The Duke-North Carolina rivalry has extended its borders this year as the schools held dueling press conferences to introduce their new coaches.
Both teams have maintained an other-worldly level of success for generations and have been the models of coaching stability in a notoriously fickle sport.
Three men — Dean Smith and Roy Williams at UNC, and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke — have coached their respective schools in the rivalry for a total of 95 years, winning a combined 2,461 games. Smith and Wiliams are responsible for more than half of UNC basketball’s all-time wins — 1,364 of 2,294. If he wins 20 games a year, Hubert Davis will be able to knock Smith and Williams’ share of Carolina wins below 50% in the year 2043.
If the Blue Devils win 20 games this year, Krzyzewski’s last, Coach K will be responsible for half of Duke’s all-time wins. He’s currently won 1,097 of their 2,214.
For nearly two decades, Coach K and Ol’ Roy have been the face of the best rivalry in sports. While both Hall of Famers are known for their intensity on the sidelines and the practice floor, they’ve also participated in a detente in the hostilities between the Tar Heels and Blue Devils on the court. The coaches have displayed mutual respect — perhaps grudging at times — and worked together on various coaching committees to help improve the sport.
It’s only fitting that both would announce their intention to step away in the same offseason. Both schools also followed eerily similar processes to replace their legendary coach, choosing a former player and longtime assistant to step up into the top spot.
Carolina will go with Davis, who finished his Tar Heel career in 1992, played in the NBA, announced for ESPN, then spent nine years on the bench next to Williams. Like Smith, whom he played for, and Williams, who hired him off the ESPN set, Davis is level-headed, understated and intensely loyal.
Duke chose Jon Scheyer, who led Duke to the national championship in 2010 with his intense play and often wild faces on the court. After an injury-shortened attempt to play in the pros, he returned to Duke in 2014 and has been on Coach K’s staff ever since. Like Krzyzewski at his start, he’s an extremely young — 33, 10 years younger than any other ACC coach — guard from the Chicago area.
Davis is a Tar Heel through and through. His uncle, Walter, hit a shot to cap a comeback against Duke that fans still talk about 47 years later, and Hubert had to talk Smith into offering him a scholarship.
“The first time that I set foot on this floor, it just felt like home,” he said.
When Davis was introduced as coach, the Smith Center floor was packed with former Tar Heels, teammates and former UNC players who never shared the floor with him alike.
He chose a staff that included former Tar Heels who played for Smith and Williams.
“You can’t do this job unless you’re a Carolina guy,” he declared. “It’s impossible. You can’t coach here, you can’t recruit here, you can’t work here. Unless you have been here, you’ve experienced it, you have lived in.”
Scheyer is a Blue Devil through and through.
“Jon Scheyer is Duke,” incoming athletics director Nina King said. “His blood, sweat and tears are in these hardwoods.”
More former Blue Devils showed up for his introductory press conference than for Coach K’s farewell the day before. His assistants will be the two men he’s been working with — Nolan Smith and Chris Carrawell, both, like Scheyer, former Coach K team captains.
With both schools going from two aging lions of the sport to two men making their head coaching debuts, what could it mean for the rivalry?
Much like the complaint about current national politics, things seem to be getting much more polarized. Instead of two coaches who have spent years working together, we have two men used to their own particular shade of blue and nothing else.
That includes being part of two of the most intense moments of the Carolina-Duke rivalry.
The first was the “Bloody Montross” game in 1992 when UNC center Eric Montross returned to the floor after getting stitches in the locker room to help upset Duke. Hubert Davis played 38 minutes in the game and scored a team-high 16 points, praising Montross’ toughness afterward.
Fifteen years later, when Gerald Henderson broke Tyler Hansbrough’s nose with an elbow, Jon Scheyer was standing right behind the UNC center. He played 35 minutes in the game, scoring 10.
Krzyzewski and Williams both spoke openly about how they saw themselves as stewards of the rivalry and considered Duke-Carolina something to cherish while going all-out to win. They had the luxury of taking that approach as the ends of their Hall of Fame careers approached. One loss, even to their rival, wasn’t going to change their legacies.
The men replacing them have seen the rivalry up close and been splashed with the blood. They’re both about to feel the pressure of replacing a legend and know the leash will be short. All eyes will be on the rivalry games, and all verdicts will be judged on how they perform in them.
The greatest rivalry in sports, one that stops hearts regularly, is about to get a hearty shot of adrenaline.
In other words, things are about to get chippy.