Candid Coaches: Who will be better five years from now — Duke after Coach K or UNC after Roy Williams?

CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander surveyed more than 100 coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at smaller Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, the coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics. This week and next we’ll be posting the results on 10 questions asked.

The 2021 college coaching carousel was among the most consequential of the past three or four decades. It wasn’t just that more than 60 jobs changed, it’s that some of the most prestigious ones had swaps at the top.

None bigger than North Carolina.

And next spring, none bigger than Duke. 

We are in the midst of a paradigm shift in coaching that’s not only rare, it’s historic. Consider the men exiting, the rivalry connecting them and the prestige of the programs involved. Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski. Carolina and Duke. It’s all unprecedented to be happening at two of the three most important schools in the sport, and within a year’s time. When Krzyzewski retires about six months from now, we will be in a new era of blueblood uncertainty on Tobacco Road. The twist: new UNC coach Hubert Davis gets a one-year head start on his Duke rival, Jon Scheyer. Since neither has been the head coach for a Division I game as of today, we wanted to get coaches’ opinions on which program is better positioned in their forthcoming post-Krzyzewski and post-Williams eras. 

Which program will be in a better spot five years from now: Duke or North Carolina?

Quotes that stood out

Those who voted for Duke

  • “I think Duke and I don’t think it will be narrow. Duke’s recruiting comparative to Carolina, and not that Carolina’s recruiting poorly, but there’s a gap. Hubert could be the best coach in the country, but it’s about players and I look at what Jon’s getting already in this ’22 class and it’s like, man, they’ve got three top-10 guys committed and another young man who’s a top-50 player. The level that Duke’s recruiting at is elite.” 
  • “Duke will be better in five years. They are taking quality kids and that brand is so strong, staff will work it and K will still be involved.”
  • “I’m going to say Duke, just based on the early recruiting success Scheyer has had so far. That program obviously hasn’t skipped a beat yet in that regard.”
  • “Duke is interesting because they have everything. But history suggests both programs will struggle. The guy after them has a much better chance.”
  • “Duke’s just got a better name. I think Duke is better set up to be exceptional. I’ve played at both places and the way the setup is for Duke, when you go into Cameron, it’s just different. Like Kansas, they’re a 20-point favorite before every game. You really have to beat the crap out of them to beat them at their place. Think about the Cameron Crazies. They were gone last year and Duke couldn’t beat anybody. I told Coach K when we played down there, what he’s built is nothing short of extraordinary. You go to Carolina, they have a bunch of old people who don’t care as much about the game. It’s a great arena but it’s bigger, but the fan base that goes to games aren’t into the games like the kids at Duke, where they are INVESTED.”
  • “Duke will be better. No question. Their former players are so invested in the program being successful and helping recruit players for the future.”
  • “Much more aggressive lately in promoting themselves. Today, winning the image battle is almost as important. UNC seems a bit sleepy.”
  • “My guess would be Duke. But both will drop. Neither will sustain the success [they’ve had] because of the lack of force of personality in either program. They will win — but not at the same level.”
  • “I trust Scheyer more than I trust Hubert. It is really that simple.”

Those who voted for UNC

  • “UNC. No matter what — maybe Scheyer could be the best of all time — but it’s just so reminiscent of UCLA and John Wooden. John Wooden was bigger than UCLA. I think Mike Krzyzewski’s bigger than Duke, and therefore there has to be slippage because he’s been there so long on the sideline. Carolina had Dean Smith, and Matt Doherty, but Carolina’s been Carolina longer than Duke’s been Duke. Duke is Coach K. Carolina is Carolina.” 
  • “I think Hubert’s a really smart guy and I think his NBA experience will play well and impact. I think he’s got some backbone to him and he’s got a very competitive side. Everyone sees this really nice guy, and I think he’s got a recruiting [pitch] aligned with North Carolina that will be impactful on the road.” 
  • “I think it’s North Carolina. They’re both great jobs and they’re coming off unprecedented success with K and Roy, obviously. I do think, it’s just my opinion, I do think North Carolina is built even better to succeed year in, year out no matter who’s there. UNC is the best job in the sport. Without question.” 
  • “Duke is smaller, a particular school that Mike has been an icon at. North Carolina has rolled through different coaches and had success. Everyone forgets the recruiting success of Doherty. They won a national championship that next year with his players.”
  • “Carolina is a fantastic program that has won with different coaches. Frank McGuire won. Dean Smith won a lot. Bill Guthridge won. Even Matt Doherty won some too. Roy Williams won a lot. Duke has been incredible under Coach K — and Jon will win for sure and could probably win a national championship. But in the long run, Carolina will be stronger.”
  • “I trust the North Carolina program more than I trust the Duke program. I truly believe North Carolina is a self-sustaining program. Duke is a Coach K program. Scheyer, I don’t know that he is the guy to keep it [at an elite level].”

The takeaway

Being that there is no replicating the success of K and Roy, the 71/29 voting split shocks me. 

This particular question was born out of some conversations back in July, when I was in North Augusta, South Carolina, for the Nike EYBL circuit. As Hubert Davis and/or Jon Scheyer shuffled into a gym to watch a five-star prospect, a few coaches over the course of a couple days began to casually ask, “Which one’s gonna do better?”

It’s certainly a fun point of curiosity within college basketball. Neither has been a head coach, and both men have a lot of supporters re: why they believe they’ll have good amounts of success at their dream jobs.

But nothing is guaranteed, and so that’s why I was shocked to learn that 71% of the coaches we polled (with well over half of them from power conferences) are picking Duke/Scheyer. Going in, I expected about a 55/45 lean for Duke because of its dominant run in the past decade in recruiting.

And recruiting factors in significantly here. Recent recruiting.

For the sake of transparency, about 75% of the coaches polled were contacted prior to Duke landing five-star 2022 center Dereck Lively Jr., the No. 2 player in his class who doubled as the third five-star prospect in less than two months to commit to what will be Scheyer’s Blue Devils. The final quarter of were heavy on Duke; Scheyer’s wins on the recruiting trail clearly impacted the voting here, and that’s fair. Duke has the No. 1-rated group for 2022 at this point, narrowly edging out a very nice Kentucky class.

Five years is a long time in college athletics, and succeeding a legend is in many ways an unenviable task. But if we’re talking big-picture storylines in college hoops, the Duke vs. UNC parallel track (or will it stay parallel?) over the next few years is near the top of the list of good college plot lines. 

To be clear, it’s not as if seven out of 10 coaches are saying UNC won’t be pretty good in 2026, or that Davis will fail. Not at all. Among those we surveyed who picked Duke, many framed it as though Duke has a healthy shot at being a top-five program in 2026, whereas UNC — in their view — is more likely to be just a tad behind. Only a few coaches surveyed predicted either coach to completely fail and essentially be out of a job by 2026.

And as the quotes above show, there are some staunch believers in the North Carolina as a job and a program. Coaches who believe it’s the best spot to ensure the most success. The school of Dean Smith and Michael Jordan. The big state school that’s way more beloved in its own state, even if Duke edges it out nationally in mass appeal. 

Duke and North Carolina seem like the kind of gigs where experience as a head coach is a prerequisite. And yet it’s just the opposite. In-house assistants plucked to take over two of the three most important jobs in the sport. The evolution of this rivalry will be fascinating, because for the first time in decades, we don’t truly know what to expect.

Previously in Candid Coaches:

Christin Hakim

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