College basketball: Coaching retirements not the only big change

Published 11:53 pm Tuesday, April 26, 2022

By Aaron Beard

AP Basketball Writer

It wasn’t hard to spot Roy Williams during his first year of retirement.

He visited arenas across the country for games, including every step of North Carolina’s wild ride to the NCAA championship game against Kansas, a matchup of two programs he once coached. But he was cheering from ticketed seats instead of the sideline, a still-strange sight that helps illustrate the massive changes hitting men’s college basketball.

Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and Jay Wright at Villanova have joined Williams in retirement in roughly 13 months, three Hall of Famers with 10 national championships and more than a century of coaching wisdom now out of the game. Players can now make endorsement deals for money and the transfer portal seemingly hums all the time now, adding more layers for coaches to manage in an already unrelenting 24/7 job.

Soon it will be up to the next generation of coaches – many of them former players – to steer a new game forward through the chaos.

“I don’t think we should say, ‘Woe is me, college basketball’ because the three of us left,” Williams said in an interview with The Associated Press. “There are some great young coaches out there that are going to adapt to all these changes. They’re going to adapt to the different landscape. Everybody’s going to have to.”

Williams (71 years old), Krzyzewski (75) and Wright (60) combined for more than 2,700 career victories. Beyond eye-popping numbers, their long tenures of sustained success gave them clout to publicly advocate for the game or raise concerns — such as Krzyzewski questioning the NCAA’s overall direction during this month’s Final Four in New Orleans.

There are still members of that old guard. There’s 77-year-old Jim Boeheim preparing for his 47th year at Syracuse, while Hall of Famers like Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Kansas’ Bill Self and Kentucky’s John Calipari all have national titles as well.

But those ranks are sure to contract in the coming years.

“Any job, you can’t do it forever,” said former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, an ESPN college basketball analyst. “There’s a time that you look in the mirror and you say, ‘Do I have the same passion, the same energy to do the job at the level?’ Because you’ve got to treat every single day like it’s the first day of your job.

“Having this tremendous responsibility of being a head coach at any level quite honestly is not for everyone. And it might be for you, but then at some point, it might not be for you.”

That sure seems to describe Wright, who said last week he “started to feel like I didn’t have the edge that I’ve always had.”

Williams, for his part, still loved coaching but every mistake gnawed at him over his last two seasons. He stewed over them at news conferences, at one point suggesting his athletic director should consider firing him. And there was the sinking feeling that he was failing his players.

“For me, that’s what it was,” said Williams, who retired with a soul-baring news conference in April 2021. “It had nothing to do with (NIL). It had nothing to do with the transfer portal. Now I knew it was going to change college athletics and college basketball recruiting, I knew it would change it a great deal. But it had nothing to do with mine.”

Those decisions now represent opportunities for the game’s next wave of coaches.

Loyola Chicago’s Drew Valentine, Division I’s youngest coach at 30 years old, views the retirements of Williams, Krzyzewski and Wright as “more like a crazy coincidence” than an indictment of today’s changing game. He sees peers prepared to fill the void.

“I think we’re part of this outspoken generation that is willing and able to share our opinions on multiple platforms,” Valentine told the AP. “I think it’s just figuring out the right way to go about it is what our generation is going to have to figure out.”

He also sees enough former players leading programs to know that playing experience is an asset, too.

There’s 34-year-old Jon Scheyer taking over as Krzyzewski’s designated successor as a first-time head coach who played for the Blue Devils’ 2010 NCAA title winner. Kyle Neptune, 37, followed Wright after playing at Lehigh and spending one season as Fordham’s coach. Cincinnati’s Wes Miller, 39, already has 11 college seasons under his belt.

There are also North Carolina’s Hubert Davis (51), Michigan’s Juwan Howard (49) and Seton Hall’s Shaheen Holloway (45) — all early in their careers as head coaches at programs where they starred as college players.

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