Duke Basketball: Who Will Ultimately Replace Coach K?
First of all, let’s get something straight. Mike Krzyzewski will be patrolling the Duke sidelines for at least—and I can’t stress the words "at least" strongly enough—two more years. In all likelihood, it’ll be a lot longer than that.
Coach K is currently at 957 career wins. Two more seasons should put him over 1,000. Two seasons should also be enough time to surpass Dean Smith’s record for ACC wins. Smith has 364; Coach K currently has 350 ACC wins.
Then there’s Jim Boeheim sitting at 920 career wins. As Boeheim told CBS’ Gregg Doyel, he isn’t retiring. Though he and Coach K are friendly, it has to figure into Boeheim’s future plans that if he sticks around one or two seasons longer than Coach K, he could pass him on the all-time wins list.
Knowing that and being two years younger than Boeheim, it isn’t likely that Coach K steps aside and makes things easy for his friend at Syracuse—or any other coach for that matter—to pass his record number of wins.
So this article is full of speculation about a future situation that probably won’t arise any sooner than two years from now. And if Coach K stays on for many more seasons, then this problem might not present itself for a long, long time.
Still, in the same way schools make students learn the Presidential chain of succession even though it’s highly unlikely that the Secretary of Treasury—who is fifth in line after the Secretary of State—ever ascends to the Presidency, it’s worth examining just who could fill the shoes of Duke’s coaching legend.
Obviously, Duke will want someone with ties to the program. Given how prestigious the Duke job is, it will also be important that the chosen candidate has a history of success at the head coaching level.
Although I’m confident that Steve Wojciechowski will be a good head coach at some point, the Duke basketball team isn’t going to be entrusted to a first-time head coach.
Then there’s Brad Stevens. That’s the name that gets people on Duke message boards super excited. While I’ll agree that Stevens is a good coach, there’s a problem. Brad Stevens is going to get offered every job that comes up. So far he’s turned everyone down, but unless Coach K retires in the very near future, you’d figure that eventually Stevens will accept a job at a big-name school.
Georgetown fans are frustrated with the Princeton offense and repeated early exits in the NCAA tournament. Rick Pitino and John Calipari are always getting offers from NBA teams. Texas fans are fuming at Rick Barnes. There are any number of quality jobs that will come up between now and the time Coach K decides to retire—which, again, is probably a long way off.
The probability that Stevens steers clear of all of those other jobs and then is favored by Duke ahead of coaches with connections to the program—and then accepts the position after steadfastly refusing to leave Butler—isn’t terribly likely.
So who, then, has the right amount of experience and connection to the Duke community to step in after Coach K departs?
The impetus for this article, frankly, was Chris Collins leaving Duke’s staff to become the head coach at Northwestern. As I mentioned, the Duke job won’t go to someone without head-coaching experience. So Collins had to take the Northwestern job to have any chance at being Coach K’s successor.
Unfortunately for him, the gig at Northwestern isn’t a bed of roses.
The trouble Collins will have is that Northwestern has no history of success. Of all the teams in the major conferences, only Northwestern has never made the NCAA tournament.
Since 1950, no Wildcat basketball coach has won more games than he’s lost. In fact, the person Collins will be replacing, Bill Carmody, was Northwestern’s most successful post-World War II coach. Carmody’s relative success included a career 192-220 record in Evanston, five winning seasons and four NIT appearances. That constitutes the high-water mark for Northwestern.
Then there’s the infamous story about Tommy Amaker interviewing for the Northwestern job.
Before Amaker left Duke for Michigan, he nearly took over Northwestern in 1993. However, the story goes that Amaker presented the hiring committee with the resumes of two players. These resumes had the names redacted so the committee could only judge the players on the merits of their transcripts.
Amaker asked if these two players would be admitted to Northwestern if he were recruiting them to play basketball. Northwestern answered no. Amaker informed the committee they had just rejected Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley. He then told the committee he wasn’t interested in the Northwestern coaching position.
Whether or not that story is actually true, it does highlight the fact that Northwestern has unreasonably restrictive academic requirements for athletes. Combine that with the worst athletic facilities in the Big Ten, and it’s no wonder that Northwestern struggles to get a recruiting foothold in nearby Chicago and can’t crack the tournament field.
Of course, all those negatives mean that if Chris Collins so much as makes the NCAA tournament, he’ll be heralded as a wild success. The bar is pretty low at Northwestern, so even achieving mediocrity would look pretty good on his resume.
If, therefore, Collins proves he can pull one of college basketball’s most consistent disappointments out of the cellar, then he’ll make a strong case for his abilities to replace Coach K when the time comes.
If Coach K retired tomorrow, Jeff Capel would probably get the job. The current Duke assistant has a pretty impressive coaching background.
He started off as an assistant to his father at Old Dominion. After one season, he moved to VCU as an assistant and was promoted to head coach one year later. Capel had four successful years at VCU that included one NCAA tournament bid.
Then, in 2006, Capel was hired on at Oklahoma to replace the departed Kelvin Sampson. After going 16-15 in his first year with the Sooners, Capel recruited Blake Griffin and finished 21-10 and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The following year, incoming freshman Willie Warren joined Blake Griffin and the duo went 30-6, making it all the way to the Elite Eight.
Unfortunately, things went downhill from there. Griffin left early for the NBA and injuries hampered Oklahoma. In Capel’s final two seasons with the Sooners, he had losing records and were dogged by unscrupulous off-the-court issues.
Currently Capel is a name bandied about for coaching positions at Old Dominion and other smaller schools. He’d be an easy option if Duke needed to replace Coach K on short notice thanks to his experience as a head coach, but if the Blue Devils had time to find a suitable successor, the scandalous situation at Oklahoma would probably put off Duke’s athletic department.
Capel wasn’t directly implicated in the situation with his player Tiny Gallon getting paid by a booster, but the hint of impropriety might be enough to send Duke in the direction of another coaching candidate.
The current Notre Dame coach rose from an assistant at DeMatha High to an assistant at Duke, where he enjoyed the ’91 and ’92 national championships.
Brey left Duke for the head-coaching gig at Delaware, and in his five years there he made the NCAA tournament twice. Then, in 2000, Notre Dame hired him.
The Fighting Irish hadn’t made the tournament since 1990 and had just fired Matt Doherty. Brey, the Duke product, did what Doherty, the UNC product, couldn’t in his first year. In each of his first three seasons at Notre Dame, Brey made the NCAA tournament. In 13 seasons at Notre Dame, Brey has found his way to March Madness nine times.
As impressive as that is, the biggest knock on Brey is the fact that he hasn’t had much postseason success.
Notre Dame has never won the Big East. More concerning, the Irish have made just one Sweet 16 and have been sent packing in the NCAA first round four times. They also have four second-round exits.
The lack of tournament success would concern a Duke program accustomed to deep runs in March. Beyond that, Brey is only associated to Duke through eight years as an assistant coach. Plus, though the allure of coaching one of college basketball’s top teams is substantial, Brey’s Notre Dame team is already coming to the ACC.
While Duke would be a step up, Brey is entrenched in South Bend with a contract that runs through 2022. He’s well liked by the Notre Dame community, has job security, is reasonably successful and moving to the ACC. He’d risk that cushy situation if he switched to the high pressure circumstances of trying to follow coaching legend Mike Krzyzewski.
After 10 years as an assistant under Coach K, Dawkins took the head job at Stanford in 2008. Dawkins has long been seen as the prime candidate to take over the Duke program thanks to his extended tenure with Duke as both a player who had his jersey retired and an extremely well-respected associate head coach.
Dawkins is certainly high on the list to eventually replace Coach K. However, his tenure at Stanford hasn’t been a roaring success. In five seasons, the Cardinal have only been below .500 twice but have failed to make the NCAA tournament. Even in the weak Pac-12, Dawkins hasn’t finished better than sixth in the conference.
There have been signs of life and Stanford has never really been a basketball powerhouse, but the sustained mediocrity is a bit of a blemish on Dawkins’ credentials.
That being said, Stanford is a school with high academic standards and in a major conference. In many ways, that’s excellent preparation for the Duke job. Plus, his accomplishments as a player and coach under Mike Krzyzewski can’t be overlooked. Duke fans love him and Coach K would happily endorse Dawkins as his successor.
In the end, if Dawkins can find a way to compete in the Pac-12 or at least make the NCAA tournament with some regularity, then he’ll make the strongest case for Duke’s next head coach.
Right now, I believe Amaker has the best shot at becoming Duke’s future coach. Though Amaker wasn’t the player that Dawkins was, his coaching career puts him ahead of the former Naismith Player of the Year.
First of all, Amaker, though not as good as Dawkins, was an excellent player in his own right. He’s firmly established in Duke lore thanks to achievements on the court. His nine years as an assistant at Duke add to his credentials. No one would argue that Amaker isn’t Duke blue through and through.
When he left Duke to become the head coach at Seton Hall in 1997, the Pirates had missed the NCAA tournament two years running. After back-to-back 15-15 seasons, both of which sent Seton Hall to the NIT, Amaker’s squad went 22-10 as the Pirates advanced to the Sweet 16.
The following season Seton Hall slumped to 16-15, but Amaker’s recruiting prowess and coaching ability earned him the job at Michigan.
The Wolverines were coming out of a basketball scandal. Amaker took over a team that had self-imposed sanctions. The NCAA actually added to those sanctions when they concluded their investigation. Nevertheless, in his second year, Amaker’s Wolverines finished tied for third in the Big Ten.
The following season, Michigan was 23-11 and won the NIT tournament.
Twice more Amaker had over 20 wins at Michigan. However, the Wolverines never made the NCAA tournament under Amaker. That led to his firing after six seasons. Though it ended poorly, Amaker went 108-84 with a sanctioned Michigan program.
Harvard offered Amaker their coaching job, and since taking over in 2007, Harvard has won the Ivy League three times and made two NCAA tournament appearances. This year, Amaker achieved Harvard’s first NCAA tournament win by beating third-seeded New Mexico.
More than that, however, Amaker has shown an ability to overcome recruiting restrictions and the loss of two players to the Harvard cheating scandal.
True, Amaker is competing in the Ivy League and Harvard has relaxed its academic restrictions for student athletes. Still, Amaker has a long coaching history that is littered with success under difficult circumstances. His coaching career is superior to that of Dawkins and his association with Duke is greater than that of Brey’s.
In all, Tommy Amaker projects as the most likely successor to the Duke head-coaching job.
Of course, as I mentioned early, that seat isn’t opening up any time soon.