May 24, 2012 • Huddle Up

Replacing Coach Krzyzewski

How do you replace a guy like Mike Krzyzewski?

It’s a tricky question, but one USA Basketball seemingly must answer within the next few years as the well-respected Duke coach announced this year likely will be his last leading the American squad. If that is indeed his decision, it won’t be long before basketball pundits begin bouncing names of successors. But why wait?

Replacing Coach K is a tall order, and whether you love or loathe Duke, you simply can’t argue with his status among the basketball greats. Not college basketball greats. Greats. Period.

Balancing Team USA was never about Xs and Os or scouting opponents. Basketball is America’s game, and we have more than enough talent to compete with the world’s best. The biggest problem is knowing that fact and managing the egos and sense of entitlement that comes with it. That’s always been among Coach K’s many strengths, and the reason is simple: Respect.

There’s something about Krzyzewski that’s difficult to articulate. NBA stars comment on their desire to play for him and the 65-year-old always seems to say the right things. He’s a consistent winner who is never intimidated by a challenge. Who else fits that profile?

Analysts tossed around John Calipari’s name, but one could argue he’s just the “flavor of the month.” He has experience with star players and egos, but you wonder whether the NBA’s best would buy into him the way they do Coach K. As far as college basketball goes, I don’t know that any name is more intriguing than Tom Izzo. He embodies the Krzyzewski profile that has the tools to balance the mental and physical aspects of the game, but is he up for the challenge?

I don’t like the idea of choosing a current or recent NBA coach. When you make that decision you put your team chemistry at risk. Think of the tussle between Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy and consider whether those two could ever co-exist on the international stage (not that Van Gundy will lead Team USA anytime soon). That type of drama isn’t unique to the Orlando Magic, and players throughout the league develop impressions of competing coaches based on their individual observations. I just find it hard to believe you can find one NBA coach that can win the respect of all the league’s superstars.

Regardless of whether we can put the spotlight on an individual name in 2012 means nothing for 2016. It’s possible someone rises to the top over the next couple years, cementing himself as the prime candidate. Possessing the intangibles necessary to take on such a heavy task is difficult, but it’s not impossible.

For now, all we can do is speculate.

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