asked if I could interview him about what he had been doing. I had no idea there was any protocol for arranging interviews through the team’s publicity officers. Obviously a lot has changed since then with regards to media coverage of Duke basketball. Now, virtually every contact with a player must be arranged and their phone numbers are available nowhere.

You were once the Sports Information Director at Duke.  How did that come about?

The RA in my freshman dorm had a work-study job in the sports information office and told me about it. I had never heard of such a thing but was fascinated by the behind-the-scenes work there. It took two years for a position to open up, but when I finally got one I thought it was the perfect environment for me. I learned a lot about sports, media, communications and deadlines. I was greatly influenced by my two supervisors, Tom Mickle and Johnny Moore. After I graduated in 1980, Mickle helped me land several interviews that led to a job as a sports writer in Danville, Virginia. From there I went to The Durham Sun, the old afternoon paper in town. In 1982, Mickle and Moore hired me as a full time assistant sports information director at Duke, and in 1986 I became the director of the department when Mickle and Moore were promoted to other jobs. Even though I was in over my head, it was an exciting time to be the SID at Duke with Mike Krzyzewski’s program taking off and Duke as a university becoming what the New York Times called one of the nation’s “hot colleges.” I do remember thinking during the late 1980s how fortunate I was to be handling publicity for two of the very best coaches in college sports in Krzyzewski and Steve Spurrier. Early in my tenure as SID I was overwhelmed at times. When I arrived at the 1986 Final Four in Dallas, there were dozens of messages waiting for me at my hotel from media people with special requests, most of which were not going to happen. Sometime during that incredible run of Final Four appearances in the late 80s, I remember thinking that almost every other SID in the country would like to be in my shoes, and from then on I felt a lot more comfortable because I had an appreciation for how fortunate I was to be at Duke.

You do it all for Moore Productions ... production, radio, edit Blue Devil Weekly, the Kevin White Show ... How did that come about?

I remained in the sports info position until the fall of 1990, when I joined Johnny Moore at Moore Productions. We have had several interesting projects over the years, but we have settled into focusing primarily now on three Duke properties — Blue Devil Weekly newspaper, the Duke Radio Network and the weekly football and basketball coaches’ TV shows. My roles are to manage and edit the newspaper, work as a producer for the TV programs and serve as a host and announcer for the radio broadcasts. It’s very intense during the academic year, as in any given week I’ll have to arrange and conduct interviews with players and coaches for both the radio broadcasts and TV shows. I also format the TV shows and edit several of the features, and during basketball season I have to prepare for each game by studying both Duke and the opponent. And then there is the newspaper, which requires constant attention by me. There is not a typical day, just a lot of things that have to be done by certain points every week. I have found that preparation is the absolute key for me. The shows, broadcasts and papers just do not come together by magic. Like any team or athlete, you have to prepare to compete.

What is it like to have been involved with Duke University in so many ways?

I have to say that I feel very fortunate to have been associated with Duke for such a long period of time. I do believe in the mission of the university and I am proud that it is my school. You often hear the clichés about blending athletics with academics, but the more time passes, the more I appreciate how well Duke accomplishes that mix. I totally agree with an essay I read by one of the recent lacrosse graduates, Rachel Shack, when athletics was being ripped on campus during the lacrosse case. A professor had written an editorial suggesting that Duke could make a statement by de-emphasizing athletics. Rachel responded by pointing out that Duke was already making a much better statement with its pursuit of excellence in both spheres, noting that there are a lot of schools with good academics and mediocre athletics, but not many that are excellent at both.

You have been witness to the Coach K Era from the start.  What is it like to been so close to a program in what some might consider the luckiest job in the world?

I feel blessed to have witnessed so much achievement by so many Blue Devils. The first year I worked at Duke, the first team I worked with was men’s soccer, and that was a year they were No. 1 in the country and played in the eight-overtime NCAA final. My first year as the SID was the first Final Four season for Mike Krzyzewski. The first year we did Blue Devil Weekly, Duke repeated as national champs in basketball. My first year as a member of the Duke Radio Network was 1999, when Duke had the historic 19-0 ACC record, won 32 games in a row and played UConn for the title. I definitely appreciate having had a front-row seat to history in the making.

You act as the editor and a very active contributor for the Blue Devil Weekly.  Can you elabortate a bit more about that?

Johnny Moore and I started BDW in 1991 following the first national basketball championship as a way to provide Duke fans across the country with more coverage of their favorite team. Really, at that time, the online information explosion had not yet taken place and not every game was televised. Certainly there was plenty of coverage of the program in the Triangle and in the state, but the average fan in Dallas or Chicago did not have access to much information. Just finding a box score after each game was sometimes impossible for them, much less interviews with players and coaches. So we felt a publication devoted to Duke basketball could find a niche, and it did. The “Weekly” portion of our name came from the fact that we mailed it every week during the basketball season.

With the advent of the Internet and technology in general, how has that changed BDW?

Over the last 17 years we’vehad to evolve with the changing media landscape, including this year’s change to a twice-monthly schedule. With every basketball game on television and so many sources of instant information now available online, it has become less important to chronicle every basketball game, though we do still run every box score. We’veheaded more in the direction of feature coverage and analysis and tried to include information that is not readily available elsewhere. We have a pretty good collection of columnists, including real pros such as Bill Brill, Al Featherston and historian Jim Sumner. Their work always entertains me when I am editing, so I hope it is entertaining to our readers.

Those are some outstanding writers and I consider all of them friends.  Anyone who is missing their work or doesn't subscribe to the Blue Devil Weekly should do so. The BDW has become more than just stories on hoops and the gridiron ...

The other thing we have done is branch out to cover all of Duke athletics, not just basketball, again trying to fill a niche that is not covered well by others. Women’s basketball has become a staple, as has lacrosse, soccer and golf, some of Duke’s best sports. Over the course of the year, that average Duke fan in Dallas or Chicago should see solid, informative pieces on every sport at Duke, with info they didn’t already know.

So, you feel that the Blue Devil Weekly tells fans of the great mix of athletes Duke has to offer?

I truly believe that Duke people are proud of the accomplishments of other Duke people. One of my primary goals as the BDW editor is to let them know who they should be proud of from the athletics sector, and I invest a lot of work in that endeavor. A good example here is the series we’vedone over the last few issues on potential Duke Olympians for 2008 — five Duke grads at the Olympic women’s marathon trials, the incoming freshman fencer who is ranked No. 2 in the world, alum Shannon Rowbury running the fastest time in the world in the 1,500 last month, pro pole vaulter Jillian Schwartz (this week’s cover) taking aim at her second Olympics, the incoming diver and the current wrestler who made their Olympic Trials. Those are the kinds of stories that make us a unique vehicle for Duke. There are a lot of them regarding current and past Duke athletes, and we like to think that nobody else relays them to a widespread Duke audience the way BDW does.

You put together one of my favorite Duke books for all time in the Encyclopedia of Duke Basketball.  In my opinion it is a must have book for reference and one I pick up every so often for a trip down memory lane or to see if my memory of great moments in hoop history serves me correctly.  When you were in the process of creating the book, what was your goal?

My goal was to bring five things together under one roof: (1) a timeline of the history of Duke basketball, (2) the most significant 100 games in the program’s first 100 years, (3) biographies on every player and coach, (4) a compilation of the most important statistics and records, and finally (5) a collection of interesting stories and tidbits covering other Duke basketball traditions, personalities, arenas, opponents and events.

By far the most difficult task was No. 3, and by far the most fun was No. 5. I was able to produce an entry for every coach, assistant coach and trainer. As far as players, there is something on everyone who has appeared in a game since the creation of the ACC and everyone who has ever earned a Duke basketball letter. There are some players who were at Duke during World War II, in the Navy V-12 program, who didn’t letter and are not included. That’s a very interesting period in Duke history, but several players were here only briefly, a year or less, and there was just not enough reliable information to create bios for them. I also did not do bios on every player from the Trinity College era, again due to lack of reliable information, but I was at least able to dig up something on every team captain from that time.

What is one of your favorite parts or section of the book?

The entries covering the other interesting stories and tidbits on traditions, personalities, etc., were the most fun to work on because that’s where I was able to use the most creativity. Essentially, that’s where I said anything goes, what can I find or think of that most fans don’t already know. Who knew that the first ACC commissioner, James Weaver, was actually a student at Trinity College and the older brother of Duke basketball players Charles and Phil Weaver, before going on to a distinguished sports career at Wake Forest and then the ACC? Who remembers that Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham played basketball twice against Duke during WWII? Who can recall the one time Pete Maravich played at Cameron (then Duke Indoor Stadium) — in a freshman game for Southwood College, prior to the Duke-UCLA game of December 1965? How many times has Duke basketball been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and who was the first Blue Devil to make it? The story of Ed Koffenberger, who played for both Duke and UNC in the same year, is one of my favorites.

What kind of research went into the book?

I havea decent base of Duke basketball knowledge covering the past 30 years and a solid archive of information from doing Blue Devil Weekly for the past 17 years. What I really discovered while working on the book was how much I enjoyed researching various topics. University Archives at Perkins Library has become one of my favorite spots on campus. There is just so much there. For some reason I found researching the Trinity College era to be extremely interesting, both for the information and the challenge of trying to verify it from unrelated sources. Most Duke fans could name all or most of Duke’s head basketball coaches from Eddie Cameron on, or at least they’veheard of them, but the school had 11 coaches BEFORE Cameron that virtually no one can recall, asidefrom program founder Cap Card. The Duke media guidefor years didn’t even include their first names, only their initials and last names. So I took it as a challenge to research bios for all 11 of those guys and turned up some interesting stuff. Noble Clay, who coached around 1915, was actually the captain of the Durham YMCA team. The Y used to play Trinity a couple of times a year, so he actually played against the team he coached. Chick Doak coached the UNC basketball team, then coached Trinity, then went on to more notoriety as the N.C. State baseball coach for over 30 years. He’s the guy for whom Doak Field, State’s baseball stadium, is named. I’ve continued researching the Trinity coaches since the book came out for a future magazine piece of some kind. I don’t consider the book to be a scholarly work, but I hope some of the work that went into it some day proves helpful for other researchers.

What did you learn while creating this work of history?

One of the aspects of doing this book that I really enjoyed was gaining more insight into the publishing process — working with Duke University Press, its editors, designers, marketing people, the whole operation. I had only a peripheral knowledge of that industry beforehand. The book really benefited from the thorough work of my editor, Fred Kameny. Just one example — I had an entry on 1944 letterman Henry Hyde, who played for Duke’s Southern Conference champions that year while enrolled in the Navy V-12 program. After Fred read it, he sent me a note saying that if this was THE Henry Hyde, I should let people know that. It hadn’t occurred to me that it was the same Henry Hyde who was a U.S. Congressman from Illinois for over 30 years, but further investigation proved that it was. He went to Georgetown both before and after the war, but he was at Duke for Naval training in 1944 and played basketball. That entry suddenly became much more interesting.

What are your thoughts on Mike Krzyzewski and what he has meant to Duke University and the basketball program?

Two of the things that impress me most about Mike are his ability to motivate and his knack for keeping his program fresh and current. And perhaps those two things are related. Even though Duke basketball has exceptional tradition and even though he has been the coach for nearly 30 years, he has a way of bringing fresh ideas to every season and every situation and making every year a new one. He has done a lot of things that obviously have worked well, but he is always open to a better idea or a new idea with promise.

What do you consider to be one of Coach K's main strengths?

The passion he has maintained for his vocation is really something special. I have seen it many times in his interactions with his team, but it is also very evident when he speaks to a room full of business executives and applies the lessons of sport to their specific situations. I saw him speak at a conference one time for about an hour. He did not have a single notecard or prompt of any kind, yet it was a perfect presentation with a beginning, middle and end, tons of interesting anecdotes and everything tied together to leave the message he intended. It was so well-crafted, and it was all from personal experience and the heart — and he had that room hanging on every word. That’s a talent he has developed over the years and one of the ways I think he has grown while he has tended to the growing of Duke basketball.

Coach has had great success and you have been witness to pretty much everything involving the media both good and bad ...

I guess it’s an oddity of life that the more successful you are, the more open to criticism you become. But I am still somewhat amazed at some of the criticism Mike receives for certain things. I’m not saying he should never be questioned or criticized — far from it, and he knows that comes with the territory of being such a high-profile public figure. But think for a minute about some of the things for which he has been most criticized. Several years ago it was for making a lot of money outside his Duke contract. College professors write books, give speeches, make appearances, earn grants and nobody thinks anything of it, but somehow it’s deemed inappropriate for the college basketball coach — even when the school president approves every outside contract, even when that first Nike deal includes a $250,000 donation to the student recreation center, even when the coach personally gives back more than his share in time, money and leadership. He lands a few national television commercials and fellow coaches around the country cry foul — “another recruiting advantage for Coach K!” — even though every one of them would have done the same thing. He gets blasted for NOT speaking out during the lacrosse case, which continues to baffle me.

Do you feel that some fans expect too much or have become a bit selfish and spoiled?

Lately there has been some criticism from Duke fans suggesting that his work with USA Basketball over the past three years has caused Duke to dip a little. I know he and his staff have invested a lot in trying to help the USA reclaim Olympic gold, but I always thought it was a worthy pursuit to be called upon to lead your country in the Olympics. He and Jerry Colangelo havetaken a very sound and inspired approach to rebuilding the image of American basketball in the global community. I would think that Duke people in and out of athletics would consider it another of those points of pride that their coach is front-and-center during this time. Yet some people want to “blame” the fact that the Blue Devils have won “only” 50 games the past two years on this. It’s convenient to forget that Duke’s had just one senior the past two years combined, and that a few of the players who were recruited to be the leaders of those teams were no longer or never around (Luol Deng, who would have been a 2007 senior, and Shaun Livingston, who was in DeMarcus Nelson’s class of 2008 before opting for the NBA out of high school). We actually had a letter to BDW recently in which the reader blasted assistant coach Chris Collins for a quote in one of our stories about how much it meant to him to represent his country. Are you kidding? I don’t know the best way to respond to criticism like that, other than to ignore it.

What three words sums up John Roth as a person?

Loyalty, family, balance.

The first two are self-explanatory. The third one to me means keeping all aspects of life in proper perspective. A lot of people probably look at my job as fun and games, but I take it seriously and there actually is a lot of work involved. And I think it is important to be committed to excellence in your career. It is not, however, the ONLY thing that is important, and that has been true for me especially while reflecting over the past month, during which time my daughter graduated from college, my oldest son got married and my youngest son completed his first year of middle school. I told a story at my son’s rehearsal dinner about how he and I, when he was very little, used to enjoy going down to the Eno River and throwing sticks in the water to see what they would do. We’d pretend they were boats and would watch them hit the current and zoom away, get stuck in weeds or float aimlessly around. The EnoRiver is a long river, so we never knew where our sticks ultimately ended up, but we enjoyed watching them while they were near us. And that’s my metaphor for perspective in life. We set goals and work hard, but we don’t really know where we will wind up, or when. What we can do is enjoy and appreciate the journey to that ultimate destination.

You have been a wonderful interview and helped me to shed some light on a person that does so many things for Duke behind the scenes and up front.

Even though I normally enjoy asking questions more than answering them, I am thankful for the opportunity to be interviewed by Blue Devil Nation.  I’m also thankful to be involved with Duke. I know there are several major challenges and issues ahead for the athletics department, most notably in the three F’s — football, facilities and finances — but this is also an exciting time to be a Blue Devil. With a new football coach, a new athletics director and a new strategic plan in place, there could be a lot of change on the immediate horizon, change that could enhance the positives that are already a part of the Duke athletics story.

You may purchase the Encylopedia of Duke Basketball at any fine book store or you can purchase it here at Amazon where that purchase helps my friends at  the Duke Basketball Report.  It would make for the ultimate Christmas gift for any Duke fan and it is sure to be the point of reference with anything concerning Duke Basketball.  Be sure to check it out and learn more about the amazing history surrounding the program we are all so fond of.[/private]