Mike Krzyzewski has said this will be his last Olympics as the head coach of Team USA. Personally, I wouldn’t turn down a free trip to Rio but Krzyzewski apparently wants out. You can bet USA Basketball President Jerry Colangelo will try to talk him out of leaving, and sometimes those pitches work.
But if it doesn’t, who should be the next Team USA head coach?
There are serious fences to mend, but Gregg Popovich is the clear best choice. He’s respected by players, he has a system that fits the international game (look at the Spurs roster) and most of all he has the gravitas needed to coach a team with that many stars and egos. He’s the perfect fit. But there is real friction between him and Colangelo and Krzyzewski so it may not happen. Because adults will act like 6-year-olds with grudges.
If not Pops, Adrian Wojnarowski makes a pitch at Yahoo Sports that Celtics coach (and NBC Olympic broadcaster) Doc Rivers should be next up.
He’s come to London to work in the studio for NBC Sports on Olympic basketball, but his trip’s been an excuse to grab a notebook and visit Spain and Brazil and Argentina practices. He has a resumé with USA Basketball, including one job as a gold-medal assistant in the Goodwill Games. USA Basketball will be searching for a national team coach in 2016, and however the structure of Olympic basketball changes, Rivers is an ideal candidate….
He’s the best coach for the traditional Olympic format of NBA stars, or the proposed under-23 change that could include his son, Austin Rivers…. “To represent your country is the absolute best honor,” Rivers said, “and if you ever get the opportunity, it would be hard to turn down.”
It takes a special personality to be the coach of Team USA. It starts with having someone in that seat that players respect and will come to play for. Put bluntly, Team USA’s roster isn’t as deep if Vinny Del Negro is coaching. Then you need a coach that is above the petty politics of the sport, a guy who can simply walk in and command the locker room and get the best players in the world to agree to take on smaller roles and be part of a team not the star.
That’s a small list of guys. Rivers is on it. Popovich is on it. While there are other great college coaches I’m not sure any of them have the gravitas to get a buy in from players the way Krzyzewski does. Then there are great coaches like Phil Jackson who have the gravitas but whose style — let the team learn over time from their own mistakes — are a poor fit with the condensed Team USA schedule.
It will be interesting to see who is next. The USA has redeemed its place atop the world’s basketball pecking order, but not many guys are set to keep it there.