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More Thoughts On The Duke Transition

Lots of negative examples and maybe one positive one

North Carolina v Duke
DURHAM, NC - MARCH 06: Jon Scheyer #30 of the Duke Blue Devils goes to hug coach Mike Krzyzewski on senior night during their game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 6, 2010 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

As everyone knows, Jon Scheyer is going to step into some very big shoes next spring when Mike Krzyzewski steps down at Duke.

Over at, David Cobb looks at some of the more challenging transitions in coaching history and how they went.

Among them: Jim Calhoun to Kevin Ollie (UConn), Bob Knight to Mike Davis (Indiana), Adolph Rupp to Joe B. Hall (Kentucky), Lute Olson to Sean Miller (Arizona), Gary Williams to Mark Turgeon (Maryland), John Wooden to Gene Bartow (UCLA), Dean Smith to Bill Guthridge (UNC), Denny Crum to Rick Pitino (Louisville) and John Thompson to Craig Escherick (Georgetown).

You can kind of split these into two categories which overlap at times: 1) fan satisfaction and 2) actual success.

Kevin Ollie won a national championship before he and UConn had an acrimonious split along with some NCAA issues. At Indiana, the 2000 split with Knight was painful and still hasn’t been fully resolved. Hall won a national title but was never able to satisfy Kentucky fans. Maryland fans have never bonded with Mark Turgeon the way they did with Gary Williams and most schools would have killed for Bartow’s two-year record at UCLA but following Wooden was impossible.

Sean Miller did okay at Arizona until people realized how corrupt he was. They mostly accepted him though and that wasn’t easy following Olson. Smith tried to control the program after retirement and that really didn't work out well at all. Pitino worked out well at Louisville and held up fine until scandals caught up to him and Escherick was never a success at Georgetown.

What this article doesn't touch on, because Cobb really can’t know, is our suspicion that Krzyzewski has paid close attention to several of these transitions. He’s bound to have followed Indiana’s and UNC’s closely and UCLA’s is the closest analog to Duke’s so we’re sure he’s aware of what Wooden's successors went through.

There’s not much positive to draw from any of those. At UCLA, Gene Bartow and Gary Cunningham both had better winning percentages than Wooden and Larry Brown did very well too. And all three were gone within three seasons.

Smith’s control was so complete that Matt Doherty said that Smith hired him, rather than AD Dick Baddour, in a last-ditch effort to keep the position “in the family,” as UNC folks like to say.

And no one wants what happened at IU. Whatever you think of Knight’s demise, his anger wrecked Indiana basketball and divided the fanbase, and that’s never really healed.

So we’re sure that Coach K has studied those situations and learned the necessary lessons.

But where could you find a better model?

Well we have a suggestion, although it may be a bit out of left field: Butler.

At Butler, the program is seen as bigger than any coach. Since 1989, the Bulldogs have been coached by Barry Collier, Thad Matta, Todd Lickliter, Brad Stevens, Brandon Miller, Chris Holtmann and LaVall Jordan.

Miller was the sole failure and that’s a relative term: the guy had issues that made coaching impossible. Who knows how things might have turned out for him otherwise?

Because the program is geared to success and the fans understand they won’t help by destroying the coach.

The Butler Way works.

So we’d hope that Duke uses that as a sort of template and not least of all the fans. Duke fans are often called the best in the country. We think that’s true but let’s face it, it’s been easy being Duke fans for several decades now.

If life is perfect, Scheyer will continue the incredible success Krzyzewski has had in Durham. Since it rarely is perfect, what matters is how Duke fans respond to adversity. Are we going to be spoiled brats who think winning just happens? Or are we going to be supportive and optimistic?

There is a Duke Way too and it makes us different from UNC, UCLA and Kentucky and the rest. Coach K, we’re sure, has studied these things carefully but fans don’t need to, at least not in the same way. We just need to keep being Duke.