Coach K, Roy Williams Retires: What’s Behind The NCAA Trend?
Jimmy Dykes politely asks for a brief moment as he scans his cell phone to retrieve a message.
The text he received from a fairly young head coach during a Power 6 basketball program, he says, will provide an appropriate answer to a question he was just asked. How frustrated are college basketball coaches with the state of the industry?
“This text says it all,” said Dykes, ESPN college basketball analyst and former coach.
Dykes finds the message and begins to read.
“I try to process everything. The last 14 months and rule changes will ALWAYS change the model of varsity athletics. The next five years will be the most volatile we have ever had in sports. I try to understand every hour like all the other coaches in the country.
The college coaching fraternity – basketball, football and beyond – has been simmering for several months now in the changing landscape of varsity athletics, particularly the rules governing athlete compensation and transfer freedoms. In fact, some believe that the NCAA’s modernization of its rules is pushing even longtime coaches and administrators out of the profession altogether.
Mike Krzyzewski announced his retirement on Wednesday, and although at 74 he is well past the normal retirement age, it looks like he is the last coach and administrator of his generation to resign at in light of the increasing changes in the game.
Krzyzewski, who will leave after this upcoming 2021-2022 season, follows former North Carolina coach Roy Williams as well as his own athletic director Kevin White, a longtime AD whose influence in the administrative world of college sports is unprecedented. Lon Kruger, longtime Oklahoma men’s basketball coach, also recently retired, as were Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin, Greg McGarity of Georgia and Dan Guerrero, longtime DA of the UCLA.
All of these men are at least 65 years old and many of them are over 70 years old. But is it a coincidence that the titans of varsity sport are leaving the industry before the most disturbing year in its history? Some, even those in the group who are retiring, say no.
The main problem is the roster management problem caused by the new transfer rule allowing all athletes to transfer once in their careers and play immediately at their new school. There is also the looming uncertainty of athlete compensation and the lingering struggles of stopping COVID-19. Even the future of the NCAA itself is in question.
“A lot of us grew up in what I would call the golden age of athletics, where it wasn’t that complicated. It’s always been complicated, but nowhere near as complicated as it is today, ”says McGarity, who, after more than a decade as Georgia’s DA, now works for the Gator Bowl.
“I doubt Coach K and Roy Williams can say for sure: ‘This is who will be on my team next year.’ The uncertainty adds to the exodus of coaches from the game. It is a domino effect. It affects everyone, including sports directors. “
Not everyone agrees, of course. At least one of the retirements was due to take place last year. Alvarez, 74, delayed his departure to lead the Wisconsin sports department during the pandemic.
Others have been slow to arrive, according to industry experts. White and Williams, for example, are both 70, and Kruger and Guerrero are 68.
“To train and be AD today is really, really difficult and you come to a certain age and everyone has to go at some point,” said Gene DeFilippo, the retired former sporting director of Villanova and the Boston College, who is now the executive director of Turnkey. Sports and Entertainment, one of the most widely used coaching research companies. “I think it’s largely age. The guys are tired.
However, for two of college basketball greats, Williams and Krzyzewski, the transfer situation is tied to their departures, according to several published reports and their own public statements.
Williams, a self-proclaimed “old school” coach, spoke out against the new NCAA transfer legislation in March. The coach, in fact, was caught in one of the most high-profile transfer situations earlier this year, when his 7-foot five-star center Walker Kessler jumped into the transfer portal after a season, for eventually landing in Auburn in a move that ultimately pushed Williams out the door.
Coaches across the college basketball landscape are grappling with this new reality: free agency, they say, has arrived in the sport. Earlier this spring, the transfer portal had more than 1,200 male basketball players, representing about a quarter of the available places for Division I scholarships.
The new mining college basketball waiver thread may be the quickest path to success. This year’s men’s national champion Baylor has started two and sometimes three transfers, getting 54% of his points from those players this season.
Across the NCAA, transfer rates continue to skyrocket, according to governing body research. In men’s basketball, about 40% of players who enter DI after high school leave their initial school at the end of their second year. The four-year transfer rate in male hoops fell from 10% in 2010 to 16% last year.
“I think you see coaches saying, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’” Dykes said. “I think there are a lot of college coaches trapped in their jobs. They don’t like the scenery, what it looks like and there is no way out for them in their minds because of the pressure and responsibilities we all have in life.
“It looks like we’ve lost two of the great voices in prom. I’m not sure if it’s too strong to say it, but all the hype and pressure for NIL and the transfer rule … what are the unintended consequences? It could shorten a lot of coaching careers faster than we thought. “
However, there are dozens of young coaches – and old ones – who are adopting the new rules. In fact, they excel because of them, overseeing the transfer portal and selecting the most talented players to add to their rosters.
Baylor wasn’t the only team to go deep in the NCAA Men’s Tournament with a heavy transfer lineup. Houston transfers scored 61% of the team’s points and accounted for 121 of the team’s total 155 starts in the Cougars’ Final Four scorecard. Other Final Four teams, UCLA and Gonzaga, have used portal stars including Bruins top scorer Johnny Juzang and Zags leader in assists Andrew Nembhard.
“I think with the changing landscape, if Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski were 40, there would be no talking point. They would adapt and do without it, ”said Jay Bilas, a former Duke player for Krzyzewski who is now an ESPN analyst. “But he’s 74; he is considering retirement whether or not these changes are forthcoming.
At his press conference on Thursday, Krzyzewski confirmed this, saying the changes in college basketball had no impact on his decision. The same goes for Alvarez, who dismissed any notion that his retirement was tied to NCAA rule changes.
“The new rules, everyone has to face them,” says Alvarez. “It will definitely be different whether you like it or not. “
Whatever the reasons, departures are leaving yawning chasms in varsity sport at a critical time. Many of them are replaced by unproven coaches and administrators who watch a metaphorical black hole.
“The next three or four months is the most uncertain time in the history of varsity athletics,” said Oliver Luck, former college administrator and NCAA executive.
Some of the old dogs just shrug their shoulders. DeFilippo sees history repeating itself. The guard in varsity athletics changes from time to time, with the older generation giving way to a young wave of coaches and DAs who face new and controversial rule changes.
DeFilippo recalls reducing NCAA football scholarships from 95 to 85. Gasp!
He remembers the retirements of John Wooden, Vince Dooley and Bear Bryant. Gasp!
In the end, everything went well.
“People want to blame this and that. It is just time. We have always had problems in varsity athletics. We always let the legends go, ”says DeFilippo. “I never thought we would see another Bear Bryant and [now] there is coach Saban. I never thought there would be another Wooden and there’s Coach K. I don’t know who he is, but there will be another Saban and K. Maybe he’s 10 years old in this moment.
More college basketball coverage:
• There will never be another like Coach K
• Duke ready to bet on Jon Scheyer
• Roy Williams reacts to news about Coach K’s retirement