Jeff Capel has been the apparent coach-in-waiting for years at Duke under coach Mike Krzyzewski. But that changed when Capel departed to become the head coach at Pitt last week.
Letting the long-time Blue Devils assistant leave for another ACC program could signify that Coach K isn’t as close to retire as we all believe, but Krzyzewski can’t coach forever. He’s 71 years old, and eventually, even if its five, six, seven years down the road, he’ll have to hang up the whistle.
If Krzyzewski coaches that much longer, Duke has some time to find his replacement. But upon Capel’s departure, here are the three potential candidates to one day succeed Coach K at Duke.
James is the most likely candidate currently on the Duke staff to become the Blue Devils next men’s basketball coach. The 40-year-old played under Krzyzewski from 1996-2001, helping the Blue Devils make the Final Four twice in his four years. He was also a co-captain of the 2001 NCAA Championship squad.
After going undrafted, James played seven years overseas and then returned to Duke in 2008 to begin his coaching career. He’s held a wide range of roles, serving as an assistant strength and conditioning coach, a special assistant, and an assistant coach before becoming an associate head coach. James has been a part of three of the five championships Coach K has won.
One has to figure Duke will be looking for an alum and someone very familiar with how the Blue Devils have operated in recent years. James checks both of those boxes and has the most experience of anyone on the current Duke staff.
However, there is one thing that James doesn’t have — head coaching experience. That’s something these last two candidates possess.
Hurley is the son of a legendary high school basketball coach in New Jersey, and his brother, Dan, just left Rhode Island to become the head coach for UConn. Coaching is in his blood.
At Duke, Bobby Hurley helped Coach K win his first two championships in 1991 and 1992 as the team’s starting point guard. After a five-year NBA career, Hurley spent some time away from basketball but then resurfaced as an assistant at Wagner. Three years later, he became the head coach at Buffalo and took the Bulls to the NCAA Tournament in his second season.
In 2015-16, he became coach at Arizona State, where he just led the Sun Devils to the NCAA Tournament in 2018. Hurley doesn’t have the same connection to recent Duke teams that James has, but Hurley is an up-and-coming name in the coaching ranks and would be a natural replacement to Coach K.
Collins played for the Blue Devils from 1992-96. He was also an assistant under Krzyzewski for a long time, serving as an assistant on the Duke staff from 2000-13. He didn’t win a championship as a player but was on the Duke coaching staff of the 2010 title team.
In 2013, Collins somewhat surprising left the Blue Devils for Northwestern. Last season, he took the Wildcats to their first-ever NCAA Tournament, where they beat Vanderbilt in the first round. Northwestern fell back below .500 this season, but in five seasons under Collins, the Wildcats are 88-77.
Winning at Northwestern is about as tough as it gets in the Power 5. Collins posting an overall record above .500 paired with a program-first NCAA Tournament appearance is an impressive run. Depending how he continues to build the Wildcats program, Collins could be a front-line candidate for Duke whenever the men’s basketball head coaching role becomes available next decade.