When Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski retires after the upcoming season, ending a 42-year run at Duke with at least five national championships to his credit, he’ll hand his whistle off to a coach who is more than four decades his junior. Jon Scheyer is on track to be the youngest coach in the ACC by a full decade when he succeeds Coach K in the 2022-23 season, and the task of carrying on his mentor’s legacy will be daunting.
But Scheyer won’t be the first in the profession to follow a legend. There are plenty of other coaches over the years who’ve been asked to succeed all-time greats, and they have experienced varying levels of success. At a recent press conference when Krzyewski expounded on his decision, he asked that the Duke faithful not compare the succession plan to others in college basketball. “This is ours, and we’ve got the people in place to get it done,” he said.
But comparisons are only natural, and it only makes sense to study how other successions involving legendary college basketball coaches have gone over the years.
By limiting this examination to those who spent at least 20 years as the head coach of a school where they won a national title, some notable names are left out of this piece. Among them are Billy Donovan, John Chaney, Jerry Tarkanian, Jud Heathcote, Eddie Sutton, Nolan Richardson and Gene Keady. That such titans of college basketball are excluded based on the 20 years and a national title criteria is merely another illustration of the rarified air the Krzyzewski inhabits. After all, John Wooden is the only coach with more national titles than Coach K.
Here is a rundown of how the successions involving other former all-time greats have gone. Please note that the records included here count any victories that may have been vacated later.
Jim Calhoun to Kevin Ollie
Calhoun’s record (1986-2012): 629-245 (72%), 3x national champion
Ollie’s record (2012-18): 127-79 (61.7%), 1x national champion
After a 26-year run at UConn that included three national titles, Calhoun retired shortly before the 2012-13 season and ceded the reins to his former point guard and assistant Kevin Ollie. The 13-year NBA veteran inherited a team faced with a postseason ban due to poor APR scores and led it to a solid 20-10 record. It was a promising beginning for the Ollie era, and the Huskies cashed in the following season by winning the 2014 national title. The accomplishment was somewhat unexpected since UConn was a No. 7 seed in that NCAA Tournament.
Things deteriorated from there, however, as UConn appeared in just one more NCAA Tournament over Ollie’s final four seasons. The Huskies finished with losing records in Ollie’s final two seasons, and he was fired after the 2017-18 season amid alleged NCAA violations that resulted in a three-year show cause for Ollie. He recently accepted the head coaching position with the Overtime Elite high school program.
Bob Knight to Mike Davis
Knight’s record (1971-2000): 659-242 (73.1%), 3x national champion
Davis’ record (2000-06): 115-79 (59.3%)
After three seasons as an assistant under Knight, Davis took over the head job on an interim basis for the 2000-01 season following Knight’s falling out with university administration. It was his first head coaching job, and after leading the Hoosiers to a 21-13 record and an NCAA Tournament appearance, Davis landed the full-time gig. Ultimately, the Hoosiers plateaued with a a run to the 2002 national title game, where they lost to Maryland as a No. 5 seed in Davis’ second year.
Indiana missed the NCAA Tournament in 2004 and 2005, and a second-round exit from the 2006 Big Dance spelled the end for Davis after six seasons on the job. Davis just wrapped up his third season as the coach at Detroit Mercy after stints at UAB and Texas Southern.
Adolph Rupp to Joe B. Hall
Rupp’s record (1930-72): 876-190 (82.2%), 4x national champion
Hall’s record (1972-85): 297-100 (74.8%)
After 41 seasons under Rupp that included four NCAA Tournament titles, his former player and assistant Joe B. Hall got the gig. Hall reached three Final Fours during his 13-year tenure and won the 1978 national title in his sixth season with a team that finished 30-2.
After wrapping up a relatively lackluster 18-13 season in 1985, Hall resigned despite the fact that he was just 56. He was quoted by the Chicago Tribune at the time as saying, “I didn’t want to be an old coach.” Kentucky athletic director Cliff Hagan said he was “truly shocked” by the decision. Hall, now 92, has never coached again.
Lute Olson to Sean Miller
Olson’s record (1983-2007): 587-190 (75.5%), 1x national champion
Miller’s record (2009-21): 302-109 (73.5%)
Finding a permanent successor to Lute Olson took some time due to the circumstances surrounding his exit from the head coaching job after 24 seasons. Newly-hired assistant Kevin O’Neill assumed the job on an interim basis for the 2007-08 season when it was announced that Olson was taking a leave of absence just before the season opener. Olson planned to return for the 2008-09 season, but his retirement was announced shortly before that season began as he dealt with complications from a stroke. Another interim was named as Russ Pennell took over.
Ultimately, the full-time job ended up with Sean Miller for the 2009-10 season after Miller’s successful five-year run at Xavier. Miller, who had not previously played or coached at Arizona or for Olson, held the job for 12 seasons until the school dismissed him in April.
Miller was dismissed from Arizona in April 2021 after succeeding the legendary Olson in 2009.
Gary Williams to Mark Turgeon
Williams’ record (1989-2011): 461-252 (64.7%), 1x national champion
Turgeon’s record (2011-present): 221-113 (66.2%)
After 22 seasons at Maryland that included the 2002 national title, Williams retired in May 2011. The timing gave Maryland enough time to conduct a full search before the 2011-12 season, and they settled on Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon. Though he had no direct ties to Maryland or Williams, Turgeon had already been a head coach of three programs and had been to NCAA Tournaments with Wichita State and Texas A&M when he took the job.
Turgeon just finished his 10th season, and although he’s yet to lead a team past the Sweet 16, Turgeon’s squads have been to five of the last six NCAA Tournaments. He recently inked a three-year contract extension with the school.
John Wooden to Gene Bartow
Wooden’s record (1948-75): 620-147 (80.8%), 10x national champion
Bartow’s record (1975-77): 52-9 (85.2%)
Wooden was just 64 when he retired after winning his 10th national championship in a 12-year span following the 1975 season. Not surprisingly, his all-time great run with the Bruins, which began in 1948, created unfairly high expectations for his successor.
That man was Gene Bartow, the former coach at Valparaiso, Memphis and Illinois. He arrived at UCLA after one season with the Illini and led UCLA to a 52-9 record in his two seasons. But after the Bruins fell short of a national title for the second consecutive season, Bartow jetted for UAB, where he helped launch the school’s sports program as athletic director and basketball coach. Bartow coached UAB from 1979-96 and stayed on as athletic director until 2000.
Dean Smith to Bill Guthridge
Smith’s record (1961-97): 879-254 (77.6%) 2x national champion
Guthridge’s record (1997-2000): 80-28 (74.1%)
After 36 seasons as UNC’s head coach, Dean Smith retired unexpectedly just weeks before the 1997-98 season. He was 66 at the time and handed the whistle to a loyal assistant in 60-year-old Bill Guthridge, who had been with Smith on the UNC staff for three decades.
A pair of Final Four appearances highlight Guthridge’s resume from his three seasons on the job, but his final two seasons as head coach were a slog that saw the Tar Heels go just 19-13 in league play. Overall, his short tenure looks like a success in hindsight, although the talent level dropped following Smith’s departure. The handoff from Guthridge to Matt Doherty also could have gone better, but the Tar Heels eventually got through it and convinced Roy Williams to come back to Chapel Hill as coach.
Denny Crum to Rick Pitino
Crum’s record (1971-2001): 675-295 (69.6%), 2x national champion
Pitino’s record (2001-17): 414-143 (74.4%), 1x national champion
After 30 seasons and two national titles, Crum retired from Louisville at the age of 64 following the 2000-01 season after failing to win an NCAA Tournament game in four consecutive seasons. His replacement had no direct ties to Crum or Louisville but was nonetheless well-known in the state’s basketball scene.
Pitino, who coached Kentucky from 1989-97, had resigned as coach of the Boston Celtics less than two months earlier and accepted the job. He went on two win two national titles in 16 seasons with the Cardinals, although one of them has since been vacated. After a controversial ending to his Louisville tenure following the 2016-17 season, Pitino coached in Greece. Now 68, he just finished his first season back in college basketball by leading Iona to the NCAA Tournament.
John Thompson to Craig Esherick
Thompson’s record (1972-1999): 278-151 (65.3%), 1x national champion
Esherick’s record (1999-2004): 103-74 (58.2%)
Though just 57, Thompson resigned midway through the 1998-99 season, which was his 27th leading the program. His legendary run included the 1984 national title, and he passed the baton to Esherick, a longtime assistant to Thompson and one of his former players.
Esherick spent five and a half seasons on the job and peaked with a Sweet 16 appearance in 2001. However, that marked his only NCAA Tournament appearance as the Hoyas’ head coach, and he was replaced with Thompson’s son, John Thompson III, for the 2004-05 season. Esherick has a law degree and is now a professor at George Mason and the associate director at the university’s center for sport management.