Coach K didn’t build a dynasty, he built an empire. The brand that is Duke University is synonymous with Krzyzewski. Even non-athletes want to be at
Krzyzewski Duke University for the lore that revolves around their men’s basketball coach and his program. Just as UCLA is the house that Wooden built, so is Duke by Coach K. The fear or perhaps guilty pleasure is that Duke, like other historic programs, will falter with the stepping down of their legendary head coach.
UCLA still survives on the magic made by the Wizard himself, but since Wooden’s 10-title run ended in 1973, there has only been 1 championship which is now nearing its 30 year anniversary mark. Ben Howland was its best chance for renewed glory with the trio of Kevin Love, Darren Collison, and this guy named Russell Westbrook running the show, but empty Final Four trip keeps the Bruins searching for someone to mimic Wooden’s perfection. Bob Knight got his three ‘ships for Indiana but that last hurrah was in 1987 and anyone who isn’t a basketball aficionado barely recognizes the Hoosiers for much more than having that crazy coach who threw a chair. North Carolina took a similar nosedive as UCLA although Roy Williams eventually came to save the day. No one remembers Bill Guthridge who took over for Dean Smith in a scramble after Mr. Four Corners retired just two months before the start of the 1997-1998 season. Guthridge had been Smith’s assistant since 1972 and took the Heels to 2 Final Fours in his 3 seasons before stepping down but the program couldn’t carry the tradition any farther than that as Guthridge led to UNC opening the door for *cough* Matt Doherty.
So what separates Duke, Coach K, and Jon Scheyer from being another blue-blood that middles for the foreseeable future? An actual succession plan. UCLA picked a stud up-and-comer in Bobby Bartow to follow John Wooden. He went 52-9 during his time at the helm for the Bruins, and while a great hire, he was not the successor–he was just the next hire. Bartow had no loyalty to the Blue and Gold so he up and left to do a start-up for UAB leaving UCLA after 2 seasons which set the trend for coaches only being there for a handful of years as top brass kept doing things the way they had always done them until they hired Steve Lavin in 1996 who at least grew up in California and understood the richness of what it meant to be the head man in Westwood, but who knows if he would’ve been tabbed as the man for the job had Jim Harrick not been fired just before the start of the season forcing the promotion of Assistant Coach Lavin. What Duke has done is taken a page from the ancient manuscript of Adolph Rupp and Kentucky who once understood how heirs to empires work.
There was always an end in sight for Rupp. At 70 years old, he would be forced to retire per a University of Kentucky policy that required all employees to step down upon reaching that culminating age. Joe B. Hall played one season for Kentucky and eventually became Rupp’s assistant, serving in that role for 7 seasons, all the while being groomed to take over as head man when Rupp would retire. The transition was no mystery and while Joe B. Hall isn’t a household name, in his 13 seasons he brought Kentucky 8 more SEC regular season titles, 3 Final Fours, 1 NCAA Runner-up, and 1 National Championship. He even has a bronze sculpture outside of Wildcat Coal Lodge in honor of his contributions to the Wildcats. This same concept of succession fell into UNC’s lap after their initial flub. Kansas fans still cringe a little thinking about the departure of Roy Williams to North Carolina after 15 seasons, 9 regular-season conference championships, 4 Final Fours and 2 national runner-ups with the Jayhawks (granted that cringe is a little smaller now that Bill Self has his second championship), but Williams was a graduate of UNC and as a student studied under Dean Smith, then serving as his assistant for 10 seasons. Williams reportedly was going to take the Carolina job when Guthridge stepped down, but held on to the Kansas position until he watched Doherty nearly bury it. As much as his resume reads Kansas, he has Carolina blood and was the de-facto successor despite taking a slight detour.
Jon Scheyer is on the immediate path to lead the Blue Devils. Molded not only by Krzyzewski but the University itself to take the baton. Coach K was miles ahead of the pack already so Scheyer has a good head start on other coaches taking over programs this upcoming season, and he knows how to run in the manner that brings championships. It will be a little sad in 40 years when Scheyer will be the Google searched question of “Who took over for Coach K” but he and the entirety of the Duke Nation will be able to rest easy as his resume will include a couple more national titles and the continuing empire that was built on the shoulders of Krzyzewski.
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