Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski is a tremendous coach. His resume of wins and titles speaks for itself (his 11,000+ word biography on Duke.com is a different matter).

I wondered, what does his coaching tree look like? Has his success propagated to his former assistants?

Coach K’s coaching tree has a couple solid branches, but it’s in need of pruning.

I would argue 4 coaches have achieved pretty successful coaching careers after being Duke Assistants (or in Jeff Capel’s case, players).

  • Mike Brey – Brey went on to coach at Delaware, and then onto Notre Dame. Under Brey, Notre Dame has been a constant contender for the NCAA Tournament
  • Johnny Dawkins – Stanford has a proud basketball tradition, and while Dawkins hasn’t wow-ed anyone yet, just sticking around in Men’s College Basketball is an accomplishment
  • Tommy Amaker – While Michigan showed him the boot, Amaker found success at Seton Hall and again at Harvard, where he has built the team into a perennial Ivy League powerhouse and an upset-favorite come tournament time
  • Jeff Capel – On the downside, former Duke player Capel has come full circle, and is back under Krzyzewski, now as assistant coach. On the upside, he had several successful seasons at VCU, and moved on to Oklahoma. He’s a recruiting powerhouse, bringing in players like Blake Griffin and Eric Maynor.

However, all the other branches are dead. Other coaches that studied under Krzyzewski (and downstream) did not have long tenures, including at Missouri, Delaware, Toledo, Rutgers, and UNC-Greensboro.

How does this compare to the top coach in College Football?

While football is a bit of a different animal, I wondered how Krzyzewski’s tree stacked up to the likes of Nick Saban.

Surprisingly, it looks pretty similar. There are many branches coming off the Nick Saban coaching tree, and many have been successful. Will Muschamp, Jimbo Fisher, Jason Garret, and Mike McCarthy are huge names. But similar to Coach K, there are many dead branches. Pat Shumer, Mike Mularky, and Derek Dooley were all fired this year.

Why are there so many dead branches coming off of successful coaches?

Athletic Directors are more willing to take a chance on an assistant studying under a successful coach. For example, when you’re VCU and looking for a marquis coach, you pick the Jeff Capel or Anthony Grant (Billy Donovan’s assistant), hoping you picked the right guy. But for every Mike Brey there’s a Quin Snyder.

For bigger-name schools, I believe a superior strategy is to pick a successful head coach in a lower division/league. Ohio State has found great success with that approach for both football and basketball, recently with Jim Tressel (Youngstown State) and Thad Matta (Xavier).

Don’t blame Coach K for his wilted coaching tree. Blame the hiring athletic directors.

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