Earlier this week, Duke University and Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski announced he was most likely stepping away from Team USA coaching duties after the 2012 Olympics in London. The Coach K/Jerry Colangelo rebirth of Team USA has been spectacular after the failures that were the 2002 World Championships and 2004 Olympics in Athens. Since taking over the team in 2006, Team USA has lost one game in international play (the 2006 World Championship Semi-Final against Greece). Now it appears that six plus years of extra games, travel and game planning is enough for Coach K, who calls coaching for USA Basketball “the best honor” of his career (H/T to ESPN’s Marc Stein).
“There’s no question [that] you put your career a little bit on the line when you’re coaching the national team if you don’t win the gold. … [But] I’m excited about it. I’ve not looked at it as pressure throughout my whole time. When we won in 2008, I wasn’t relieved. I was in la-la land. And that’s a big difference.”
Despite little experience coaching in the pros, Coach K has been spectacular for Team USA. Having a guy with his coaching skills (not to mention extra time off to game plan) was exactly what USA Basketball needed to regain its number one spot in international basketball. Now that he’s stepping away, there will be a lot of talk about who will succeed Coach K. The first guy that pops in to a lot of guys heads is San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. Like Coach K, he’s an military graduate who has a supreme love and respect for his country. He has international experience as Larry Brown’s lead assistant in Athens, though most of us would like to pretend the 2004 Olympics didn’t happen. His hold everyone accountable style has made him a favorite among players. He also may have some extra time on his hands in a couple of years if he really does retire when Tim Duncan decides to. Sounds like a no-brainer, especially if the Spurs win another title or two between now and the 2014 World Championships. Still, as Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski points out, there’s already a big negative for Pop’s candidacy.
“For those discussing next Team USA coach, it should be Gregg Popovich. That won’t happen, though, because of a poor relationship with Jerry Colangelo.”
Woj didn’t specify the nature of this bad relationship. He’s written previously that with some post-Athens drama and might have started with the fact that Pop’s Spurs kept Colangelo’s Phoenix Suns from winning an NBA title for the better part of the last decade. Either way, hopefully this doesn’t kill Pop’s chances altogether. He’d be a great fit. Wojnarowski also tweeted that Doc Rivers would be the next logical pick, given his resume and international coaching experience. Other candidates may include Mike D’Antoni because of his relationship with Colangelo and the fact that he’s part of Coach K’s current staff. Don’t expect any sort of names to be seriously be floated out until after the London games are done.