If Duke swings and misses on who it hires to replace Kevin White, the athletic department will be reeling in chaos for years.
As we've already discussed in a previous column, Duke’s next athletic director will likely be faced with the daunting task of finding Coach K’s successor, which in itself is enough to define an AD’s legacy. On top of that, there's a good chance the future AD will have to find a new head coach for the football team as well.
I’m not writing this to analyze whether Mike Krzyzewski, David Cutcliffe or both will retire in the near future. What I do want to emphasize, however, is that the person Duke names as its next athletic director has the power to dictate the success of the school’s revenue sports for the foreseeable future.
So who could be the next AD? I did some digging to find potential candidates:
Nina King, Senior Deputy AD, Duke
King has an advantage on the rest of the field considering her familiarity within the current program, but the concern with her is that she has never actually been an athletic director.
I can’t say whether familiarity with the inner workings of Duke Athletics is more or less important than previous AD experience, but asking a first-time AD to hire Coach K’s replacement and find a new head coach for the football program is a tall order.
Nevertheless, King's experience as Vice Chair of the NCAA Women's Basketball Committee gives her familiarity with making high-stakes executive decisions. Furthermore, she had a main role in creating the Rubenstein-Bing ACE program, a civic engagement program between Stanford and Duke student-athletes.
King will likely be an AD someday, but will she be the AD to replace White?
Danny White, AD, UCF
Danny is Kevin White’s son, but it’s truly his credentials running his own athletic program that make him a prime candidate. What the younger White has done at UCF is tremendously impressive, creating a football and basketball culture at a school that was not known for either.
His two big hires were Scott Frost as football head coach and former Blue Devil Johnny Dawkins as basketball head coach, and both paid dividends. In 2019, Dawkins took UCF to the second round of the NCAA tournament, the furthest the Knights have ever made it in March Madness. And in 2017, UCF football went 13-0 and capped the season off with a bowl win against Auburn.
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There’s a lot of upside in looking at White for the job. His experience with not just hiring head coaches, but successfully finding the right ones, at UCF is a major plus. With Duke’s next AD having to do exactly that in Durham, White should be a top candidate.
Mike Cragg, AD, St. John’s
Cragg is not exactly the AD of a powerhouse athletic school, but he is already in the good graces of Duke. Prior to taking the athletic director position at St. John’s in 2018, Cragg spent more than 30 years within Duke Athletics, serving a critical role in developing the men’s basketball team’s brand.
It’s still too early to tell whether Cragg’s hire of Mike Anderson as the Red Storm's men's basketball coach was the right one—St. John’s currently sits 7-7 in Anderson's first season leading the team following a 17-15 finish last year.
Cragg’s AD resume would largely be bolstered by Anderson’s success, and if the latter produces a solid season that makes him look like the correct hire, that’ll certainly help boost Cragg’s case for the Duke job.
Vince Tyra, AD, Louisville
The right person for the job very well could be a fellow AD within the ACC. Tyra knows his way around difficult obstacles, most notably rebuilding Louisville's basketball program after the 2015 scandal surrounding Rick Pitino devastated the school.
Choosing Coach K’s replacement will be one of the most high-profile coaching hires in years. Having an experienced, cool-headed AD like Tyra running the ship is an attractive thought, and is the reason he finds himself on my list.
Stan Wilcox, Executive Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, NCAA
Since 2018, Wilcox has served as the NCAA's executive vice president of regulatory affairs, providing "strategic direction to enforcement, the Eligibility Center, and academic and membership affairs at the national office." His true qualifying experience, however, was his time as Florida State's athletic director from 2013 to 2018.
Similar to Cragg, Wilcox has ties to Duke from early on in his career, serving as the Blue Devils’ Senior Deputy AD from 2008 to 2013. He’s been around high-profile programs for quite some time, and while he did not make the successful hire of Florida State men’s basketball head coach Leonard Hamilton, Wilcox has had the benefit of being around premier coaches for much of his career.
The biggest blip on Wilcox's tenure at Florida State is the football program's fall after former head coach Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M, with Wilcox's hiring of Willie Taggart as Fisher's replacement proving to be a major mistake.
Wilcox is certainly an appealing candidate, but the fact that he struggled to find the right head coach for Florida State football is alarming considering he’d likely have to do the same with both men’s basketball and football in Durham.
Kirby Hocutt, AD, Texas Tech
Hocutt is an intriguing candidate for the position. Since the start of his current tenure in 2011, he's had to name multiple head coaches for both Texas Tech’s football and men’s basketball programs. While his first three basketball hires were largely disappointing, his most recent hire of Chris Beard has been an injection of life into the program—in 2019, the Red Raiders reached their first-ever national championship game.
It’s too early to tell if Matt Wells—Hocutt's replacement for former football head coach Kliff Kingsbury—will work out, but Hocutt was also the one who hired Kingsbury. To put Hocutt’s AD resume simply, he has already done what Duke will need him to do: find a successful men’s basketball head coach and get a football head coach that players want to come play for.
Hocutt does come with his share of controversy, however, as former Texas Tech women’s basketball head coach Marlene Stollings filed a lawsuit against him regarding mistreatment of women. Stollings and former softball head coach Adrian Gregory—who were both Hocutt hires—each faced player abuse allegations during their time at Texas Tech and are no longer with the school.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that Wilcox remains Florida State's athletic director. The Chronicle regrets the error.