Who Should Be the Successor for Coach K at Duke?
Roy Williams shocked the college basketball world on April 1 earlier this year when he announced he was retiring from coaching. Williams, 70, seemed to have a few more years left in him, but the former Tar Heel said that he “no longer felt like the right man for the job.” North Carolina subsequently promoted associate head coach Hubert Davis to the head coaching position. And as the Tar Heels begin to adjust to a world without their legendary coach, it begs the question: what will the school situated nine miles down the road do when Coach K inevitably chooses to hang up the whistle at Duke?
Duke, much like North Carolina, will probably keep the job within the Mike Krzyzewski coaching tree – meaning that a former or current assistant coach is likely to take the helm of not only the best position in college basketball, but also from the greatest coach ever. It’s impossible to replace Williams at UNC, so I’m not sure how to put into words what replacing Krzyzewski will be like for Duke.
There’s no shortage of options for Duke’s next athletic director Nina King, who is set to take the job from current athletic director Kevin White when he retires on September 1. King will be the one signing off on the new coach’s contract, but Krzyzewski will be the deciding factor in who begins a new era of Blue Devil basketball in Durham.
So here are the candidates:
The In-House Pick: Jon Scheyer, Duke associate head coach
Scheyer, who has been the associate head coach for Krzyzewski since the start of the 2018-19 season, would be the natural progression if Duke decides to replace Coach K with an assistant coach for a season or two and see what happens. A former All-American guard who led the Blue Devils to their fourth national championship in 2010, Scheyer has helped develop some of Duke’s most talented guards and wings since joining the coaching staff in 2013.
He is also a master recruiter, something especially important in the era of one-and-done collegiate basketball. The Chicago-area native has been the primary recruiter for recent Dukies like Jayson Tatum, Vernon Carey Jr., Cam Reddish and Matthew Hurt. Scheyer led the charge on the recruiting trail for the Blue Devil 2021 class that features five-stars Paolo Banchero, A.J. Griffin and Trevor Keels and four-star guard Jaylen Blakes. 247Sports has ranked him first overall on their annual “Recruiter Power Rankings” for the past two years, with a third place finish in 2018 and a fifth place spot in 2019 to boot.
I should also mention that the 33-year-old is undefeated as the acting head coach for Duke – his sole victory coming against Boston College in January after stepping in for Coach K. Scheyer’s ability to relate to the young players on the squad, especially since he’s less than a decade removed from pro basketball, makes him an appealing candidate. Suffice to say, however, that his lack of head coaching experience isn’t comforting, but that didn’t seem to deter North Carolina and Davis last month, so why not give it a shot?
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The Favorite 1A: Steve Wojciechowski, formerly Marquette University
Wojo, the man seen sprinting across the court for an embrace with Krzyzewski on senior night in 1998 after a win against North Carolina, is the epitome of Duke basketball. A floor slapping, screaming, clapping and in-your-face guard that doesn’t back down from the limelight. That’s the kind of guy that dons the royal blue D-U-K-E across his chest that makes people hate the Blue Devils for reasons they can’t explain beyond “he just annoys me” or “I just hate him.” And when Duke has struggled at points with their identity in the one-and-done era, that’s who you need at the helm.
Wojciechowski joined the Duke coaching staff in 1999 after his senior season and served under K until the end of the 2013-14 season. He then spent seven seasons at Marquette University where he led the Golden Eagles to a record of 128-95. He was fired at the conclusion of this past season after a 13-14 finish and 8-11 record in Big East conference play. Wojo reached two NCAA tournaments in his time at the helm for Marquette, both of which were Round of 64 exits.
Despite no deep runs in the NCAA tournament, his leadership at Marquette was solid. He took over a program from Buzz Williams – something that is no easy task – and after one losing season, transformed Marquette into a Big East team that consistently challenged the top teams, finishing second in the conference in 2018-19 and secured three 20-win seasons. Success in the Big Dance only comes with time and letting the former Blue Devil lead the new era of Duke basketball is an enticing option.
The Favorite 1B: Jeff Capel III, University of Pittsburgh
Capel served as a Duke assistant from 2011-2018, after which he took the job at Pittsburgh. Capel’s success at the head coaching level has been a rollercoaster. Always an excellent recruiter, it wasn’t his inability to bring top talent that hindered his success, it’s been his struggle to keep players in the programs he’s led when the times get tough. I say this not to devalue his experience, but to point out that times are likely to be a bit rocky in the couple of years that follow Coach K’s departure.
In the late 2000s, Capel led the Oklahoma Sooners to two NCAA tournament appearances and an Elite Eight appearance with Blake Griffin in 2008-09. After Griffin’s departure, however, the Sooners struggled with two consecutive losing seasons before Capel was ultimately fired. He then rejoined his former head coach in Durham where he served as the associate head coach for the 2014-15 squad that won the national title. His list of recruits is beyond impressive, but just to highlight a few he brought to Durham: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Marvin Bagley Jr., and Brandon Ingram.
If Duke is leaning towards a guy who has had success at the head coaching level, but is only a few years removed from Cameron Indoor and Durham then Capel is the guy. He will bring leadership and confidence to the job, having already served as the Blue Devil head coach in 2017 when Krzyzewski was out with back surgery. His struggles at Pittsburgh are evident, but let’s face it, Pittsburgh is no Duke and Capel would certainly inspire a lot of confidence in Durham.
The Cautiously Optimistic Pick: Bobby Hurley, Arizona State
The greatest natural point guard to ever don the D-U-K-E — no disrespect to Jay Williams, who I think is more of a scoring point guard and is the best to do it at Duke in that regard. His fiery demeanor is one of my favorite things to watch as he coaches at Arizona State and would garner a lot of support from the Crazies in Cameron. He’s no stranger to ejections, but what else should we expect from the guy that bullied public enemy #1 Christian Laettner in the Final Four in 1992.
I would’ve loved to see him have more success with the talent he had in Tempe this past season with Josh Christopher, Remy Martin and Marcus Bagley, but rumors of selfishness and a lack of team cohesion may have spoiled his plans, so I’ll give him a pass. Hurley comes from a basketball family that makes most basketball families feel obsolete. His father is one of the most successful high school head coaches of all-time, his brother, Dan, is currently leading UConn’s revival and has been quite the success story in the college basketball world.
While certainly at the bottom of his family in terms of coaching success, Hurley would fit right into the culture at Duke and would undoubtedly demand the very best out of the players in Durham. I’d be interested to see if this develops further, but he likely has to have more success at Arizona State first.
The Sleeper: Mike Brey, Notre Dame
I’m not sure that Brey would leave Notre Dame at this point in his coaching career. Honestly, he’s probably going to retire there — if they don’t fire him first. His recent struggles with the Fighting Irish have somewhat hampered his past success, but he has had a ton of it in South Bend: most notably leading Notre Dame and Jerian Grant, Bonzie Colson and Pat Connaughton to within a few possessions of knocking down that loaded Kentucky squad from 2015 in the Elite Eight.
Brey has 448 wins at Notre Dame and a 207-159 record in ACC play. This certainly would be a sleeper pick, but Brey’s recent shortcomings may force the Fighting Irish leadership to move on from their head coach of 21 years, in which case Duke could make a push for him to return to the Blue Devil sideline and replace Coach K. It might take some convincing, but his success against Duke in particular is apparent and promising, and may I also add, would make one to two conference games a year more comfortable. Who knows if this’ll happen, but I’m throwing it out there.
The Dark Horse’s Dark Horse: Chris Collins, Northwestern
Alright, I attend Northwestern and my friends complain to me all the time about Collins. A former Duke guard, he likely still has the job in Evanston because he led the Wildcats to their first and only win in the NCAA tournament in 2017. The loss that followed prompted this meme, but that’s irrelevant. Collins is 118-134 in eight years at the helm for the Wildcats and a dismal 49-100 in the always tough Big Ten regular season.
It is at this point where I remind my readers that the despite the annual lauding of the Big Ten’s regular season difficulty, the conference has failed to have a national champion since the 1999-2000 Michigan State Spartans team.
Anyways, this move is the dark horse of all dark horses because I truly don’t think that King and Duke leadership would give Collins a serious look unless the four aforementioned coaches say no.
Why Not Ask the Question? *insert shrug emoji*: Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz
Snyder has had a ton of success in the NBA and I really don’t think he’d consider a move back to the college game, but maybe for his alma mater, he would take a phone call. Potentially this year’s COY (Coach of the Year), he currently has the Western conference top seed Jazz up 2-1 in their first round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies. His success at the top level of professional basketball makes him a compelling choice, but as I said, I’m not so sure he’s interested in a return to the college game. But don’t just assume the worst, I’d make the call if I’m Nina King.
The “Let’s Look Elsewhere Just to Gauge Potential Interest”: Mark Few, Gonzaga; Tony Bennett, Virginia; Chris Beard, Texas; Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
I mean, why not? All four of these coaches are phenomenal at their craft, great leaders and brilliant tacticians. They’ve all had success at the collegiate level, with each reaching at least one national championship game, yet only Bennett has a ring. Few has always said that he plans on staying in Spokane, but if, and when, the Duke position opens up, a call from Coach K or King could entice Few to come cross country to Durham. Bennett on the other hand may be a bit more tricky, but his success at Virginia and in the ACC in recent years has been the best of the best. The worst he can say is no.
Now onto Beard. He just signed a deal with Texas, so him leaving Austin would be some sort of miracle if the job in Durham opens up in the next year or two. But his success at Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas Tech, and likely Texas, is indicative of a man poised to take on big positions and Duke is the biggest one of all.
And finally to the man who Krzyzewski narrowly bested in 2010 for his fourth national title. Stevens reached back-to-back national championship games in 2010 and 2011 with Butler, before leaving for the NBA and the Celtics. The Indiana native reportedly rejected an offer from Indiana University earlier this year – Stevens denied it – but it’s worth a call if King and Duke are serious about extending an offer to the 44-year-old.
Coach K’s time in Durham is coming to a sad, but expected ending. As a lifelong Blue Devil fan, this man sits above all the rest and deserves one grand send-off. Hopefully a national championship is written in the stars and Coach K can retire at Duke with six rings. Regardless of how Krzyzewski’s time ends in Durham, King and Duke’s leadership have to be searching for the candidate that will fill the largest shoes in school history, and one of the aforementioned coaches will certainly have a claim to initiate the new era of Blue Devil basketball.
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