Candid Coaches: Which assistant is most likely to be a very successful head coach?

In football, the journalist Malcolm Gladwell calls it “the quarterback problem.” It’s virtually impossible to predict which well-regarded collegiate quarterbacks will become well-regarded NFL quarterbacks. “There is nothing like being an NFL quarterback except being an NFL quarterback,” Gladwell wrote. “There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired.”

In college basketball, we’ll call it “the assistant coach problem.” You can be the best doggone assistant coach in the country, recruiting the elite players and diamonds in the rough, developing talent at a high level, scouting opponents, refining your team’s offensive and defensive schemes, doing the bidding of your head coach. You can seem a star in the making. Yet still there’s no telling how you’re going to be when you move two feet over on the bench.

The jump from assistant to head coach is huge. You suddenly switch from behind-the-scenes operator to face of the program. You go from worrying about the 13 scholarship players on your roster to worrying about your athletic director, your radio show, your local media, your boosters.

In trying to determine who is headed for success, several names rose to the top. It’s an inexact science, to be sure, but if there’s anyone who knows which names we’ll be talking about a decade from now as the best in their profession, it’s the fellow coaches who are competing against them day in and day out. In our poll of more than 100 college coaches, we asked 

Which assistant coach is most likely to become a coaching star someday


Assistant coach


Vote percentage


Jon Scheyer

Duke Blue Devils

13.9 percent


Ron Sanchez

Virginia Cavaliers

12 percent


Chris Caputo


10.2 percent


Tommy Lloyd

Gonzaga Bulldogs

5.6 percent


David Patrick

TCU Horned Frogs

3.7 percent


Darris Nichols

Florida Gators

3.7 percent


Travis Steele

Xavier Musketeers

2.8 percent


Steve Lutz

Purdue Boilermakers

2.8 percent


Ashley Howard

Villanova Wildcats

2.8 percent


Mike Meredith / CBS Sports

Quotes that stood out

On Duke’s Jon Scheyer …

  • “Played at Duke. Coaches at Duke. That formula normally works!”
  • “Jon has always been able to relate as a teammate: Winning a national championship, leading his team as a senior, then coming back and coaching. He’s recruited great guys. He’s been doing this now for five years. The experience he’s had, winning a national championship at Duke, playing professionally, coming back — that’s something most guys don’t have.”
  • “The best way to be a successful head coach is to get a good job. And he’ll get a good job. All the Duke guys get good jobs.”

On Virginia’s Ron Sanchez …

  • “He is a good combination of a guy who can go get you a top-50 guy, and someone on that staff keeps identifying three-star guys who can get it done at a high, high level. They can…

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