Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

WSB says Tech wants Capel, who might replace Coach K at Duke


Zach Klein of WSB-TV is reporting that Duke assistant Jeff Capel has emerged as Georgia Tech's leading candidate to replace the fired Brian Gregory. I don't doubt that Mike Bobinski, the Tech athletic director, would want to meet with Capel, who's again a Hot Guy after being fired by Oklahoma in 2011. I do wonder if the interest is mutual.

In speaking over the weekend with writers who cover Duke and the ACC, the belief is that Capel is also the leading candidate to replace Mike Krzyzewski whenever Coach K decides to retire, which can't be too far away. He's 69.

The who-follows-K guessing game has been ongoing for more than decade; previous heirs apparent have included Tommy Amaker, Johnny Dawkins, Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski, all of whom have left for head-coaching jobs elsewhere, none of whom has met with unbridled success. Dawkins just got fired by Stanford and hired by UCF. Collins is 49-48 in three seasons at Northwestern, which is a tough job. Wojo is 32-31 in two seasons at Marquette, which is a good job. Amaker has done well at Harvard, but he was fired by Michigan after six seasons, none of which culminated in an NCAA tournament appearance.

Capel is the latest heir apparent because he returned to Duke's bench in 2011 after getting canned by Oklahoma. (His first head-coaching job had been at VCU, where he teed up the program for successor Anthony Grant, whose Rams beat Duke in the 2007 NCAA tournament.) Capel presided over a run to the Elite Eight in 2009 -- the Sooners were powered by Blake Griffin-- but Griffin left to become the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft and everything cratered.

Oklahoma was 13-18 -- the program's first losing season since 1981 -- and 14-18 the next two years. It  forfeited the 13 wins from 2009-2010 due to the use of an ineligible player. (Capel wasn't implicated in the NCAA investigation.)

When the Sooners parted with Capel, Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman wrote: " It worked until it didn't. Until Capel let the program hit quicksand with player defections and NCAA rule violations. There is no reason Capel should be anything but an aberration. This program has been too good too long to stay down."

(Update: Oklahoma hired Lon Kruger. It's bound for the Final Four.)

Back at Duke, Capel has been the driving force behind the Blue Devils' ramped-up recruiting. Duke won the 2015 NCAA title with one-and-dones Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones. The No. 2 pick in the 2014 NBA draft was Jabari Parker, another Duke one-and-done. The No. 1 pick this June could be Brandon Ingram, yet another.

Arizona State tried to hire Capel last spring, but he removed his name from consideration. (The Sun Devils turned to Bobby Hurley, yet another Dookie.) As Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News & Observer wrote, Krzyzewski went out of his way to gush over Capel, calling his decision to stay in Durham "a huge plus for our program and for me personally. Jeff was a superstar this year."

As noted in this space, I believe Tech can again rise to being a Tier 2 job in the ACC , alongside Virginia and Notre Dame and North Carolina State. It cannot, however, hope to rival Duke. If there's a real chance Capel will succeed Krzyzewski, he's going nowhere. But there's no succession plan in place, for the simple reason nobody wants the greatest coach since Wooden to leave until he's good and ready.

Capel is 41, which means he could wait a while but not forever. If such an assurance -- "You're the man after the man" -- isn't forthcoming from Duke, especially with another ACC job his for the presumed taking, he might be persuaded to leave. And yes, he'd be a clear upgrade over Gregory .

Oh, and one thing more: ACC folks were amazed if not aghast over Pitt's hiring of Kevin Stallings, who might well have gotten fired at Vanderbilt, to replace Jamie Dixon. Hiring a guy away from the SEC isn't a move often made by an ACC program, especially one that just made the NCAA field. (Though N.C. State did hire Mark Gottfried, who'd been at Alabama but was out of coaching when Debbie Yow called.)

My feeling is that Stallings was among the better pure coaches in the SEC, which has run low on pure coaches. But Vandy had hit a wall, making the NCAA tournament only once in the past four seasons, and then only as a First Four participant this March. Stallings' last Vanderbilt team was one of his more talented, but it never clicked.

Seventeen years is a long time to be coaching anywhere, and Stallings had gone past the point of diminishing returns in Nashville. But I'm not sure he's the answer in Pittsburgh.


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Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.