Who should replace Mike Krzyzewski as USA Basketball coach?
By Ben Golliver
Mike Krzyzewski repeated his desire to retire as coach of USA Basketball this week, reopening the “Who replaces him?” question.
In advance of USA Basketball’s run to the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, Krzyzewski, who has coached the team since 2005, said it would be his “last time.” His tenure includes a 62-1 record, gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, a gold medal at the 2010 World Championships and a bronze medal at the 2006 World Championships.
This week, speaking on an ESPN Radio interview, Krzyzewski reiterated his desire to step down, despite a recent report that indicated USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo’s desire to keep him on.
“My stance hasn’t changed,” Krzyzewski said. “I’ve loved, loved, loved and it’s been an honor being with the USA Basketball team, to coach the team and work with Jerry. These seven years have been marvelous. We’re in a good spot. We need to keep building. … [My replacement] will be great. And he’ll get all the support of all of us and of me.”
Krzyzewski did not indicate who would take over as USA Basketball prepares for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, but noted that an announcement will be coming this summer.
“They would never make announcements during the basketball season,” he said. “They have respect for the coaching staff, whoever that coaching staff would be, that they would not interrupt what those guys are doing. Sometime this summer I know Jerry Colangelo and USA Basketball will make an announcement.”
The search for USA Basketball’s is generally seen as a two-horse race between Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Here’s a brief look at the top two candidates plus a few other names worth considering if any assistant coaching spots open up.
Gregg Popovich, Spurs: The conversation for replacing Krzyzewski should begin and end with Popovich, whose four NBA titles and 16 consecutive seasons winning at least 61 percent of his games speak for themselves. Popovich, 64, has served as a USA Basketball assistant and he graduated from and coached at the United States Air Force Academy. The San Antonio Express-News reported last year that Colangelo felt Popovich “seemed burned out” when he interviewed for the job in 2005, but the paper noted Tuesday that Popovich has said he would “would welcome the chance” to take the reins if given consideration this time around.
There’s no good reason to pass over the NBA’s most accomplished current coach for the national team’s head spot. Popovich’s rosters have been dotted with players with international experience; he’s coaxed improvement and effort from both star players and role guys for years; he’s a master of juggling personalities; and the Spurs have enjoyed offensive success thanks in large part to ball movement and three-point shooting, key factors in international play. It’s difficult to imagine a more qualified candidate.
Doc Rivers, Celtics: Conventional wisdom suggests if not Pop, then Doc. Yahoo! Sports stated Rivers’ case clearly last season: He has championship experience, he’s an excellent communicator and he masterfully walks the line between being a players’ coach and prodding his teams to exert maximum effort. He’s known for his ability to relate to players — having a 20-year-old son in the NBA surely helps — and he’s managed the idiosyncrasies of Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett to produce deep postseason run after deep postseason run in Boston. Rivers, 51, also played for USA Basketball at the 1982 World Championships.
Erik Spoelstra, Heat: Spoelstra’s name hasn’t popped up on many short lists for USA Basketball coaching positions, mostly because of his relative youth and the fact that his success in the NBA happened after coaches were selected for USA Basketball’s most recent four-year cycle. The snubbing should end now. The “Big Three” era in Miami has been the ideal training ground for Spoelstra, 41, to hone skills that would be helpful for USA Basketball. He’s handled huge amounts of pressure and redesigned his offensive system to maximize the otherworldly abilities of LeBron James. He’s dabbled in position-less lineups, an approach that would likely have great success in the international game, he’s stood face-to-face in huddles with some of the biggest egos in the game, he’s fully embraced advance statistics and analytics as methods for fine-tuning his team’s play on both ends, and he’s helped sell auxiliary roles to star players like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The Heat are an outstanding 144-58 (.713) since James arrived and they look poised to make a third straight Finals appearance, and possibly snag a second straight title, this season. There isn’t room on USA Basketball’s bench somewhere for this bright young mind?
Rick Carlisle, Mavericks: Carlisle, 53, offers the full package: He’s a former player with more than a decade of coaching experience and the 2011 NBA title on his résumé. The Mavericks have pursued an erudite approach on his watch and, like Popovich, he’s coached a number of players who have made an impact on the international stage. Carlisle’s in-game adjustments, set plays, and exploitation of mismatches all regularly draw praise, even if the Mavericks are having their first down year in recent memory.
Frank Vogel, Pacers: The freshest face on this list, Vogel, 39, deserves a mention as a possible defensive coordinator. The Pacers ranked No. 10 in defense last year and they are tops in the league this season. Like Spoelstra, Vogel rose up the ranks from video coordinator, honing an attention to detail and work ethic that served him well once he reached the bench. While Indiana’s slow-down style runs counter to USA Basketball’s preferred up-tempo approach, the same could be said for Nate McMillan’s old Portland teams, and that didn’t hold him back from serving as a USA Basketball assistant.