Last week, USA basketball held a press conference to announce Mike Krzyzewski would be returning to coach for the 2014 World Championships and the 2016 Olympics. Coach K and Jerry Colangelo have been at the forefront of reforming the United States Men’s National Basketball Team since Krzyzewski took the post in 2005. They’ve created an environment many professional players enjoy and covet, which previously had not been the case. Both deserve credit for their work and Coach K deserves to remain in an emeritus role, but he should not be continuing in the capacity of head coach.
In last week’s press conference, Coach K, rightfully, called coaching your country’s team the “ultimate honor”. It’s an honor coach K has held for eight years, but there are other candidates who deserve the opportunity. The only other coach who has been at the helm for multiple Olympics, Henry Iba, was so from 1964-1972 during a time when politics played a major role. The selection committee turned down John Wooden at a time he had won eight of the last nine NCAA tournaments in favor of Iba, who had retired from coaching in 1970. Once again, it appears politics may have reared its ugly head. Adrian Wojnarowski has, on multiple occasions, reiterated that as long as Jerry Colangelo remains as the Director of USA Basketball, Gregg Popovich will never have an opportunity to be named the head coach. Popovich was reportedly irate with some of Colangelo’s comments about Pop’s enthusiasm for the post when Colangelo initially hired Coach K to the post. Mark Stein goes so far as to suggest that NBA commissioner David Stern may be involved in preventing Popovich from getting a chance. Popovich is an Air Force Academy grad, who spent time on active duty and no coach in American basketball has had more success with the international players and style. Now with Popovich on the doorstep of a fifth NBA title, the omission of a serviceman with his résumé appears even more glaring.
The idea that Coach K shouldn’t be coaching isn’t limited solely to Gregg Popovich. There are six active (or aspire to again be active) Hall of Fame coaches, who have never had the opportunity to lead Team USA. Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, and Pat Riley have all been enshrined in Springfield, but have never had the chance to enjoy the “ultimate honor”. The viability, willingness, or fit of all six would need to be vetted, but there’s no doubt that there are other capable leaders who will miss their opportunity with Coach K’s decision to remain. Beyond the Hall of Famers, coaches such as Doc Rivers, Tom Izzo, and Rick Adelman would be all be excellent selections.
When someone presents a tremendous honor, particularly one that benefits your day job, it can be very difficult say no. For Coach K, who stated he was done coaching Team USA, it was too much of an allure. Be it politics or ego, Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have joined forces and effectively boxed out many other deserving candidates. For a program that pushes country over self to the players, it’s a credo the leaders of Team USA are willing to follow.