- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Back in February, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski stepped down from Team USA. If you missed it, don't be too hard on yourself; there wasn't a celebration or retirement ceremony or any sort of ritual. Instead, Coach K appeared on "Mike & Mike in the Morning," said his time coaching Team USA -- which included two Olympic gold medals, a 2010 FIBA title with a thrilling team built on young stars, and zero losses since 2006 -- had been an honor. He said he expected USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo to name his successor this summer, and that was basically that. An excellent chapter in Coach K's illustrious coaching history had quietly closed. On to the next.
Turns out, Coach K just can't quit USA Basketball. This past weekend, Coach K told SI.com he is in discussions to return to the team through the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero, discussions which Colangelo appears all but set on at this point:
However, Krzyzewski told SI.com on Saturday that he and USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo have been talking about his return "quite a bit."
"I think it's very close to being resolved," Colangelo said in the SI.com report. "That's all I can say for sure. Give it another week and it should be resolved."
And why not? That's the immediate response to all this. If Coach K is still interested in the job, and Colangelo can convince the 66-year-old he has the time and energy to devote himself to it, why wouldn't you lock him up for as long as he wants to do it?
The national team job is not like most coaching jobs. X's and O's are the most visible, and thus the most routinely overrated, part of a coach's job, but never is that more true than with Team USA. Even as the world catches up to us, Team USA will always be the most talented group on the floor. It should beat nearly every opponent, save perhaps Spain, in convincing fashion. We have LeBron James. We're too good. Even so, this presents a different set of coaching challenges. It involves managing an entire team full of big egos. It requires a coach who can focus players on the task at hand without seeming draconian or detail-obsessed. It requires someone to constantly instill the importance of unpaid Olympic basketball to millionaires for whom it must sometimes seem like an unnecessary summertime hindrance.
Coach K has excelled at precisely those things, while also recognizing the difference between NBA and foreign rules and establishing an open, spread offensive style of play (with Carmelo Anthony as a devastating long-range four) that works in the foreign game. He has re-established Team USA as the hegemonic superpower domestic fans demand, and become something of a surrogate collegiate mentor to James and Kobe Bryant, among others. He has checked every possible box.
There are few coaches who could do the same. Phil Jackson, certainly. Greg Popovich, probably. George Karl and Jim Boeheim, maybe. After that, the list of coaches with enough gravitas to walk the tricky tightrope line required to coach a modern Dream Team verges on zero.