The day is looming.
It’s a day Duke basketball fans dread, and they often refuse to accept its impending reality. It’s a day that will change the complexion of the University, its basketball program and the entire landscape of college basketball. That day is the inevitable retirement of Mike Krzyzewski and the end of his storied tenure as the head coach at Duke.
Whether that day is two years from now or 10 years, nobody except for the 65-year old himself knows. But, there is a lingering question in the back of everyone’s mind: Who will take over the helm in Durham when the all-time winningest college basketball coach hangs ‘em up?
The man who earns the gig will have the keys to what is arguably the greatest kingdom in college basketball. Following in the footsteps of a living legend with a list of accolades that extends the length of Tobacco Road itself is a job of unprecedented pressure. And Blue Devil athletic director Kevin White will face arguably greater stakes when the time comes to conduct the coaching search.
New candidates will likely emerge in the interim, but at this moment, here is my breakdown of potential successors.
Hiring from the Krzyzewski coaching tree
If someone from the Krzyzewski coaching lineage gets the nod, it would come down to Chris Collins, Tommy Amaker, Johnny Dawkins or Jeff Capel—all of whom have their question marks still.
Since becoming the Northwestern head coach two weeks ago, Chris Collins has paved a path to potentially position himself to be the man in Durham down the road. If the former Duke assistant and player can find success these next few years at the only BCS program to never qualify for the NCAA Tournament, he will be firmly in the mix.
Amaker has shaped Harvard into one of the perennial top dogs in the Ivy League, while drastically elevating its recruiting profile too. Without his two best players this season, he had the Crimson in the Big Dance—where they upset third-seeded New Mexico in the Round of 64—for the second consecutive season. Amaker struggled when given the keys to a major program, though, failing to reach the NCAA Tournament as Michigan’s head coach from 2001-2007.
As the Stanford head coach, Dawkins has been too underwhelming thus far to garner serious consideration for the Duke job. The former Blue Devil guard and assistant coach has a 93-73 overall record, no NCAA tournament appearances and a 39-51 record in what has been a weak Pac-12 Conference.
Capel proved that he can win and recruit while he was the head coach at Oklahoma and VCU, guiding the Sooners and Rams to NCAA Tournament berths and producing the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft—Blake Griffin. And if recruiting is the No. 1 priority, then Capel is the guy. Widely considered to be one of Duke’s best recruiters, with a gift for relating well to youngsters, Capel’s Big 12 connections played integral roles in Duke landing Texas natives Rasheed Sulaimon and 2013 signee Matt Jones.
Capel will likely need to prove himself again as head coach. Otherwise he might be on the outside looking in when the Duke job opens up.
Butler head coach Brad Stevens
Since the epic 2010 national championship game that saw the Blue Devils hold off Steven’s Cinderella Bulldogs, Duke’s fan base (particularly on popular message boards) has had a borderline inappropriate crush on Stevens. A schematic genius with a knack for getting more out of his predominately no-name players than what is thinkable, the 36-year old has single-handedly turned Butler into a mainstay in the NCAA tournament and a consistent giant-slayer in college hoops.
Perhaps the biggest attraction is how Stevens perfectly fits the Duke program’s image. He is as humble as he is successful—highlighted by back-to-back NCAA Championship appearances in 2010 and 2011. And he’s a proven winner—with a career 166-49 record—with a resume that is as immaculate as it is impressive.
Often viewed as the future face of college basketball, Stevens will almost certainly be at the top of White’s wish list when Krzyzewski retires. The skeptics have one question: Can he recruit at an elite level? This remains to be seen, but Duke’s facilities, tradition, profile and conference will sell itself. The scary thought of Stevens with McDonald’s All-Americans would prevent the Duke program from taking any steps backwards.
The real challenge will likely be prying him away from Butler, a program that he has remained loyal to despite being heavily courted by BCS programs, including UCLA and Illinois, in recent years. Two weeks ago, Stevens signed an extension through the 2022 season. As an Indiana native, his dream job is rumored to be Indiana, which will seemingly be held by Tom Crean for the foreseeable future. If Duke comes calling one day, Stevens will have to, at the very least, strongly contemplate making the jump because his ceiling at Butler is limited.
VCU head coach Shaka Smart
Similar to Stevens, Smart is another young head coach at a mid-major school who has built a force to be reckoned with.
Smart employs a brand of basketball—Havoc: a fast, full-court pressure, 40-minutes-of-hell style of play—that may not perfectly align with the tenets of the Blue Devil program. Rather, many feel that he might be a better fit in Chapel Hill. The results of Smart’s approach, however, speak for themselves and would warrant interest from Duke: Smart owns a 111-36 record as a head coach with three straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
Few can match Smart’s intellect on the hardwood. He’s an exceptional motivator, very well spoken, and he carries himself in an admirable fashion. At a Blue Blood program, Smart would likely have little trouble recruiting top-flight players, especially since he has extensively recruited the ACC and SEC region from 2006-2009 as an assistant at Clemson and Florida, as well as his four years at VCU.
Regardless of who ascends to the throne, that person will have big shoes to fill.