He’s already home
HOUSTON – Brad Stevens has been asked where he was going to coach next since he led Butler to the national title game last year. The proper answer, it turned out, was right back to Monday with the exact same school, this time against Connecticut.
Now, as then, a sport whose fans love to gossip about the coaching carousel can’t come to grips with the idea that the hottest coach in America continues to express limited interest in leaving the Horizon League for some program with bigger money in a bigger conference.
Well, maybe they should.
Stevens is 34, so while it’s not likely he’s going to retire from Butler, it is likely he’s back in Indianapolis next year. And maybe for years to come after that.
The issue is simple; there are very few places that could even be discussed as “better” situations for Brad Stevens at the present time than Butler University.
And even if no one else acknowledges it, he most certainly does.
“I think people always look at their job and you hear people say this all the time, that the grass is greener somewhere else,” Stevens said Sunday. “Well, I think we [his family] recognize the grass is very green at Butler. Butler’s been terrific to us. Butler’s gone in a lot of ways out of their way for us. We recognize that.”
This is beyond the typical coach-speak about not wanting to leave. Stevens makes no definitive statements, yet has shown no indication of wanting to go anywhere, or use the illusion he might go anywhere to hold up Butler for more money. And, as he notes, “my cell phone hasn’t rung.”
It could if he wanted.
Stevens said it’s a bit surreal that millions of people have an opinion on his future employment – a decision that he notes is extremely personal since it affects his family.
“It’s funny to listen to some of the talk because some of it’s out in left field and a lot of it’s speculation,” he said.
Well, from out here in left field let’s entertain him with more speculation. In the college ranks there are perhaps just a handful of jobs he should even consider jumping for – Duke, Indiana, Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina.
Each of those schools has a coach in place, and the only one that hasn’t been consistently winning – IU – welcomes what could be a turnaround recruiting class next fall.
Stevens probably wouldn’t even be able to get the Duke job whenever Mike Krzyzewski retires – presuming the job stays within the Blue Devils “family.” Ditto for Carolina in the unlikely scenario Roy Williams were to step down for some reason any time soon.
He’s now far beyond the “hot, young coach” label that leads guys to move up the ladder. With consecutive appearances in the title game (at the very least) he’s simply a great coach. Young or not. His appeal on the open job market will not diminish if Butler isn’t back in the Final Four next season.
At this point, there isn’t a school in America that wouldn’t be thrilled to have him.
Stevens’ options go beyond the college ranks, too. He has the demeanor – both in game preparation, player development and team interaction – that makes him an intriguing NBA coach. NBA players want a coach that is competent and can assist in individual matchups, two of Stevens’ strengths. The all-basketball nature of pro coaching would appeal to his intellect and competitive instincts. And there’s never been a college coach who missed the grind of recruiting. The lifestyle he’s carved out at Butler, however, might be better for a young family, which includes a son and daughter.
And presently that’s where this circles back. He’s in no rush; the hoops world is his oyster. If he wins Monday, he’s the second youngest coach to do it (Indiana’s Branch McCracken was just 31 when he led the Hoosiers to the title in 1940). And he’ll have done it at Butler, of course.
His comfort level at Butler is significant. He grew up just 20 minutes outside Indianapolis. He expresses great loyalty to the school for offering him an opportunity as a young coach. He has extreme trust in athletic director Barry Collier.
He loves the school’s beautiful campus, tight-knit community and historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, which is undergoing a $25 million facelift. For years he’s said the coolest part of his job is having a key to the old barn. He’s said players that love Hinkle tend to be his kind of guys. Ones that wonder where some bells-and-whistles practice facility is, may not be.
As the program’s reputation grows, he’s conscious of not changing too much.
“I think the most important thing is that we try to advance appropriately without losing who we are,” he said.
Stevens may never be able to bring in the parade of high school All-Americans that he could at one of the Cadillac programs, although he may be able to get some of them. Last fall, Butler was a finalist for local star Cody Zeller, who chose Indiana.
Regardless, he’s displayed the acumen for attracting talented guys who fit what he’s looking for – namely an interest in team basketball and individual improvement. A year ago, Stevens had forward Gordon Hayward leave early for the NBA lottery. Either this year or next, guard Shelvin Mack will join him in the league.
Neither was heavily recruited by larger schools.
Now their coach is; and he doesn’t seem very interested in hearing the pitch.