This is the last go around. He means it this time. After the 2016 Olympics in Rio next August, Mike Krzyzewski is stepping down as the head coach of USA Basketball. He’ll ride off into the sunset at Duke for a while longer, write a book, do some gardening, spend time with his grandkids. Coach K will be just fine.
But who is next in the big chair for Team USA?
Jerry Colangelo, the president of USA Basketball and the guy who will get the final say on that question, has no idea. Or, phrased correctly, he’s not about to discuss it right now. Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com asked him and he danced around the question artfully.
“I plan to, right after hopefully winning another gold medal in Rio in ‘16, go to sleep and dream about who that next person might be and what he looks like,” Colangelo told CSNChicago.com. “Until then I have so many things going on in my small brain, I can’t even focus on it.”
Colangelo, in his previous moments of candor with CSNChicago.com at Summer League, also stated he had a coach in mind to replace Kryzyzewski but he didn’t want to reveal who it was.
“That is true and I’m the only one who knows it,” Colangelo said laughing. “It’s a big world and there’s a great coaches. And I don’t want to give any indication who it might be. Heck, you might wake up and find out I called you to ask if you were interested!”
There are three things needed in the next Team USA coach:
1) Players have to want to play for him. The USA has better and deeper talent than any country on earth, and it’s not close — but that only matters if guys show up. Pick someone they don’t respect, try to go too far outside the box, and you could end up with a USA “B” team (which may still win the gold, but is more vulnerable).
2) They have to be good at Xs and Os, and not wed to one system. Coach K has laid a foundation of a system that works for Team USA — pressure defense leading to up-tempo offense — because it exploits that athletic advantage we have in the USA. However, as the players putting on the jersey change, as the game evolves, this coach needs to be adaptable and not just change with it but be a step ahead of it.
3) He has to be above the petty politics of agents and shoe companies. There are a lot of people trying to influence the selection of players for Team USA, all for their own financial gain. (And to suggest Nike has not and does not have influence would be naive.) This coach needs to be able to stand up to and rise above those interests if it is best for the team.
There are two names regularly mentioned in NBA circles:
Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers. With Popovich the frontrunner.
Other names get speculated about — Brad Stevens, Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan, Doug Collins — and they could work out, but Popovich and Rivers meet the three criteria the best right now.
Popovich was the other coach strongly considered when Krzyzewski was hired back in 2004, and part of the reason Colangelo is rumored to have chosen who he did was he didn’t feel Popovich was as enthusiastic about the job. First, that would be a poor reading of Popovich, who is not a classic “rah-rah” coach but who is undoubtedly passionate. Second, that revelation led to some tension between Colangelo and Popovich that needs to be cleared up — to suggest former Air Force man Popovich was not enthusiastic about representing his country was going to cause a wound.
The rumors that Popovich has been ruled out because of that rift or age are false, according to Goodwill’s sources.
To me, Popovich makes the most sense (and he could keep this job even in a few years when he becomes a “consultant” for the Spurs).
Players love Rivers and is a better tactician than he often gets credit for. He is a damn good fallback position.
But it depends on who Colangelo has in mind. And how everybody feels a year from now, which can be an eternity in basketball circles.