Officials at Duke wanted to hire former Blue Devils star Tommy Amaker to replace Mike Krzyzewski after he retires this year, but the coach wanted current associate head coach Jon Scheyer to take the job, according to a new book by author Ian O’Connor due out next week.
The book, “Coach K: The Rise and Reign of Mike Krzyzewski,” chronicles the fabled career of the Duke men’s basketball coach, who is retiring after 42 seasons and five NCAA national championships. He announced that this would be his last season on June 2, 2021 — with Scheyer named his successor the same day.
Both Scheyer and Amaker played for Krzyzewski — Amaker from 1982 to ’87 and Scheyer from 2006 to ‘2010. Amaker was an assistant coach at Duke for nine seasons, but left for a head-coaching job at Seton Hall in 1997 at age 31. He went on to coach at Michigan and has been the head coach at Harvard since 2007. Scheyer has been an assistant coach at Duke since 2013 and was promoted to associate head coach after the 2018 season.
In the book, O’Connor writes that Krzyzewski asked Scheyer about the possibility of following him the day he told his assistant coaches of his decision to retire. Scheyer said he would like to have the job. Duke administrators, including deputy director of athletics Jon Jackson, and three others (including incoming athletic director Nina King) ran a search to replace Coach K. During it, O’Connor writes, it became clear that university president Vincent Price wanted Amaker to get the job.
Sources told O’Connor that, eventually, Krzyzewski called Amaker in what the book describes as “a very difficult conversation” with his former assistant, who had been gone from Duke for 25 years. During it, he told Amaker that if he came back, he’d have to be an assistant for a year (bumping another assistant off the bench) and that it would create an “awkward dynamic with Scheyer.”
“Mike had to explain to Tommy why he couldn’t be the guy,” one Duke source said, according to the book. “He can be Don Corleone when he needs to be.” Eventually, Amaker decided not to take the job. Someone close to him, O’Connor writes, said he was “heartbroken” not to get the job. Scheyer was eventually announced as the successor.
Krzyzewski and Amaker did not comment to O’Connor for the book.
Other notable reporting in the book includes:
• A look into Krzyzewski’s turbulent relationship with former Army and Indiana coach Bob Knight, who was a mentor to Coach K. It details how the relationship finally ended at a 2015 West Point reunion in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
• Krzyzewski’s relationship with former assistant and current Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder, including one Duke player who’s quoted in the book as saying: “I saw tension between them. I think I saw jealousy from K to Quin. K snapped at Quin more than any coach or any player combined, and when he did it, it felt personal.”
• Reporting on how Snyder and fellow assistant Tim O’Toole helped persuade Krzyzewski to change his recruiting approach in the mid-1990s and attempt to sign players who didn’t come from traditional Duke backgrounds.
• An examination of past allegations of NCAA rules infractions and eligibility issues, and a belief among rival schools and coaches that the governing body gives Duke favorable treatment.
• A look at how Duke reviews the financial records of top recruits “to ensure that there are no transactions inconsistent with his family’s employment status and financial standing.” The book cites a source saying that the school reviewed Zion Williamson’s family bank records before he enrolled. “We don’t have subpoena power,” said one school official. “We can’t be confident we see everything, but we try.” Duke’s subsequent investigation into allegations that Williamson and family members had received improper gifts and benefits cleared the player.
The book will be released Feb. 22.
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