CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander surveyed more than 100 coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, the coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be posting the results on 10 questions asked.
Mike Krzyzewski built Duke from nearly nothing into something that has become one of college basketball’s biggest brands via sustained success that touches five different decades. The Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach has won five national titles, been to 12 Final Fours, and recorded more Division I victories than anybody else. He’s generally regarded as the greatest men’s college basketball coach in history.
Coach K has been the face of the sport for a while.
He’s been the voice of the sport for a while.
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But, you might’ve heard, Krzyzewski is retiring after this season, at which point a void must be filled. With that in mind, Matt Norlander and I asked more than 100 college basketball coaches the following question:
With Mike Krzyzewski retiring soon, who is the best person to replace him as the most prominent voice/face of college basketball?
Quotes that stood out
On Jay Wright”[Jay Wright] is highly regarded and respected. He’s won a ton of games and has two national championships. And he doesn’t have baggage and asterisks next to his name.” “It’s Jay Wright. Factor in that he’s being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and that will change things. And let’s say [Gregg Popovich] is not going to go back and coach the Olympic team. … All of the sudden, that might change the dynamic [if Wright is offered the opportunity]. You put feathers in Jay’s cap — and that might elevate him a little bit [more].”
On Tom Izzo”He has a broad view of the game. He’s firmly established where he is. He knows who he is — and his school knows who he is. He is extraordinarily passionate about the game and the profession.” “As an ambassador of the game, here’s a guy who’s experienced so much — good and bad — and he’s been consistent. I have a lot of admiration for a guy who’s been at one place. Tremendous respect for Tom.”
On John Calipari”Calipari has had a tremendous voice for college basketball for a long time — and he will not let up. Cal moves the needle across the landscape — good and bad.””On Tony Bennett”He is smart, charismatic and places value in things that matter for the game and student-athletes. Virginia has not had the one-and-dones like Duke — but [Bennett] played in the NBA and has developed and produced several NBA players.”
Before I get into the results of the poll, I’m compelled to share one more quote — specifically a quote from a coach who simply doesn’t believe Coach K is replaceable as the most prominent person in college basketball. Here’s what he said: “No one can replace Mike. No one’s even close. That isn’t stopping the posturing and campaigning, though. It’s almost like 2024 presidential candidates lining up for the Iowa caucuses. But unfortunately, as much as some would like to convince you otherwise, no one can have that level of voice and presence, to go with the respect and maneuverability, that Mike had.”
Honestly, I think that’s probably true.
Remember, Krzyzewski isn’t just the winningest Division I men’s college basketball coach of all-time, he’s also the person who went 75-1 as the leader of USA Basketball while guiding the United States to three straight Olympic Gold Medals. He’s coached everybody from NBA legends like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant to college sensations like Christian Laettner, J.J. Redick and Zion Williamson. You can intelligently argue nobody has coached as many great players as Mike Krzyzewski has coached. As a result, everything he’s said and done, good or bad, has created headlines for years and years and years.
Nobody is completely filling those shoes.
But, according to the coaches we polled, Jay Wright is best equipped to give it a shot because, like many coaches noted, he’s respected in all circles, in possession of two national titles, free of any notable scandals, headed to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, and perhaps on his way to being a future head coach of USA Basketball. Beyond that, Wright works in a power conference and major media market.
So he checks a lot of boxes.
As we discussed on Thursday’s episode of the Eye on College Basketball Podcast, some of the questions we ask in this Candid Coaches series have but one obvious answer. For instance — though time will tell just how Chris Beard will actually do at Texas — it seems pretty clear, at this point in time, based on everything he accomplished before he got to Texas, and everything he’s done since he got to Texas, that Beard was the best hire this offseason. So when we asked coaches who was the best hire this offseason, it would not have been crazy for Beard to receive 100% of the vote. He really is the only right answer right now.
But for this question, there are lots of reasonable answers. Jay Wright is a great one, of course, but so is Tom Izzo, John Calipari, Tony Bennett and every other coach listed above. Sensible arguments can be made for any of them, which is among the reasons college basketball is in good hands going forward.
Will the sport miss Krzyzewski?
But plenty of relevant voices remain. And it’ll be those figures — as well as others who are less obvious in this moment — who guide college basketball into a new era with new rules and a changing landscape.
Previously in Candid Coaches: