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Krzyzewski Again Hires Within Family

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

June 3, 2008

DURHAM – Mike Krzyzewski had to take time out from his preparations for this summer's quest for the Olympic gold medal in order to fill an opening on his Duke staff.

Johnny Dawkins, Duke's associate head coach, moved across the country to replace Trent Johnson as the head coach at Stanford.

Dawkins' move was part of an amazingly connected game of musical chairs. Johnson left Stanford for LSU, where Duke athletic director Joe Alleva had just been hired to guide the Tigers' athletic program. As part of the shuffle, Stanford basketball signee Miles Plumlee, the older brother of Duke 2009 commitment Mason Plumlee, sought (and obtained) his release from The Farm and promptly signed with Duke.


The end result of the trade – Dawkins for Miles Plumlee – left Krzyzewski with the first opening on his staff in eight years. The home-grown trio of Dawkins, Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski had been in place since the 2001 season, when Duke last won the NCAA championship.

Krzyzewski, who has filled his staff positions with his former players since hiring Mike Brey in 1988, once again restricted his search to his alums. According to sources, Jason Williams, Chris Carrawell, Tony Lang and Nate James all received interviews.

The job eventually went to James, who played at Duke from 1997-2001. He was a co-captain of the 2001 national championship team. He made a notable sacrifice late in the season, giving up his starting job when Krzyzewski re-shaped his lineup after center Carlos Boozer was sidelined in the next-to-last regular-season game.

The Duke coach later told author Donald Phillips what he said to his staff at the time: "Nate is going to be the key in making this work. He's got to accept his new role without reservations. Having him come off the bench will give us a big punch."

Indeed, James ended up playing a key role as a sixth man as Duke won 10 straight games down the stretch to sweep the ACC and NCAA titles.

The muscular son of a career Marine sergeant, James spent seven years playing pro basketball overseas before he returned to Duke last January and accepted a post as an assistant strength and conditioning coach.

James believes he can add something to the Duke staff.

"My experiences can definitely help me with these guys," James said. "I've been there. I've been through every possible scenario you can imagine – coming in as a McDonald's All-American, having to compete against other McDonald's All-Americans, having to fight for playing time, injuries, being a role player, coming off the bench, starting, becoming a national champion. I can relate to all the players in every possible way."

Krzyzewski made a few other tweaks to his staff. Collins and Wojciechowski had their titles upgraded from assistant coach to associate head coach. When Dawkins hired Mike Schrage, Duke's director of basketball operations for the last six years, as an assistant coach, Krzyzewski promoted Chris Spatola (the team's head manager in 2007-08) to Schrage's old position.

Spatola, who played point guard at Army, isn't a former Duke player, but he is Krzyzewski's son-in-law. He is married to Coach K's youngest daughter, Jamie.

One aspect of Dawkins' departure might be seen as good news for Duke fans. The former Blue Devil All-American widely has been perceived as Krzyzewski's heir apparent. In fact, two years ago, Coach K himself said that if he could name his replacement, it would be Dawkins.

But it's unlikely that Dawkins would have accepted the Stanford offer if he thought Krzyzewski was on the verge of retirement. Instead, Dawkins' departure likely is another indication that Krzyzewski is planning to remain at Duke for the foreseeable future. Dawkins said he believes Coach K has another decade or more in him as the leader of the Blue Devils.

Of course, at some point the 61-year-old Duke coach will step down. When that happens, will Dawkins still be the logical successor?

That's likely to depend heavily on his success at Stanford. As long as he succeeds on the West Coast, Dawkins will have a chance to remain first in line to replace Coach K. But if he stumbles at Stanford – as Tommy Amaker, once the brightest of Krzyzewski's coaching protégés, stumbled at Michigan – the Duke succession plan would become a much more complicated process.


Duke initially hoped to name a replacement for Alleva by the end of the summer, and that timetable was met easily with the surprise May 31 hiring of Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White.

Alleva, who is leaving Duke to be the athletic director at LSU, will be officially gone on June 30, although he's already spending more time in Baton Rouge than in Durham. Veteran academic advisor Chris Kennedy had been acting as the interim athletic director.

The search committee was headed by Roy Bostock, a former Duke football player who made Phi Beta Kappa in 1962 and went on to become the successful head of an investment firm. He and his wife have donated more than $8 million to the university.

Bostock headed a 12-person committee that contained a number of other intriguing names.

For instance, it included Tallman Trask, a vice president who headed the last AD search a decade ago. His committee wanted to hire Gene Smith, then the AD at Iowa State and now the AD at Ohio State, but that choice was vetoed by the powerful Krzyzewski, leading to the selection of Alleva.

Also on the search committee was Clarence G. Newsome, the president at nearby Shaw and one of the first African-Americans to play football at Duke. Newsome was one of the powers on the selection committee that hired football coach David Cutcliffe in December. According to sources, Newsome and Leo Hart had a lot to do with overruling members of the committee (including Alleva?) who had wanted to hire fired UCLA coach Karl Dorrell.

It was interesting that Hart, a star quarterback at Duke from 1968-70, was not on the AD search committee. But that was because the 59-year-old business executive was a strong candidate to get the job himself.

Hart confessed his interest in the post during May interviews preceding his induction into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. While he's never worked in athletics, Hart did help head the fund-raising effort that built the Yoh Football Center and, as mentioned, he played a large role in hiring Cutcliffe.

White, 57, initially was contacted by Duke officials as a consultant for their search, which in the early stages included a field of more than 60 recommended candidates. The search committee interviewed 10 and had narrowed the field to three when White said he may be interested in the job himself.

Soon after White switched from consultant to candidate, he landed an offer over the likes of Hart and Mike Cragg, the university's top internal candidate.

In stark contrast to Alleva (even at the end of his Duke tenure), White is an influential national figure in the world of college athletics, respected by his peers for his work most recently as the AD at Tulane, Arizona State and Notre Dame.

White spent eight years at Notre Dame, the longest of his stops. He was credited with successfully managing the Fighting Irish's unique television deal with NBC and their unique place (as a football independent) in the Bowl Championship Series. He also drew raves for his fundraising prowess and for dramatically upgrading the school's athletic facilities and coaches' salaries.

The biggest blemish on White's résumé at Notre Dame (football) also was the one area where he had the least control, and many in college athletics believe that lack of control ultimately became the biggest reason for his willingness to look at the Duke job and other opportunities.

White was the man in charge during the embarrassing hiring and quick departure of football coach George O'Leary (lying on resume) and then the failed tenure of Tyrone Willingham, another White hire.

But Notre Dame fired Willingham after only three seasons over White's objections, and the AD admittedly didn't have much of a role in the decision to hire current Irish coach Charlie Weis.


Duke football coach David Cutcliffe gave himself a bit of good news when he reinstated rising senior offensive tackle Cameron Goldberg after a month-long suspension that kept him out of spring practice.

The reason for the penalty was never revealed, but Cutcliffe said Goldberg is back on the team in good standing and will rejoin his teammates in offseason conditioning.

A 6-6, 280-pound product of Lutherville, Md., Goldberg generally is rated as Duke's top offensive lineman. He started all 12 games a year ago and has started 23 times in his career.