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HomeSportsMike Krzyzewski pushed ‘heartbroken’ Tommy Amaker out as Duke successor

Mike Krzyzewski pushed ‘heartbroken’ Tommy Amaker out as Duke successor

Tommy Amaker and Coach K in 1986.
Tommy Amaker and Coach K in 1986.
NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Duke University wanted to hire Harvard basketball coach Tommy Amaker last spring to replace the retiring Mike Krzyzewski, even going so far as to offer him the job.

However, Coach K talked his former player and assistant out of taking it so he could ensure his preferred candidate would succeed him, according to a new book by New York Post sports columnist Ian O’Connor.

In “Coach K: The Rise and Reign of Mike Krzyzewski,” O’Connor reports that Duke offered the job to Amaker, the former Seton Hall and Michigan coach, before hiring Duke assistant Jon Scheyer to take over the decorated Blue Devils program after the 75-year-old Krzyzewski finishes the current season – his 42nd at the school. 

In retirement, Coach K believed he would maintain more control over the program through the 34-year-old Scheyer than the 56-year-old Amaker, sources told O’Connor for the book. Scheyer has never coached anywhere else, while Amaker left Duke in 1997 for Seton Hall.

Post columnist Ian O’Connor’s book on Coach K comes out next week.

O’Connor reports that Krzyzewski held a Zoom call with Amaker last year and had what a source described as “a very difficult conversation” with him. Coach K explained to Amaker that if he left Harvard to join the Duke staff as a successor-in-waiting for the 2021-22 season, the move would force the demotion of a Blue Devils assistant and “create an awkward dynamic with Scheyer.” Realizing that he didn’t have his mentor’s blessing, Amaker left the call “heartbroken,” according to someone close to him.

“Mike had to explain to Tommy why he couldn’t be the guy,” said one Duke source. “He can be Don Corleone when he needs to be.”

A five-time national champ and the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach with nearly 1,200 combined victories at Duke and Army, Krzyzewski said the transfer of power to Scheyer, a star on his 2010 championship team, represented “a continuity of excellence” that he first learned was important in a succession plan as a West Point student. Scheyer’s first Duke recruiting class is ranked No. 1 in the nation. Amaker is in his 15th year at Harvard, which he has built into a consistently strong Ivy League team. 

Tommy Amaker
Tommy Amaker
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Four of Harvard’s five NCAA Tournament appearances in the school’s history have come under Amaker. The team made March Madness appearances in 2012-15, upsetting New Mexico as a No. 14 seed in 2013 and Cincinnati as a No. 12 seed in 2014. 

Krzyzewski and Amaker declined to be interviewed for the book. The senior Duke official who conducted the search declined comment to O’Connor.

By announcing his retirement in advance, O’Connor wrote, Krzyzewski had all but guaranteed that his personal choice to succeed him would land the Duke job.

Tommy Amaker at Duke in 1986.
Tommy Amaker at Duke in 1986.
NCAA Photos via Getty Images

“Mike is the ultimate orchestrator,” said someone close to him. “He wakes up in the morning trying to figure out ways to stay ahead of you. Sometimes Coach K has to eat his young, and Tommy Amaker just got eaten.”

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