A recent column I wrote regarding whether or not Duke Basketball can survive in the post Mike Krzyzewski era sparked a good amount of debate as the question often does.
The next step in that process of course is to consider who your options are to replace the man who essentially made the program what it is today. It isn’t like Duke was a no name program before Krzyzewski though. They had played in Final Fours, but much like the football program that enjoyed success in the early and middle part of the last century, the basketball program would fall on some hard times, though not as bad as football.
Still it was bad enough where the seemingly innocuous hiring of little known Mike Krzyzewski, a guy whose name could scarcely be pronounced (even today) much less spelled correctly went relatively unnoticed by the majority of the college basketball world. Duke wasn’t a national power and were hardly seen as a team that would contest North Carolina as the premier power in the ACC.
Fast forward 30 plus years later and that is exactly what you have. Since his hiring Duke has one as many national title as North Carolina (4) and more ACC titles. So when Krzyzewski does retire from the game, his replacement will have an unenviable task. Still there will and should be plenty of demand for it.
As I wrote in my last column Krzyzewski has made Duke a name brand program recognized by fans and recruits the world over. The desire to lead a program will certainly be there but who will fill the unfillable shoes? Many feel that the university will look inside the Krzyzewski coaching tree and select a former assistant or player. That is probable but that isn’t guaranteed. They could go outside the Duke family and if they do who is out there now that might be interested and of interest?
Jay Wright: Despite the last season’s record at Villanova, Jay Wright is still seen as one of the bright young stars in the college coaching world. His Wildcats in fact defeated Duke badly in the 2009 Sweet 16 on their way to the Final Four.
Wright is young charismatic and seen as a good recruiter at a smaller school. Duke certainly has a more national clout than Villanova and if he is interested he is likely to be a coach on Duke’s short list of outside candidates.
Brad Stevens: If you asked Duke fans to name one of their favorite coaches to replace Krzyzewski that isn’t in the Duke pipeline, many would say Butler’s Brad Stevens.
Much like Krzyzewski, Stevens came out of nowhere, but did so after leaving another field and becoming an assistant on a voluntary basis. He has gone on to lead Butler, a program from the Horizon League to two straight national runners up in 2010 and 2011. He is seen as a cerebral guy that has a lot of potential.
Surely with Duke’s money, influence and reputation he could recruit talent and he has proven he has some serious coaching acumen to help Duke remain a strong national contender. After all if he can do it at Butler surely he could do it at Duke.
Jamie Dixon: Another name that has been thrown out there is current Pitt Coach Jamie Dixon. This option maybe less likely now that Pitt is going to be joining the ACC but he is another in the line of young upstarts.
Dixon inherited the program that was established first by Ben Howland. When Howland left for UCLA many thought there would be a drop off at Pitt but Dixon arguably has taken the program beyond where Howland had led it. Dixon has the youth and experience to lead a program to great heights. However, the fact that Pitt is going to be in the ACC by the time Krzyzewski retires makes it at least moderately less likely that he would leave Pitt for another team in the same conference even Duke.
A lot can change between now and the time Krzyzewski retires and these coaches could have moved on to bigger and better things, but for now these are the three names that immediately come to my mind and many others when it comes to outsiders that might replace Krzyzewski but only time will tell.
In my next column I’ll look at the candidates inside the Duke family, of which there are quite a few.