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Sunday, March 13, 2022

Purdue basketball as model for Duke basketball? (non-law)

Purdue lost to Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament final today, which undermines the logic of his post. But I decided to go with it anyway.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski will retire at the end of this NCAA Tournament, handing the reins to Associate Head Coach Jon Scheyer as hand-picked successor, over apparent objections by the university president. The impending change has prompted numerous stories about the history of former assistants or parts of the "coaching tree" replacing legendary long-time coaches at Blue Blood programs--Adolph Rupp at Kentucky, Dean Smith at UNC, John Wooden at UCLA, Bobby Knight at Indiana, John Thompson at Georgetown. The prevailing theme is that none has returned the program to prior heights. The common theme has been early success followed by a steep drop-off (and the school moving on from the chosen successor) or the successor bailing relatively quickly under the pressure. Thompson's son stuck around Georgetown for 13 years, but had only one season that mirrored his father's level of success (and, FWIW, Thompson III never played or coached for his father). Roy Williams at UNC provides the exception, winning one more championship in half the time than Smith--but note that Williams was not Smith's immediate successor, returning to Chapel Hill six years and two coaches after Smith had retired.

In the run-up to today's games, I had been thinking that Matt Painter at Purdue provides an interesting example. Gene Keady coached there for 25 years; he won six Big Ten regular-season titles, went to the NCAA 17 times, and reached the Elite Eight twice and the Sweet Sixteen three times. He was as associated with his school (as well as with wearing a hideous gold sports coat and drinking Diet Coke from cans on the bench) as the above coaches were with theirs. Painter played for Keady, then was recruited back to Pursue for one season as associate head coach/heir apparent, then took over in 2005.* Painter has come close to Keady's success--three regular-season championships, a conference tournament title (and just missed another today), four Sweet Sixteens, and an Elite Eight in sixteen seasons.  It is true that Purdue was never in the conversation with these other schools, and Keady never on a national championship or reached a Final Four. So that creates different and higher expectations. If Scheyer does at Duke everything Painter has done at Purdue (including a three-season drop in the early '10s that included a 12th-place conference finish), Duke fans may be calling for his head. But we do have one example of a chosen immediate successor matching his mentor's legacy.

[*] According to a new book about Coach K, when the university wanted to hire Harvard Coach Tommy Amaker (a former Duke player and assistant), Krzyzewski insisted that Amaker would have to follow the same steps, which would require bumping his current assistants, including Scheyer, down.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 13, 2022 at 08:08 PM in Sports | Permalink


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