Thursday, May 26, 2022

2022 Final Four: How Duke, North Carolina’s vastly different coaching transitions led both to New Orleans

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of news that rocked college basketball, as Roy Williams announced his retirement two weeks after the Tar Heels lost to Wisconsin in the First Round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. With Final Four games just days away, the sport’s focus turned momentarily to the coaching carousel as one of the most prestigious positions in the game came open following an 18-year run at UNC for Williams — a Hall of Famer and three-time national champion.

As it turned out, Williams’ decision was only the first seismic coaching domino to fall last year. On June 3, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski announced that the 2021-22 season would be his last and that assistant coach Jon Scheyer would take over beginning in the 2022-23 season. Suddenly, in a span of two months, two of college basketball’s premier programs — arch rivals separated by merely a few miles — were each dealing with coaching transitions involving titans of the sport.

In accordance with the preferences of their legendary departing coaches, the changes were handled in stark contrast. Nonetheless, the divergent paths Duke and North Carolina took in executing these generational coaching changes led to the same end this season. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels are both in the Final Four, and they will play each other there on Saturday as the bitter foes square off in the Big Dance for the first time since their series began over a century ago.

Amid the advent of name, image and likeness rules and relaxed restrictions on transferring, it’s been a year of transition for everyone in college basketball. For Duke and North Carolina, that transition has only been magnified because of historic changes in their leadership. As the two prepare to play for a spot in the national title game, here is a look back at key moments leading up to each coaching change, the execution of the transitions and what’s happened since to create a Final Four matchup for the ages.

UNC’s 2019-20 nightmare season ends

March 11, 2020

The day before the sports world came to a halt as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread across the world, UNC’s train wreck 2019-20 season ended. The Tar Heels lost 81-53 against Syracuse on Wednesday of the ACC Tournament to conclude the season with a 14-19 record. The season began with promise as UNC started 5-0 and briefly held the No. 5 spot in the AP Top 25. But it was quickly marred by injuries and close losses as the Tar Heels registered a sub .500 season for the only time in Williams’ tenure. Williams later shared that the frustration of the team’s record in close games — the Tar Heels were 0-6 in games decided by two points or less during that season — wore on him.

Duke’s 2019-20 season ends due to pandemic

March 12, 2020

Led by sophomore guard Tre Jones and freshman big man Vernon Carey, the Blue Devils ended the 2019-20 season 25-6 (15-5 ACC) and ranked No. 11 in the AP poll. Duke was preparing to begin ACC Tournament play when the season was shut down due to COVID-19.

2020-21 starts slow for Tar Heels

Dec. 28, 2020

After beginning the 2020-21 season ranked No. 16 and spending the first four weeks ranked, UNC dropped out of the AP Top 25 following a 79-76 loss at NC State to begin ACC play. The defeat dropped UNC to 5-3. The Tar Heels never returned to the poll and again struggled in close games, finishing the season 2-4 in games decided by three points or less.

Duke drops out of AP Top 25

Jan. 18, 2021

After beginning the season ranked No. 9 and briefly rising as high as No. 6, Duke fell out of the AP poll for good on Jan. 18 after falling to 5-3 with a loss at Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils endured three different three-game losing streaks during the regular season.

Blue Devils withdraw from ACC Tournament

March 11, 2021

After winning their first two ACC Tournament games to spark a glimmer of hope for their NCAA Tournament chances, the Blue Devils were forced to withdraw from the league tournament due to a positive COVID-19 test within the team’s Tier 1 personnel. The withdrawal marked an unceremonious end to Krzyzewski’s 41st season with Duke sporting a 13-11 record. When Duke’s name was not called on Selection Sunday, it marked the first time since 1995 that the program was not selected for the Big Dance.

UNC’s loss to Wisconsin

March 19, 2021

North Carolina’s 85-62 loss to Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament marked the Tar Heels’ earliest exit from the Big Dance in Williams’ tenure.

Roy Williams retires

April 1, 2021

Some may have thought, at first glance, that it was an April Fool’s joke. It was not. At age 70, and less than two weeks after his 18th season coaching his alma mater, Williams announced he would retire immediately after posting a 485-163 mark and amassing 903 total wins during a career that also included 15 seasons at Kansas.

“Everybody wants to know the reason, and the reason is very simple,” Williams said. “Every time somebody would ask me how long I was going to go, I would always say, ‘as long as my health allows me to do it.’ But deep down inside, I knew that the only thing that would speed that up is if I did not feel that I was any longer the right man for the job.”

hubert-davis.jpg

Ex-Tar Heels star Hubert Davis replaced Roy Williams and has led UNC to the Final Four in his first season.  Getty Images

Hubert Davis hired

April 5, 2021

North Carolina took only a few days to tab Hubert Davis as Williams’ successor, which allowed for continuity within the program since Davis spent the previous nine seasons as an assistant coach. As a former North Carolina player under Dean Smith, Davis checked the box as a quintessential member of the “Carolina Family.” But he also stood out because of his 12 seasons of NBA playing experience and because of the unique vantage point that he gleaned during several years as an ESPN college basketball analyst before joining Williams’ staff.

“Coach, you epitomize the best of Carolina basketball,” UNC chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said while introducing Davis. “I didn’t think it was possible for me to feel more passionate as a Tar Heel. But after talking with you this past weekend, you inspired me. With that, I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

Mike Krzyzewski announces retirement

June 3, 2021

Just over two months after Williams’ announcement, Krzyzewski announced his retirement as well — but the announcement came with a twist. He planned to coach one final season before handing the program over to assistant Jon Scheyer, a legendary former Duke player. Krzyzewski outlined his thinking on the succession plan Tuesday before his team left for the Final Four matchup with the Tar Heels.

“The plan that we had was for continuity of our program, not to get gifts,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s worked. We have great continuity in our program with Jon taking over, what’s happened in recruiting. Not just this year but for the following year. We’ve had great continuity. In order to do that, I stayed on the job and I still wanted to coach. This wasn’t about getting recognized, although that’s what you get. That’s what you get if you live in this neighborhood. I’ve never looked at it as ‘last.’ I look at our program as a continuity. It’s not going to come to an end when the last game I coach is done. It will continue, and it will continue better because of the plan that was put in place, which was an excellent plan.”

Jon Scheyer introduced

June 4, 2021

The day after Krzyzewski’s press conference announcing his retirement, the spotlight belonged to Scheyer, who reflected on his journey from star player for the Blue Devils under Krzyzewski to assistant coach to now future head coach. When Scheyer, 34, takes over, he will be the youngest head coach in the ACC by nearly a decade.

“Coach [Krzyzewski] talked yesterday about the power of belief and I won’t take a moment for granted the belief that you’ve put in me,” Scheyer said. “I am incredibly grateful and so thankful for this opportunity. This has been an indescribable 48 hours for me. It’s been surreal. The amount of messages, texts, calls … it’s a pretty cool moment. But all the messages — friends, family and former players … some I haven’t heard from in a while. It’s terrific and it’s a reminder that I’m not up here alone today.”

UNC smacked at Mohegan Sun, drops from poll

Nov. 22, 2021

North Carolina began the season ranked No. 19 and started 3-0, but the Tar Heels put their defensive deficiencies on display by allowing 87 points against Brown and 83 against Charleston. Then, in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, the Tar Heels suffered a 93-84 loss to Purdue and an 89-72 loss to Tennessee. UNC dropped from the AP poll after those losses and did not return for three and a half months.

Duke reaches No. 1 

Nov. 29, 2021

Duke improved to 7-0 with an 84-81 win over No. 1 Gonzaga on Nov. 26 in front of a crowd of 20,389 at T-Mobile Arena. It was the largest crowd to ever see a basketball game in Nevada, and they were treated to a thriller. Paolo Banchero scored 20 points in the first half before dealing with cramps in the second half and going quiet. Wendell Moore Jr. picked up the slack by scoring 16 of his 20 points in the second half. The Blue Devils reached No. 1 in the next AP poll as a result of the victory.

Blue Devils crush Tar Heels in first meeting

Feb. 5, 2022

In Krzyzewski’s last trip to the Dean Smith Center as Duke’s coach, his team laid a whooping on the Tar Heels. The Blue Devils led by 23 points early and kept their distance for an 87-67 victory. The win ensured that Coach K would end his career with a winning record against UNC.

UNC spoils K’s last home game

March 5, 2022

After losing at home to lowly Pittsburgh on Feb. 16 and falling squarely to the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, North Carolina rattled off four straight victories entering the regular-season finale at Duke. Coach K’s final home game brought swaths of former players and an overall emotional scene, but the Tar Heels stole the show with an offensive masterpiece in a 94-81 win that they sorely needed. The victory finally gave UNC’s resume the solidification it needed ahead of Selection Sunday.

Duke reaches Final Four

March 26, 2022

the Blue Devils turned in another elite offensive performance as they cruised past Arkansas 78-69 in the Elite Eight to reach Krzyzewski’s 13th Final Four. AJ Griffin led the No. 2 seed Blue Devils with 18 points, but it was a balanced effort for Duke. With sophomores Jeremy Roach and Mark Williams playing some of their best basketball, the Blue Devils looked like a team on a mission during the second weekend of the Big Dance. 

A victory over Michigan State in the Second Round gave Coach K 1,200 career victories. The win over Texas Tech in the Sweet 16 made him the first to ever reach 100 career NCAA Tournament victories. And the win over Arkansas put Krzyzewski ahead of John Wooden for first all-time in number of Final Four appearances with 13.

UNC reaches Final Four

March 27, 2022

North Carolina beat Saint Peter’s 69-49 in the Elite Eight to reach the Final Four as a No. 8 seed. In doing so, Davis became the first college coach since former UNC coach Bill Guthridge to lead a team to the Final Four in his first season as a head coach. At one point during the celebration, Davis identified Williams in the stands and pointed to his predecessor, who less than a year before decided it was time for someone else to have a shot at leading the UNC program.

“I’m not sitting up here right now without Coach Williams,” Davis said. “He gave me a chance and an opportunity to be the next head coach, to lead this program, to be a part of this team. And it’s very important that we give everything to the players, but you know, you’re right. It’s very important for Coach Smith and Coach Guthridge and Coach Williams, I really want them to be proud. Just really important to me. And I want every player that played for Coach Smith, Coach Guthridge and Coach Williams, I want them, whether it’s in person, TV, highlights, I want them to be able to identify and go, that’s the Carolina I went to. It’s really important for me that this program — with my own personality and in my own shoes — looks exactly like the program that Coach Smith, Coach Guthridge, and Coach Williams ran.”

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