Beyond Coack K: Options From Within the Duke Family

My last two columns on the post Mike Krzyzewski era have received quite a number of responses and most of those have been extremely mixed.

The criticisms range from the timing of writing such a column, considering Krzyzewski doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon, to omissions in the coaching choices from outside the program, to even some apparent lack of editing on my part. What ever the reasons my previous two columns have been ill received, I’d like to offer this one caveat for all the readers out there:

I don’t believe Mike Krzyzewski is retiring any time soon, and I don’t particularly want him too. Seeing as it is the summer and aside from some minor recruiting news, there isn’t a lot to write about. When ESPN did a piece on the most difficult legend to replace I felt inspired to write about such a hypothetical situation in regards to Duke.

As I’ve stated Duke had success prior to Krzyzewski but that he established the Blue Devils program as one of the elites, something that none of his predecessors ever quite did, despite making Final Fours. The bottom line is one of these days he will walk away and at that point the selection of his replacement will have great bearing on the future of the program.

In my last column I looked at the possible replacements from outside the program and in this one I offer you  a few who are from Krzyzewski’s coaching line who could possible be the ones to get the job.

Johnny Dawkins: Prior to leaving his position as Duke’s associate head coach, Dawkins was seen by many as the heir apparent to Duke’s Basketball kingdom. The first great recruit in the Krzyzewski era, Dawkins was arguably the greatest player in Duke’s history and after a career in the NBA he came back to college and joined the coaching staff at Duke.

Dawkins waited and learned and many felt that he may never leave Duke. Eventually the need for him to leave and show what he can do as a head coach came. When Dawkins finally did take a job it was out west at Stanford whose athletic director jokingly introduced Dawkins as the next Duke men’s basketball coach.  His tenure in Palo Alto has been somewhat mixed.

He inherited a once strong program that had fallen on some hard times and after four seasons he has still not reached an NCAA Tournament, though he did lead the Cardinal to an NIT Championship last season. Stanford has continued to improve but one has to wonder if he will be on the hot seat if he doesn’t get a berth in the big dance this coming season.

Obviously he, to some, is the sentimental favorite but unless he starts making some deep tournament runs he may end up coaching his way out of the eventual job as Krzyzewski’s replacement.

Tommy Amaker: Amaker like Dawkins was a former Duke player under Krzyzewski and a teammate of Dawkins. He also was an assistant at Duke following his playing days and took a job as head coach at Seton Hall. At that time it seemed like his career was on the rise.

While coaching the Pirates, Amaker had some success including a Sweet 16 appearance and used that to eventually get the head coaching job at Michigan which was seen as a big-time opportunity following the success the program had following Steve Fisher and the Fab Five. But he never seemed to fit in in Ann Arbor and after six seasons of failing to make the NCAA Tournament he was fired.

Amaker has resurrected his career in of all places- Harvard, not a program known for college basketball success. He has lead the Crimson to new heights and led them to the 2012 NCAA Tournament along with at least a share of back to back Ivy League titles. Amaker has shied away from more high profile jobs in the wake of his success at Harvard and many feel he could end up becoming a top candidate for the Duke position if he can maintain that kind of success at Harvard.

Chris Collins: Collins is currently  Co-Associate head coach at Duke but has never had any head coaching experience. His name has come up as a potential candidate for several jobs and he was mentioned as a possible replacement at Illinois when Bruce Weber was fired after his past season.

Collins has coaching in his blood with his father Doug being a long time coach and current head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. He has taken an active leadership role at Duke and it is documented that he runs practices and had drawn up plays during time outs, all part of Krzyzewski’s plan to not only coach his players but train his coaches.

He is young, charismatic and certainly will have his name in consideration, but until he has some head coaching experience he likely won’t be the top candidate to replace Krzyzewski.

Steve Wojciechowski: Wojciechowski, like Collins, is seen as an up and coming assistant who is waiting for the right head coaching job to come along. He and Collins share the associate head coach tile and like Collins he runs practices and has drawn up plays in games.

He is seen as fiery leader and along with Collins does a lot with recruiting and assisting Krzyzewski with USA Basketball. But much like Collins, until he has some head coaching experience he likely won’t be  a top candidate to replace Krzyzewski, though his name will be mentioned.

Jeff Capel: Capel was seen as a rising star following his meteoric rise as coach at VCU and then Oklahoma. Capel took over the Sooner program following the dismissal of coach Kelvin Sampson due to run ins with the NCAA regarding recruiting violations.

Capel helped lead Oklahoma to the Elite 8 in 2009 with star Blake Griffin leading the way. However, two back to back losing seasons and some troubles with players violating NCAA rules ended up costing Capel his job following the 2010-2011 season. He has sense come back to Duke as an assistant and is seen as a valuable recruiter and side line coach.

I  would expect because of his actual head coaching experience that Capel will be a top candidate for the Duke job though I would expect him to possibly take another head coaching job long before Krzyzewski retires. And depending on the success he has, that may determine how high on the list he will be.

Other possible candidates could include current Notre Dame coach Mike Brey who was an assistant under Krzyzewski. He has had some success as head coach at Notre Dame though hasn’t been to a Final Four. At this point I think Brey is likely a distant outsider for the position.

Former Duke player, Quin Snyder who was a finalist for the Charlotte Bobcats head coaching job could also be a candidate. Snyder, was once an up and coming college coach but troubles with the NCAA during his tenure at Missouri forced him into a sort of  coaching exile and he landed in the NBA’s Developmental League where he had success with the Austin Toros before getting some  NBA assistant coaching gigs.

As I’ve stated before a lot can happen between now and when Krzyzewski actually retires. Hiring the right replacement will be key to continuing Duke’s success and position as an elite team in college basketball. It is going to be a difficult position to be in but it isn’t impossible seeing that Krzyzewski has established a culture and winning tradition as the Blue Devils head coach.

Only time will tell what happens and again it doesn’t appear that fans will have to worry much about this decision happening anytime soon, but as the Boy Scouts say always be prepared and I’m sure that while it isn’t likely to be a top priority for Duke, there is likely a list of candidates being considered somewhere in the athletic offices.

As for now all it remains hypothetical fodder for fans and analysts to talk about during the summer doldrums.

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5 Replies to “Beyond Coack K: Options From Within the Duke Family”

  1. Bermuda Bob says:

    I believe Brey just signed a ten (10) year extension, but I have to admit that if a coach were to be "poached" from another programme, he might be the guy I talked to first …
    … besides, I love a guy who can make the departure from coaches dressing like bankers !!!

  2. Jim O. says:

    What? No mention of Chris Spatola? Has not there ever been a more obvious choice?

  3. Tom Uhde says:

    Despite your statements to the contrary, Duke absolutely was an established national power and elite basketball program prior to Coach K. The national dismay of Duke selecting K over other much more prominent and well-established coaches, at that time, speaks in part to Duke already having established a prominent place among national college powers. Because of its longstanding position among elite basketball programs (yes, even before K) Duke’s head coaching job will always be one of a handful of the most desirable positions (although difficult to follow K as with following Rupp, Knight, Dean Smith and, most relevant to this topic, John Wooden). What Coach K did establish for the first time at Duke was a plethora of competitive former players who could replace him as part of the “Duke family”.

    1. Mike Kline says:

      I would have to respectfully disagree that Duke was a national power anywhere close to where Krzyzewski has brought them. I feel like they were a much more regional power but in my opinion were not mentioned in the same breath as a UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina as they are today. As I mentioned they did have success and reached final fours and had many great players like Art Heyman and Mike Gminski prior to K but he has brought them to an entirely different plane. I think much of the dismay of his hiring came from Duke Alumni who had no clue who he was and felt Duke could do better and they were the same group of Iron Dukes who were demanding that Tom Butters fire K after year 3. I agree that K has established a tree of former players now coaches that could replace him and I think that is because that is the mark of a truly national program that I’m not sure Duke really was prior to Krzyzewski’s arrival. Not that they didn’t have their moment and weren’t somewhat respected, but I’d hestiate to call them a national power.

  4. Semper Fidelis says:

    Coach K's "act" would be the most scrutinized ordeal that should only be handled by the bravest and wisest of men.  Every word, every inflection, every gesture, every decision would be under a media/social networking electron microscope.  I would easily put the mental fortitude required above even coaching ability.  Another attribute that would be high is recruiting ability.  With the NBA allowing one and dones, recruiting the best and brightest has jumped up the priority list since coaches don't have the time to develop many players over 3 or 4 years.  So options within the Duke Family would definitely be Johnny Dawkins, Tommy Amaker, and Jeff Capel from my outside looking in point of view.  Another group that merits consideration are players little or no coaching experience that I'm aware of.  Obviously, these would have to be very special individuals.  For me this would include Grant Hill, Shane Battier, & Jay Bilas.  Now during Bilas' three-year tenure as an assistant coach, Duke advanced to three Final Fours and won two National Championships.  Not too shabby.  To me, these folks are all very intelligent, mentally strong, and passionate.  They are born leaders that won't be swayed and failure or less than excellent results would only ignite a deeper drive to succeed.  They also have much professional experience which I think would assist in recuiting.  They seem to have a balanced life which is not easy to have when expectations are high.  Just some thoughts from an incureably infected Duke fan.  BTW, it took me a while to figure out my I am a Duke fan and it's because of coach K.  He is the common denominator.  The players that he attracts and the university standards allow are a perfect combination.

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