You might ask, 'why are you doing this right now?' Look, this is not about health. It is not about COVID or saying that year was so bad. It is certainly not about what is going on in college basketball – boy the game is changing alright. I have been in it for 46 years and you mean the game has never changed.
- Mike Krzyzewski, "Coach K"
The words of Mike Krzyzewski run immortal in every setting. On Thursday, Krzyzewski, or "Coach K" as he is affectionally known across sports, made the official announcement that the 2021-22 season would be his last on the bench.
This upcoming season will be Coach K's 47th as a Division I head coach. After a 5-year stint at Army-West Point early in his career, Krzyzewski spent the next 41 years as the head coach of the Duke Blue Devils. His accolades speak for themselves; more than 1,100 career wins, 5 national championship trophies, 15 ACC Tournament titles, six gold medals for the USA team in the Olympics, and many more. Most will never even be sniffed, let alone matched.
Mike Krzyzewski, or "Coach K" as he is well-known in the sports world, will retire from coaching after the upcoming 2021-22 season. PIC: Duke Athletics
In a sport for which the term "Coach K" became nearly synonymous with, college basketball now finds itself at a critical juncture.
Krzyzewski's announcement comes mere weeks after 33-year head coach Roy Williams (Kansas, North Carolina) had told the world he's already coached his last game, 76-year-old Jim Boeheim of Syracuse released that he'd like to coach "until he's 80," and a slew of other coaches pondering retirement or stepping away from the game. Legendary coaches in Bob Huggins and Tom Izzo are approaching their old age, and their time is inevitable.
Understandably, age is a major driver of the head coaching changes we are seeing of late. But could motivations run deeper, and could there be more at play? To fully understand the other factors of these decisions, we must take a look at the current state of college basketball, and fully appreciate the crossroads that the sport finds itself enduring.
Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) Rules
On July 1st of this year, seven states will enact legislation to allow student-athletes in the NCAA to profit from the use of their name, image, and likeness (NIL). This, without question, is a landmark ruling; in a world where college athletes have been chastised for profiting off their NIL, the entire approach to personalization in college sports will change forever. Since it's only seven states, NIL rules have sparked widespread debate on how the NCAA will provide a consistent experience for all student-athletes in every program, and many believe it is causing rifts between coaches & players. For coaches that have been at the helm for 30-40+ years, this new era of players monetizing off their likeness is not necessarily something they're necessarily opposed to; but we'd be foolish to think it won't contribute to many coaches' mulling thoughts over how much the sports is truly changing. We may not know how much NIL affects college basketball for many years.
The Transfer Portal is Picking Up
You'd have to be living under a rock to not be aware of what's going on in the transfer market over the past year. There is currently a record 1,600 college basketball players that have declared themselves as seeking a new program; that's just about 4.5 players per Division I program. It's sparked widespread debate over what restrictions (and freedoms) that college basketball players should be subject (and entitled) to; should they be required to sit a year, or eligible immediately? What schools can (and can't) each player transfer to? Should they be allowed to switch to another in-conference program?
While the common fan mostly rules "yay" in the pro-player rights debate, there is quite a bit more parity in the argument. For one, here's Dick Vitale's take on the transfer market, which seems to be indicative of a sizable amount of coaches' mentalities:
Many Division I coaches have gone on record to say their jobs have become much harder with less stringent transfer rules. They mostly cite the need to "re-recruit" their players after their first one or two seasons, in hopes that they'd not be convinced the pastures are greener on the proverbial "other side." The transfer market is certainly trending towards the "pro-player" side, and it certainly will require more effort to be a head coach.
Coach K says that these changes in the game didn't affect his decision; and maybe he's telling the truth. But we'd be foolish not to at least acknowledge the concerns that many in his shoes - perhaps sooner than we think - will be pressed with.
We have always had to adapt. To the changes in culture, the changes in rules. The changes in the world. We are going through one right now. That is not the reason. Those aren't the reasons. Those would be bad reasons, especially the health one. The reason we are doing this is because Mickie and I have decided the journey is going to be over in a year and we are going to go after it as hard as we possibly can. Then, we are going to be a part of Duke's continuing journey, like President Price said, for as long as we are around.
- Mike Krzyzewski, "Coach K"