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With Coach K departing, who’s college basketball’s next great villain?

Coach K is almost done. Who in the world of college basketball will claim his black hat?

When Mike Krzyzewski walks off the court for the final time in the next few weeks, he won’t just take with him an unparalleled legacy of winning. He’ll roll into retirement steps ahead of a sulfurous cloud of fury, disgust and envy. Along with the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and Notre Dame football, Duke basketball completes the Mount Rushmore of American Sports Hatred, where the nationwide loathing of each of those teams is matched only by their fans’ smug self-satisfaction.

Duke owes its high perch in the Kingdom of They Hate Us ‘Cause They Ain’t Us to Krzyzewski. Like no other coach before or since, he combined arrogance and victimhood with superiority, then committed the worst possible sports crime of all: he won. A whole lot.

For four decades now, NCAA tournament fans across the country have pulled up their brackets, sighed, and penciled in Duke to win two, three or more games. Through every floor-slapping, ref-abusing, foul-protesting, almost-cheap-shotting minute of every Duke game, Blue Devil haters have seethed, both at the fact that Duke even exists, and the fact that they’re more successful than pretty much any other school in basketball.

And for four decades now, Coach K and his teams have endured your hate. Fed off it even. The madder we all get at Duke, the more power we give them. And ignoring Duke isn’t an option; the moment you start taking them for granted, they reel off a 25-win season and start carving a path through the South Regional. (Weird how the luck of the draw always seems to give Duke games a half hour from campus, isn’t it?)

Strange as it seems, Coach K’s departure won’t just leave a vacuum in Durham. His absence will reverberate all across the nation. No longer will the college basketball universe be unified in its loathing.

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 15:  Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils directs his team against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the first half at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 15, 2022 in Durham, North Carolina. Krzyzewski did not return to the team bench after halftime and associate head coach Jon Scheyer of the Duke Blue Devils took over in the second half. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Who could take his place?

The most obvious answer is already in blue: Kentucky’s John Calipari. Coach Cal has both the longevity and the track record of Krzyzewski, the almost-annual high seed, the blue-chip recruit pipeline. It would be an easy matter indeed to transfer all our collective hatred for Duke a few hundred miles northwest to Lexington.

Except there’s this: Coach Cal is a familiar commodity. You already know exactly how you feel about Cal, and you have for decades now. Suddenly starting to develop an irrational hatred for Cal and Kentucky is like suddenly hating oatmeal. You’re just now getting around to this?

Plus, Cal hasn’t mellowed, exactly, but he’s become more likable. That’s not always the case with college basketball coaches; some remain as ornery and salty as month-old beef jerky until their retirement ceremony. But Cal’s edges are softer now, and that’s in large part because he’s turned out to be right about college basketball in the 21st century. When he embraced the one-and-done model, he was derided as a callous mercenary; now everyone’s doing it. (Yes, even sainted Duke.) Calipari recognized the direction the winds were blowing long before anyone else, and the way he provided for short-term residency for his players endeared him to generations of NBA stars and their eventual Wildcat successors.

So Cal’s out. So, for much the same reasons, is Syracuse's Jim Boeheim; you already know if you hate him or not. Which means we need to look younger. One possibility: Michigan’s Juwan Howard. He combines the blue-chip pedigree of Michigan with his own extensive name recognition. The smarmy college kids who hated the Fab Five back in the day are now cranky 50-year-olds posting suspect opinions on Facebook, and it’s pretty easy to channel a hatred of Howard the player into Howard the coach. Plus Howard clearly has a short fuse and is willing to throw hands during a postgame handshake, which does wonders for enraging the back-in-my-day crowd.

But here’s what Howard doesn’t yet have: wins. Lots and lots of wins. And that’s a key component of the next great college basketball supervillain: it’s not just about their attitude, it’s about their record, too. They’ve got to not just make you mad, they’ve got to beat you while they’re doing it. Who cares about some gesticulating, whining coach if he gets bounced before the Sweet Sixteen? Basketball karma does all the work needed there.

The sport’s winningest current coaches don’t exactly inspire maniacal rage in anyone but their fiercest rivals. Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Baylor’s Scott Drew are perfectly capable of getting under an opponent’s skin, but largely by employing better schemes, not by whining to the media about mistreatment or ripping the skin off a ref’s back during a timeout.

Another up-and-comer to watch is over in Memphis. Penny Hardaway lived his entire NBA career — at least the part where he wasn’t injured — walking a delicate balancing act of supreme confidence and aggrieved complaining. Since taking over the Tigers, he’s exhibited many of those same characteristics — along with a fast-and-loose relationship with NCAA regulations — but like Howard, he doesn’t have the track record of wins to stand upon.

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 15: Associate head coach Jon Scheyer of the Duke Blue Devils directs his team in the second half against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 15, 2022 in Durham, North Carolina. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils did not return to the game in the second half. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Jon Scheyer is set to take over for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke next season. (Lance King/Getty Images)

You could look to the Hurley brothers — Arizona State’s Bobby and UConn’s Dan, both of whom have the requisite how-dare-the-refs-penalize-us tics that enrage opposing fans. Bobby, of course, bleeds Duke blue. But again, they lack the requisite victory totals necessary to turn the entire country against them.

Auburn’s Bruce Pearl has his share of detractors, isn’t afraid of a microphone and has something going with the Tigers. But it’s still Auburn basketball, which doesn’t even get Crimson Tide juices flowing too much.

Which brings us to the reason none of these coaches will take over the mantle of Coach K: they’re not coaching at Duke.

Duke, as an institution, inspires more rage and disgust than any five other schools in the college basketball universe combined. (You know how to tell someone’s a Duke student, right? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you in the first 30 seconds you meet them.) Coach K embodied the entire Duke arrogant-victimhood ethos: Why isn’t everyone always telling us how great we are?

So that leaves us, really, with only one candidate, and it’s the obvious one all along: Jon Scheyer, Coach K’s replacement on the Duke sideline. He inherits a team capable of a deep tournament run, he’s already swaddled in the entire Duke atmosphere, and — like so many Duke fans — he got the job in part because he was part of the family.

Granted, Scheyer has aspects of his character that might actually make him seem likable: he was a public school kid, his pro career was derailed by an eye injury, and he wasn’t a high-strung, agitated, foul-seeking shrieker, unlike so many Duke players. So, points in his favor there.

Scheyer may not have Krzyzewski’s … well, let’s call it “prickly” character. But that’s the kind of thing you can learn, particularly if things don’t immediately fall in Duke’s favor from the start of the 2022-23 season. (Plus, with Scheyer in house, there’s always the possibility that Coach K won’t be as far from the program as he’d like us to believe … )

We’d wish you good luck, Coach Scheyer, but Duke’s already up to its horns in more luck than it deserves.