Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski is 73 years old, and both he and Duke face the prospect of his tenure with the Blue Devils ending at some point in the next few years. In a three-part series, we will look at how Duke and Coach K are preparing for this transition, as well as the other changes going on in the sport at the same time.
In Part 1, we looked at the end to the one-and-done rule that has been associated with Duke for the last decade.
In Part 2, we discussed how much longer Krzyzewski will be at Duke and what his next challenge might be when his coaching days are over.
This week, we look at where Duke goes next after Krzyzewski steps down.
Mike Krzyzewski has coached Duke for the last 40 years and admits that, at some point in the near future, his tenure will come to an end.
“I’m 73,” he told a Philadelphia radio station earlier this month. “At some time, that’s got to end.”
Krzyzewski’s contract runs through the 2021 season. Assuming he signs an extension at some point before then, we’ll have a clear idea of how much longer he intends to coach. But at some point, possibly as soon as next April, Duke will begin the process of replacing the winningest coach in college basketball history.
Obviously, the decision is one fraught with risk. One need only look eight miles up the road to see what could go wrong. When Dean Smith retired prior to the 1997-98 season, his longtime assistant Bill Guthridge took over, coaching the Tar Heels for three years and reaching the Final Four twice.
Just when it seemed that the school’s transition could be declared a success, Guthridge retired and the top candidate to lead Carolina into a new era—Roy Williams—turned the school down. UNC instead hired Matt Doherty, a former Smith player with one successful season coaching Notre Dame under his belt. In three years, he had a second-round exit, an 8-20 season and an NIT berth before being fired after players threatened to revolt.
UNC finally got its man when Williams was convinced to leave Kansas, reportedly because former players told him the school would go “outside the family” and hire a coach without UNC roots if Williams declined.
Like Smith, Krzyzewski has established a strong culture—the Duke Brotherhood—that would be tough to ignore when hiring a replacement. Tim O’Toole, who left Krzyzewski’s staff in 1997, was the last Coach K assistant who didn’t play for him at Duke.
The new coach will need to walk a tight rope between continuing the Brotherhood tradition and serving as a steward of Krzyzewski’s program, while also putting his own stamp on the Blue Devils going forward. It’s a dance that Doherty struggled with at UNC, getting into heat with alumni and donors almost immediately when he brought in his own assistant coaches and made other changes with long-tenured personnel in the basketball offices.
Athletic director Kevin White, assuming he’ll still be in the position when the time comes, will likely prioritize a candidate’s ability to traverse this political minefield as he makes the decision. Obviously, a successful candidate will also need to have demonstrated the ability to win in at a school with academic credentials like Duke and do so without attracting NCAA investigations for wrongdoing.
Using that as a guideline, here’s a look at possible ways to replace Coach K at Duke within the next few years.
The favorite: It appeared that Jeff Capel was the man to beat as Krzyzewski’s coach in waiting. A Duke point guard in the 1990s, he had nine years of head coaching experience at VCU and Oklahoma before joining Coach K’s staff in 2011. In seven years on the staff, he played a major role in recruiting many of Duke’s one-and-done stars. He was promoted to associate head coach and filled in as interim coach when Krzyzewski missed games due to illness and when recovering from back surgery.
Following the 2018 season, Capel suddenly left the staff to take the head coaching job at Pitt, who had gone winless in the ACC the year before. It was a curious move that led to speculation about everything from a falling out to notification that he wouldn’t be the person to replace Krzyzewski.
Capel has spoken highly of Krzyzewski while at Pitt, and Coach K defended Capel when he thought Duke fans were mocking him with chants this past season. So the two still appear to be close. Even after signing a two-year extension prior to this season, Capel has been dogged by questions from Pittsburgh fans and media about the likelihood that he will leave for Duke eventually.
The quiet contender: Steve Wojciechowski hasn’t gotten a lot of headlines and, for a power conference coach, has been off the radar a bit since leaving Krzyzewski’s staff six years ago to take over at Marquette. Chris Collins, who left a year earlier and led Northwestern to its first NCAA tournament ever, got more headlines, but Collins has a sub-.500 record as a head coach. Meanwhile, over that time, Wojciechowski has won consistently in the Big East and made the NCAA tournament twice in six years. Out of the possible successors, only Bobby Hurley (three in seven) has a higher rate of making the dance. Wojo spent the most time on Krzyzewski’s staff and has the highest power conference winning percentage (.587) of the contenders. A few more years of maintaining his success rate, and possibly a significant tournament run, and Wojo could surpass Capel as the odds-on favorite.
The dark horse: Krzyzewski’s first big point guard recruiting win was Tommy Amaker, who helped lead the Blue Devils to Coach K’s first Final Four. He has 23 years of head coaching experience, more than any other two former Krzyzewski players combined. The last 13 have been at Harvard, so he clearly knows how to recruit in an academics-first institution. His six Michigan teams never made the NCAA tournament, giving him the label of an underachiever at that level, but he has more wins as a power conference coach—176, than any of the other former players. His five tournament appearances as a coach are also the most by any former Coach K player.
The young lion: Bobby Hurley was the point guard for Coach K’s first (and second) national championship team. He’s now built a promising college coaching career, averaging nearly 20 wins a year in seven seasons at Buffalo and Arizona State. His quick success has generated support for him being the heir apparent to Krzyzewski.
Hurley shows promise and has a strong Duke pedigree. At this point, however, he may still have more to prove to land a job on the level of Duke. He’s never made it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. He also never served on Coach K’s staff and doesn’t have experience recruiting at a school with the academic requirements of Duke.
Hurley has also shown a bit of a temper dating back to his time as a player, and his current clashes with Arizona State’s athletic director underscore the fact that he still may be a bit too new to rate to step in immediately for Coach K.
The younger lion: Jon Scheyer is also a trendy choice to replace Coach K. He’s a fixture on lists of the top young assistants in college basketball. He’s earned the top spot on Krzyzewski’s current staff, but he has no head coaching experience and only six years as an assistant. The idea of hiring someone with so little experience, even a very familiar face who has been entrenched in the program, may be a tough sell.
The safe option: Replacing a legend brings a great deal of pressure. Like UNC with Guthridge, Duke might want to have an experienced coach take the reins for a few years before handing off to an up-and-coming young coach.
If so, the choice might be Notre Dame’s Mike Brey, a former Coach K assistant at Duke, and, in fact, the only member of the Krzyzewski coaching tree to defeat him.
Brey was actually hired by White at Notre Dame in 2000 and has demonstrated the ability to recruit and win at a high level at another school that has high academic standards. Currently 61, he’d likely be closing in on his mid-60s when he would get the call. So he’s not a long-term solution. Instead, he’d give Duke five-plus years until one of the young lions—Hurley or Scheyer—had a long enough resume to step in.
When asked about the job on Jeff Goodman’s podcast, Brey said, “You know who I think would be great? Bobby Hurley would be great. Now I don’t know if he’d be interested or whatever, but I think he’d be fabulous.”
Alternatively, Johnny Dawkins, five years younger than Brey, could be the choice as transition coach, handing things from K to Hurley or Scheyer. He coached eight years at Stanford, so he’d be able to recruit at Duke.
Also worth consideration: Collins accomplished something no other Northwestern coach has ever done, getting the Wildcats to the tournament, but it’s hard to justify hiring someone with a losing record. Quin Snyder had success as a Missouri head coach and is currently coaching the NBA’s Utah Jazz, but he also ran afoul of the NCAA with Missouri, which could be tough to overcome considering the other options in the field.
Outside of the Brotherhood: It’s hard to envision a scenario where the search goes outside of Krzyzewski’s former players and assistants, but if anyone breaks through the firewall of tradition, it will likely be Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
A trendy choice as the heir apparent to Coach K since his Butler Bulldogs just barely missed upsetting Duke in the 2010 title game, Stevens went from being one of the best young coaches in college to one of the best in the NBA. At the time of his hiring, he reportedly told the Celtics he’d stay there “until they either fire him or Duke comes calling.”
He also has a close relationship with Coach K. Krzyzewski helped convince Jayson Tatum to report to his pre-draft workout with the Celtics by telling him that he thought Stevens was “a great coach.”
Regardless of the choice, the shoes will be big, expectations high and the leash short. The fallout from the decision, when it comes, will have ripple effects throughout the sport.