If it had been another school, maybe a Duke or Notre Dame or Indiana, there would be some reason to be angry about Brad Stevens’ departure from Butler, especially after he signed a long-term extension.
But the iconic Boston Celtics?
And a reported six-year, $22 million contract?
And a chance to coach at the highest level in the universe?
Good for Brad. Good for him.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Stevens, and he should not be blamed, even a little, for grabbing it with both hands.
The guy is a coaching superstar, having taken Butler to two national title games. He is a perfect NBA coach, a low-ego guy, an analytics and statistics wonk. He will fit in perfectly in the NBA, even if it’s going to take some time for the rebuilding Celtics to be a playoff team.
“Brad and I share a lot of the same values,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said. “Though he is young, I see Brad as a great leader who leads with impeccable character and a strong work ethic. His teams always play hard and execute on both ends of the court. Brad is a coach who has already enjoyed lots of success, and I look forward to working with him towards Banner 18.”
It’s going to be a few years for the Celtics. They are trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and will get very little back, at least in terms of immediate help. Right now, they are Rajon Rondo and a bunch of complementary pieces. Stevens shouldn’t be expected to win right away, or even in the first two years.
But he will win.
Eventually, he will win.
And he’ll be given the time to win.
NBA history is filled with examples of college coaches who didn’t quite make it at the NBA level, notably John Calipari, Rick Pitino and Jerry Tarkanian. Stevens will be the exception, as long as Ainge gives him some talent down the road. Nobody prepares like Stevens. Nobody handles game situations like Stevens. It doesn’t matter that some of his players will be his age (36) or slightly younger; Stevens will earn the respect of his players the moment he crosses their paths.
The best and most important quality Stevens brings to Boston is humility. He will understand quickly that unlike college, the NBA is a players league. He always got the best of his players at Butler, and he will get the best of his players in Boston.
Of more local concern, though, is what happens with Butler.
Monday, they moved up in weight class, joined the Big East.
Wednesday, they lost the best coach they’ve ever known.
But they’ve always moved on. And with Butler now in the Big East, it’s more of a destination than it’s ever been. Just as IU was IU before and after Bob Knight, Butler will remain a top-notch program long after Stevens sets up shop in Boston.
There should be nothing but good feelings now. We all knew this day would someday come. We just didn’t know if would be this soon, and it would be the NBA calling.
“We truly love Butler University and Indianapolis, and are very thankful to have had the opportunity to celebrate so many wonderful things together,’’ Stevens said in a statement. “What makes Butler truly unique is the people that we have been so blessed to work with. When it comes time for our kids to look at schools, we will start with Butler University.’’
Some potential replacements?
Some names: Todd Lickliter (now at Marian). Matthew Graves, although he sounds like he’s committed to staying at South Alabama. LaVall Jordan, the former Bulldog. Brandon Miller, another former Butler player and Butler assistant. Dan Dakich, the former Bowling Green and IU coach and now a radio/TV personality.
(Athletic director Barry Collier completely ruled out the possibility he would come in as a one-year replacement. “I’ve just hired myself,’’ he said. Then he paused. “And I just fired myself.’’)
This is, by any measure, a major blow for Butler. The Dawgs were good before Stevens and they’ll be good after Stevens, but under Stevens, they were great. They did things a mid-major is not supposed to do, pulling off the ridiculous and amazing double of reaching the NCAA national title game two years in a row with markedly different teams. Stevens won more games his first six years than any college coach in history. If he had stayed, he would have been a modern-day John Wooden.
It’s also a blow for college basketball. Stevens represented everything that is still good about the game. College sports can be a cesspool, but Stevens consistently rose above the stench.
The timing couldn’t be worse for Butler.
Join the Big East Monday.
Lose their head coach Wednesday.
And the evaluation of recruits isn’t far off.
But this isn’t about Butler. This is about Stevens, whose only loyalty was to his family, as it should be. This was about jumping for the kind of opportunity that may never come along ever again, a chance to be the Celtics 17th head coach. Go ahead and question Ainge for the Brooklyn trade, but he gets high marks for this one. It was a smart, inspired, out-of-the-box, out-of-left field move by the Celtics president.
A special guy got a special opportunity. Can’t blame him. Can’t blame him a bit.