The Blue Devils already had to replace 3,194 minutes, 1,267 points and 568 rebounds. Now, they have to replace the woman directing all of that.
Head coach Joanne P. McCallie’s resignation came as a shock Thursday morning, though it should have always seemed unlikely that Duke would let its women’s basketball coach play out the last year on her contract. Coaches can't recruit well if they’re not going to be the ones coaching their recruits. Prospective candidates see it as a red flag. Players can have difficulty playing when their mentor’s future is so uncertain, as McCallie herself said.
That there had been radio silence on McCallie’s future did not bode well for anyone associated with the program. The coaching carousel has already spun around, making it likely that she and Duke Athletics were working on an extension, and a lack of concurrence or acquiescence made a resignation her preference. Duke Athletic Director Kevin White’s rave statement makes this seem a little more likely, though at this point it’s still just informed speculation.
It’s easy to see why White would be apprehensive about an extension for McCallie—while she’s continued to get results on the court for the most part, recruiting has taken a significant hit since an investigation into the program in 2016. Per ESPN, McCallie never failed to bring in a top-10 class from 2010 to 2015, but hasn’t recruited a class of similar pedigree since. Though last year’s class ranked No. 13 nationally, it looks significantly worse now after Azana Baines transferred to Virginia Tech.
You don't reach the NCAA tournament 10 times in 12 years by accident, but this upcoming season was shaping up to be the Blue Devils' most challenging in McCallie's tenure. The last of her heralded recruits have gone, and only a couple of players have had the kind of seasons Duke would expect. McCallie proved a lot last year and was poised this season to truly prove just how good of a coach she was, once and for all.
Now, the Blue Devils have a roster of just 10 players, three of whom are either coming off of significant injuries or still rehabbing. Their 2020 recruiting class brought in just one player, and she isn’t even a consensus top-100. There’s only two possible lineups that have played any sort of time together. And now those players, still expecting to be able to compete for a conference title, are waiting to find out who their next coach is, all while hoping that their tentative return date isn't threatened by an ongoing global pandemic.
In theory, it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to find a good candidate to ensure that this program is headed in the right direction. Only three openings this past offseason could have been considered more attractive, and for two of those (Texas and Notre Dame), their next hire was a foregone conclusion. Cameron Indoor Stadium should be able to put awe into the eyes of any coach, transfer or recruit. White should make no resource unavailable to the next coach and even a surprise appearance from Mike Krzyzewski here or there could go a long way toward maintaining that intangible elite status Duke women's basketball once had.
But unless the next hire is internal, White may have been a bit too late in conducting his negotiations with McCallie, and the window for hiring another head coach may have closed. With the team scheduled to report to Durham in less than a month, he will begin to conduct his first major coaching search. If White doesn’t land the program on its feet, the Blue Devils could continue to spiral in the wrong direction.