When USA Basketball's senior men's team re-convenes in two years for the next World Championships, someone besides Mike Krzyzewski will be calling the plays. Coach K's departure creates a major void. He took over the team after their embarrassing third-place finish at the Athens games and, along with USA Basketball head Jerry Colangelo, completely rebuilt the program. During his tenure, Team USA racked up an impressive 62-1 record with a World Championship and two Olympic gold medals. Team USA hasn't lost a game since the semifinal round of the 2006 FIBA World Championships.
Big shoes to fill, no doubt. But the list of candidates to replace Coach K is also pretty impressive.
Based on Krzyzewski's success - and the struggles of teams run by pro coaches like George Karl (2002 World Championships) and Larry Brown (2004 Olympics) - might lead Colangelo to go with another college coach. But the list of NCAA coaches that can rival Krzyzewski's stature in the game is fairly short. There are several worthy candidates from the professional ranks, but the longer NBA season might not leave enough time for a coach to run his own club and the national team.
Here's a look at some of the candidates that have been mentioned for the job. Who would you like to see coaching the next Dream Team?
The head coach of the Michigan State Spartans has an NCAA title, seven Big Ten championships and six trips to the Final Four on his resume and is one of college basketball's most respected coaches. And unlike other college coaches (more on them in a second) Izzo has the reputation of one who plays by the rules, which could give him an advantage over others in the college ranks.
Stylistically, he's a good match; Team USA's biggest advantages in international competition have been high pressure defense and excellent guard play, and Izzo's best Spartan teams have had the same calling cards.
Izzo is 57 - similar in age to Krzyzewski when he took the reins. And he has experience with international competition, having coached the national team for the 2003 Pan-American games.
If USA Basketball opts for another college coach, Izzo is probably the most logical choice.
On his basketball resume alone, Calipari merits consideration. He's taken three different teams to the Final Four and won a national championship. His Kentucky Wildcat program continues to churn out NBA players at an alarming rate. He's got relationships with a number of players that will likely be part of the USA Basketball program in 2014 and beyond, including Anthony Davis, Derrick Rose and LeBron James. And he knows the international game - he coached the Dominican Republic through this summer's Olympic Qualifying tournament, narrowly missing out on a chance to play in London.
And Cal is just 53 - he could potentially run the program through the 2020 Games without getting particularly close to retirement age.
On the other hand, Calipari remains one of basketball's most polarizing figures. Though he's never been personally implicated in any NCAA violation, his first two trips to the Final Four were vacated; the perception that he plays dirty is very strong. He's probably too controversial a choice for this assignment.
If USA Basketball is willing to hire an NBA coach, "Pop" is the obvious choice. He's a four-time NBA champion. He has a feel for the international game and its players by virtue of the fact that he's coached so many - Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, Nene and more - in San Antonio. Like Krzyzewski, he's got a background in the military. (Coach K attended - and coached - at West Point. Popovich is a graduate of the Air Force Academy.) And he has been a part of USA Basketball; he was an assistant coach with the 2002 World Championship, 2003 Tournament of the Americas and 2004 Olympic teams.
Of course, that experience wasn't all positive. The 2002 team finished sixth overall, and the 2004 team brought home the bronze medal. That and his close ties to Larry Brown - head coach of the dysfunctional 2004 team.
His age is another question mark. Popovich is 63; it's unclear how much longer he'll be willing to deal with the day-to-day grind of coaching.
One of the most popular head coaches in the NBA, Rivers led the Celtics to an NBA championship in 2008. More importantly, he seems to have a knack for getting superstar players to sacrifice their individual numbers and play within a system.
The only real question is whether or not Rivers - or any NBA coach, for that matter - would be willing to put in the time. Rumors that Rivers was going to step away from coaching - at least temporarily - have been swirling for years and were only partially put to rest by the five-year contract extension he signed in May 2011.
Also worth noting - Rivers has not been part of USA Basketball as a coach to this point, though he was the MVP of the 1982 FIBA World Championship tournament.
In his role as a commentator for NBC during the London Games, Rivers suggested Doug Collins - who was also working for NBC during the games - as the next coach of Team USA. That would certainly make for a good story; the 76ers coach was a member of the 1972 Olympic team that lost the gold medal game in highly controversial fashion; it'd be nice to see him finish an Olympics on a more positive note. But Collins doesn't have the championship resume of the other coaches on this list and sentimentality isn't a good enough reason to make him the choice.
There are several very deserving candidates on the current Team USA coaching staff; Krzyzewski assistants Jim Boeheim, Mike D'Antoni and Nate MacMillan are all qualified to step in and run the show. Boeheim probably only makes sense as a coach for the World Championships in 2014 - he'll be 68 this November.
MacMillan (48) would make more sense than D'Antoni (61) as someone to take over for a longer period of time, but after his ouster from the Trail Blazers, getting a regular NBA job may be a much bigger concern at this point.
Ex-Toronto Raptors coach Jay Triano has been a big part of the USA Basketball organization throughout Krzyzewski's tenure, but he's the longest of long shots.
Colangelo could also decide to look for a coach with experience in the NBA, who isn't currently working with a specific team. Either of the Van Gundy brothers - Jeff or Stan - would fit that bill.