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Some Thoughts On Coach K’s Retirement Press Conference

The man continues to learn and apply lessons, and he’s doing it now, too.

St. John’s v Duke
DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 23: Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils yells at Jon Scheyer #30 during the first half against the St. John’s Red Storm at Cameron Indoor Stadium February 23, 2008 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke defeated St. John’s 86-56.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

There were a lot of interesting things from Coach K’s press conference Thursday in which he discussed his retirement and the plan for Jon Scheyer to take over.

This was perhaps the key quote: “This process is the best succession plan that we can have. Don’t try to compare it to any other succession plan. This is ours and we’ve got the people in place to get it done.”

This is intriguing for several reasons. First, that “this is the best that we can have.” That implies many variables were considered.

Second, “don’t try to compare it to any other succession plan.” We’ll come back to that.

And third, “we’ve got the people in place to get it done.” That implies that the burden won’t fall on Jon Scheyer alone, and not just on his staff. The infrastructure of the program is able to handle a change at the top.

As we said earlier, we’re pretty sure that when Krzyzewski started thinking about retirement, whenever that was, he started looking at examples of, well, succession plans. And who might he have looked at?

Probably John Wooden and Gary Cunningham at UCLA. That was the most difficult one ever attempted. But closer to home, he probably looked at how Maryland handled Lefty Driesell’s fall, how Terry Holland gave way to Jeff Jones, how Wake Forest handled Skip Prosser’s tragic death and maybe what just happened at Louisville.

We’re sure he followed what happened with Bob Knight at Indiana very closely indeed. But inevitably, he was bound to follow Dean Smith’s retirement at UNC most closely of all.

It would be hard not to.

We remember when UNC was trying to replace AD John Swofford in 1997 and the two leading candidates were Dick Baddour and Matt Kupec. According to a report in what later became the ACC Area Sports Journal, when the committee interviewed the two candidates, Smith went after Kupec so aggressively that he cut him off before he could finish his answers.

Kupec later withdrew, leaving the job for Baddour, and later left UNC under the whiff of scandal.

After we put things together, we thought that Smith simply wanted a pliable Baddour but after the revelations about Kupec’s ethics, Smith may have had other reasons.

Either way, he got a pliable Baddour.

When Smith retired later in 1997, about a week before practice was to start, UNC had little choice but to hire an assistant and the logical choice was Bill Guthridge.

Baddour went on to hire Matt Doherty, Carl Torbush, John Bunting and Butch Davis, and then had to pay the price for UNC’s massive academic fraud scandal, resigning in 2011.

As there are often are between these two programs, there are parallels at Duke.

Nina King was hired just before Coach K’s announcement and like Baddour was also in-house. And Duke obviously has announced Jon Scheyer will replace his boss after next season.

UNC ultimately recovered from these self-inflicted disasters, although the mythical “Carolina Way” is history and so its reputation as a Southern Ivy.

We would hope and expect that Coach K saw Smith trying to control his program after he retired, that he had a direct hand in the hiring of Guthridge, Doherty and Roy Williams. We would assume he would learn that having a weak, pliable AD is not a good strategy (and we don’t think that Nina King will be one).

Our guess is that Krzyzewski observed what happened at UNC and decided that he was going to do things differently.

So don’t compare Duke’s succession. Unless something changes, it’s not at all going to be the same.