CBSSports.com college basketball writers Gary Parrish, Jeff Borzello and Matt Norlander spent the July recruiting period at various NCAA-sanctioned events, where they talked with coaches from all levels. They asked for honest opinions on prospects, players, coaches and issues. They'll be sharing those opinions over a three-week period.
Weeks before LeBron James wrote that essay, and well over a month in some cases, sources have told CBSSports.com that a string of college coaches -- John Calipari, Billy Donovan, Bill Self, Tom Izzo, Fred Hoiberg, Kevin Ollie, etc., -- either passed on the Cavaliers job or at least politely declined the opportunity to be pursued, which is ultimately how and why David Blatt ended up as the favorite to win the 2015 NBA title. Simply put, the college coaches in question were unwilling to bounce to Cleveland without some assurances that James would indeed return home. And though I can't tell you all of them regret their decisions now, what I can tell you is that multiple coaches from the above list have privately said they would've likely taken the Cleveland job had they known for certain that the planet's best player would be on the Cleveland roster this season.
Regardless, it's Blatt's job now, and I suspect he'll do well (if only because it's hard to lose with James). But what if something goes wrong? What it things don't click? What if Cleveland doesn't win the title (or even the Eastern Conference)? Those are the questions that lead to our next question in the Candid Coaches series.
Which college coach would be the best fit to coach LeBron James -- if the Cavs job opened again for whatever reason in the next few years?
- Mike Krzyzewski: 23 percent
- Fred Hoiberg: 22 percent
- John Calipari: 17 percent
- Billy Donovan: 15 percent
- Tom Izzo: 7 percent
- Kevin Ollie: 5 percent
- Shaka Smart: 4 percent
- Bill Self: 2 percent
(Note: No other coaches received multiple votes.)
FIVE QUOTES THAT STOOD OUT
On Krzyzewski: "Coach K has coached LeBron before and has been able to get NBA guys to 'be coached' by him, which is the challenge for college coaches. I also think Coach K is innovative enough to take advantage of LeBron, which is something that would be attractive to the cerebral LeBron."
On Hoiberg: "I just like Hoiberg's demeanor. ... I think he's thought-out. He's as thought-out as any of us."
On Calipari: "He's the obvious choice because they have a relationship. But you wonder if it needs to be someone with less of a bombastic personality. Erik Spoelstra did a great job because he made it clear that it wasn't about him."
On Donovan: "Billy would be a great fit to coach any NBA guy -- LeBron included. He has the right demeanor, the right everything. I'm surprised he's still in college, honestly."
On Izzo: "Izzo knows how to push guys and be tough while making sure they understand it's all coming from a good place. He could absolutely do the job. But he's turned down so many NBA jobs already that it's starting to look like he'll retire at Michigan State."
THE TAKEAWAY (BY GARY PARRISH)
It should come as no shock that Krzyzewski received the most votes considering he's already shown via USA Basketball that he's a good fit coaching James, and I'm actually surprised the Hall of Famer didn't get every vote given the way the question was worded. Again, K is undeniably a great fit and probably the best fit. So he's the proper answer to the question as asked. But he's also 67 and an institution at Duke, meaning it's hard to believe he'd take on a new challenge with different demands at this stage in his life.
That's the popular opinion among most coaches, at least.
They pretty much all agree Krzyzewski would be great but doubt that he'd actually leave Duke to coach somewhere else at this age (or older), and I think I'm on board with that opinion, too. So who among those listed would be a great fit and a candidate likely willing to jump? That appears to be Hoiberg, who seems to check every box.
He demands respect as a former player and a former executive, and he's widely regarded as a terrific basketball mind who understands how to motivate, manage and X-and-O. Consequently, literally nobody I know envisions a future that doesn't include Hoiberg in the NBA. Whether it'll be coaching James, who knows? But he could definitely do it.