Mark Story

The giants of college basketball coaching are aging. Who will fill their shoes?

Kentucky Coach John Calipari turned 59 on Feb. 10.
Kentucky Coach John Calipari turned 59 on Feb. 10. Associated Press

The outcome of years of scandal may have given the University of Louisville a competitive edge in one regard.

With the ouster of Rick Pitino, 65, and the installation of Chris Mack, 48, as Cardinals men’s basketball coach, U of L has gotten an early jump in the generational change that is inevitably coming at the very top of men’s college basketball coaching.

Suffice to say, the coaches who have dominated the current era of college hoops are increasingly long in the tooth.

Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim (five Final Fours, one NCAA title) is 73. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (12 Final Fours, five NCAA championships) is 71.

Jim Boeheim
Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim has led the Orangemen to five Final Four trips and the 2003 NCAA title. Boeheim will turn 74 in November. Charlie Neibergall Associated Press

North Carolina’s Roy Williams (nine Final Fours, three NCAA titles) will be 68 on Aug. 1. Michigan’s John Beilein (two Final Fours, going for his first NCAA title this weekend) is 65. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (seven Final Fours, one national title) is 63.

Already, Pitino (seven Final Fours, two NCAA titles before two of the former and one of the latter were vacated for NCAA rules violations by Louisville) has passed from the college basketball scene.

Rick Pitino ashen
Former Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino will turn 66 on Sept. 18. Seth Wenig Associated Press

The “next generation” of star coaches is not exactly young, either.

Kentucky’s John Calipari (six Final Fours counting two that were vacated, one NCAA title) will turn 60 his next birthday. Villanova’s Jay Wright (three Final Fours, going for his second NCAA title this weekend) is 56. Bill Self of Kansas (exact same NCAA tourney credentials as Wright) is 55.

Due to the age of the present occupants, many of the highest profile coaching jobs in men’s college hoops are soon going to come vacant. What is fascinating is how few obvious choices there currently appear to fill those eventual marquee openings.

Tom Izzo
Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo won the 2000 NCAA championship and has led the Spartans to seven Final Fours. Izzo turned 63 on Jan. 30. Paul Sancya Associated Press

Ask yourself: If Calipari left the Kentucky job tomorrow, who should get UK’s first call seeking a replacement?

There is no obvious answer.

Brad Stevens, now 41, and Shaka Smart, now 40, cast themselves as the rising stars of college coaching by leading Butler (2010 and ’11) and VCU (2011), respectively, to Final Fours as thirty-somethings.

Stevens, of course, then threw everyone a career curve ball by leaving Butler after the 2012-13 season for the head coaching job of the Boston Celtics.

Now, with a young, talented Celts roster, Stevens may be in the best position of any current NBA head coach. There’s no reason to think he’ll come back to college hoops anytime soon.

Smart, after turning down a series of high-profile head coaching jobs, finally accepted the position at Texas three seasons ago. So far, Smart has been shockingly so-so in Austin, going 50-50 with the Longhorns with two one-and-done NCAA tourney appearances.

I still think Smart will ultimately succeed at Texas, but his name does not presently carry the luster it once did.

No other youngish coaches have so far been able to acquire the status that Stevens and Smart once shared as college basketball’s premier up-and-comers (Porter Moser, who has directed Loyola on a Cinderella run to this year’s Final Four, is 49).

Since Dean Smith’s retirement, North Carolina has hired head coaches exclusively from its own coaching tree.

If that practice persists once Williams retires, Carolina would be filtering through candidates such as Monmouth Coach King Rice (an ex-UNC guard), Stanford’s Jerod Haase (a former Tar Heels assistant who played for Williams at Kansas) and North Carolina-Greensboro’s Wes Miller (an ex-UNC guard).

All three of them have had some success. None presently has a résumé that screams “next head coach at North Carolina.”

Roy Williams
North Carolina Coach Roy Williams has led the Tar Heels to three NCAA titles since 2005. Williams will turn 68 on August 1. Gerry Broome Associated Press

If Duke stays within the Coach K tree to replace Krzyzewski, there would be ample candidates. Former Blue Devils players Johnny Dawkins (Central Florida), Tommy Amaker (Harvard), Chris Collins (Northwestern), Steve Wojciechowski (Marquette), Jeff Capel (Pittsburgh) and Quin Snyder (Utah Jazz) are all now head coaches.

Yet there’s no clear frontrunner now for Duke, either. The most accomplished coach with Duke ties is ex-Blue Devils assistant and current Notre Dame head man Mike Brey. However, Brey is 59 and, for that reason, would not be a long-term answer as a Coach K successor.

Coach K
With 12 Final Four appearances and five NCAA championships, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski is the most successful men’s college hoops coach of this generation. Krzyzewski turned 71 in February. Nati Harnik Associated Press

At least UK’s Calipari is younger than Krzyzewski and Williams. It’s at least possible the coaching landscape will have yielded a clear and rising star by the time Kentucky next has to hire a coach.

Maybe native Kentuckian Chris Holtmann, 46, who did a good job at Butler and just finished a strong first season at Ohio State, will have established himself as the logical choice by the next time UK has to hire a coach.

In landing Xavier’s Mack, Louisville made a hire that makes sense. In the present college hoops coaching milieu, finding a coach worthy of one of the sport’s most high-profile jobs is not something to be taken for granted.

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