DURHAM — It only took a few hours after Mike Krzyzewski announced his decision to retire as Duke’s basketball coach last Wednesday for top assistant Jon Scheyer to be named as his replacement-in-waiting.
The speed with which the move was announced suggested that the line of succession was predetermined.
And it makes sense.
Scheyer, the former point guard who captained the Blue Devils to a national championship in 2010, has spent the past eight years as a member of Krzyzewski’s staff and has most recently been his top assistant and chief recruiter.
Still, Scheyer is only 33 years old and has never been a head coach at any level, which likely explains why Duke hired the search firm of Collegiate Sports Associates to screen potential candidates for the job.
Whether Scheyer was determined to be the best man for the job or simply the only one willing to take on the challenge of replacing a Hall of Fame legend, here are a few other names that may or may not have also been considered.
Capel, like Scheyer, is a former Duke point guard who was once considered the favorite to become Coach K’s heir. After returning to his alma mater following head coaching stints at VCU and Oklahoma, his star quickly began to rise again thanks to his efforts as the Blue Devils’ lead recruiter. Capel is credited with landing the heralded freshman class that led Duke to the 2015 national championship. But the luster quickly faded after Capel left the Blue Devils to take over the program at Pittsburgh. In his three seasons with the Panthers, he has yet to post a winning record and several of his key players have left the program through the NCAA’s transfer portal.
Unquestionably the most beloved of Coach K’s former players, Wojo spent the first 15 years of his coaching career at his mentor’s side as a Duke assistant. After turning down numerous head coaching opportunities, he finally decided to venture out on his own when he took the job at Marquette in 2014. But after a promising start in which his teams won 20 or more games three times and made the NCAA Tournament twice in four years, his chances for a triumphant return to Durham faded after two straight subpar seasons that led to his firing this spring.
Like Scheyer, Collins is a product of Glenbrook North High School in suburban Chicago, and like Wojo, he saw his stock rise rapidly once he left Duke to become the coach at Northwestern. The former Blue Devils shooting guard and son of longtime NBA coach Doug Collins became something of a national media darling when he led the Wildcats to a 24-12 record and their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017. Since then, however, Collins’ teams haven’t won more than 15 games in a season or finished higher than 10th in the 14-team Big Ten.
Currently the coach at Central Florida, Dawkins was Krzyzewski’s first star player. He was also one of the first former players to return to the bench with him after his playing career in the NBA. Dawkins was a trusted assistant who added the title of associate head coach to his resume in 1999 before finally leaving for Stanford in 2006.
Of all the members of Krzyzewski’s coaching tree, Amaker was perhaps the most viable candidate. After starting his head coaching career in 1997 with only modest success at Seton Hall and Michigan, the former Duke point guard has become a fixture at Harvard. In addition to being the school’s winningest coach with a 250-138 record, he is the first to lead the Crimson to a win over a ranked opponent, the first to get his team into the national rankings and the first to win an Ivy League championship — something it has now done seven times. At age 57, however, with 13 years of tenure at Harvard, Amaker may have been reluctant to make a move — especially considering the pressure associated with following the man whose name is on the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The wild card in the deck and the only potential candidate not a member of the “Duke Brotherhood,” Stevens’ name has been thrown around as a potential Krzyzewski successor since taking Butler to the national championship game in back-to-back seasons, including a loss to the Blue Devils in 2010. Speculation grew on the day Coach K announced his retirement plans because only a few hours earlier, Stevens was moved from the bench to the front office by the NBA’s Boston Celtics. The 44-year-old Indiana native has stated, however, that he’s not interested in any college jobs at this point in his career. But if things don’t work out for Scheyer and Duke begins another search in a few years, you never know — because it’s a lot easier to be the “man that replaces the man who replaced the man” than the man himself.