After leading the United States to back-to-back gold medals, it appears that Mike Krzyzewski has decided to end his stint as coach of the USA men’s basketball team. Coach K was appointed head coach in 2005, as part of USA chairman Jerry Colangelo’s overhaul of the senior national program after the “disgrace team” won bronze during the 2004 Olympics. The Duke Blue Devil collegiate coach, who lost just one game in international play (a 101-95 defeat to Greece in the 2006 World Championships), led Team USA to gold in the 2007 FIBA American Championships, the 2008 Summer Olympics, the 2010 FIBA World Championships and last Sunday, topping Spain 107-100 in the gold-medal game at the XXX Olympiad in London. With a stellar international record of 62-1, the 65-year-old Krzyzewski became the first coach since Henry Iba to coach Team USA to two Olympic golds (’64 and ’68). But now he’s calling it quits.
With Coach K announcing that he’s going into solid gold retirement alongside elder statesman Kobe Bryant, USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo will have to start his search to fill the vacant head coach seat on Team USA’s bench. Three names have already been mentioned as potential replacements for Krzyzewski: Philadelphia 76ers’ coach Doug Collins, Boston Celtics’ coach Doc Rivers and the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich. All three candidates have the experience and the basketball acumen to led Team USA to gold at the 2014 World Championships in Madrid and the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio.
No one is more deserving of the honor than Doug Collins. Collins was part of the 1972 Olympic team that lost to Russia in a controversial finish. He would no doubt love the opportunity to lead the U.S. to the gold medal as their new head coach. And as the players on Coach K’s team showed after their win against Spain, the feeling is mutual. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Tyson Chandler all approached Collins after their gold medal victory and embraced him was a celebratory hug as a sign of respect and appreciation for what Collins has brought to the game. Even Doc Rivers backed Collins for the position in the post-game of Team USA’s victory on Sunday. As an All-Star player, high-energy coach and insightful TV commentator for the 40 years since the night he stood thin and wobbly at the foul line in Munich and knocked in a pair of clutch free throws that should clinched an American win, Collins has been successful as a head coach and an inspiration to his players. Colangelo can’t go wrong with selecting him.
With Doc Rivers, there isn’t any coach that knows how to handle a group of superstars more than him. Rivers coached the original “Big Three” of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, so he knows a thing or two about handling players’ egos. He led them to an NBA title and multiple playoff appearances, while turning a relatively unknown point guard in Rajon Rondo into perhaps the best in the game today. Rivers consistent approach to the game and his record of excellence is a winning strategy for Team USA. His ability to get superstars to buy into a new role for the betterment of the team is from the same school of philosophy as Coach K and his in-game adjustments, makes Rivers a top candidate for the job.
No one knows the international game better than two-time NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich. Pop has won four NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs since taking over as head coach in 1996. With a roster full of international players from Tony Parker and Boris Diaw (France), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Tiago Splitter (Brazil) and Patty Mills (Australia), Popovich has witnessed first hand how the game of basketball has become a globalized sport. He sees the game differently than most coaches. Pop excels at getting the most out of his players, while keeping egos in check. He was able to handle the tandem of David Robinson and Tim Duncan in the early ‘90s, while molding Duncan into one of the best power-forwards in the history of the game. The Air Force Academy graduate, who practically bleeds the stars and stripes, would be honored to represent the USA in Rio and redeem the Bronze medal finish he received as an assistant on the 2004 team.
Who do you think should replace Coach K on Team USA’s bench?
Image: CBC Sports