Stevens shocks basketball world with move, leaves questions in wake
Butler’s Brad Stevens pulled off the shocker of shockers when the two time national-runner up coach landed with the Boston Celtics on Wednesday afternoon.
Stevens, who turned Butler from overachieving mid-major to national brand, had been a candidate for some of college basketball’s most high-profile jobs, including UCLA following the 2012-13. The Bulldogs coach has been one of college basketball's most respected coaches after becoming the youngest coach to reach the Final Four since Bob Knight in 1973 and winning more games (166) than any coach in the first six years of his career. Now, the basketball world knows what kind of job it would take to pry the 36-year-old from Butler.
The job won't be easy, though. Stevens takes over for Doc Rivers, who left for the Los Angeles Clippers on June 24. The Celtics are also rebuilding after trading stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets. Stevens is the another high-profile hire from the college ranks, joining Rick Pitino. After leaving Kentucky in 1997, Pitino endured four losing seasons with the Celtics before returning to the college game.
Here are three key questions we have following Wednesday's move:
Can Stevens turn the trend of college coaches in the NBA?
College coaches have a checkered history in the recent NBA ranks, most of them ending badly: Pitino already failed in Boston. John Calipari, Mike Montgomery, P.J. Carlesimo, Tim Floyd and Jerry Tarkanian all had failed tenures in the pro ranks after leaving college. Stevens is considered one of the brightest minds in the college game, and his cool demeanor may prove an asset. Still, he’s 36 and his recruiting approach and situation in the Horizon League and Atlantic 10 rarely brought in pro-sized egos.
What’s the future for Butler?
Butler has been one of the most successful programs in a mid-major conference thanks to a steady stream of good hires for the last 20 years. Barry Collier, now the athletic director, made Butler a winning program as Thad Matta (24-8 in one season) and Todd Lickliter (two Sweet 16 appearances) continued to build. Butler reached unprecedented heights under Stevens with back-to-back appearances in the national title game. Butler won’t have margin for error as the Bulldogs have moved from the Horizon to A-10 to the restructured Big East. Facing Marquette, Georgetown, Villanova and Xavier on a regular basis will be a new challenge.
Who is Butler’s next coach?
Stevens gave no public signs he intended to leave Butler, so we’ll find out how prepared Collier is to hire a new coach, especially after every vacant college job has been filled for months. Here are some guesses of where he make look:
Matthew Graves, South Alabama. This would be the logical move and the one with the greatest track record — had Stevens left in March. Graves, a former Butler player who had been on the staff since 2001, was hired this offseason as the head coach at South Alabama. The last three Butler coaches — Thad Matta, Todd Lickliter and Stevens — were all promoted from within. Graves played at Butler and has been on the staff since 2001.
Terry Johnson, Butler assistant. The longest tenured remaining assistant at Butler has been on the staff since 2007 and previously served in an administrative post. He played high school basketball in Indiana and coached and played at IPFW.
Brandon Miller, Butler assistant. The Butler alum has served two terms as an assistant at his alma mater, replacing Graves this offseason. Before that, he spent three seasons under Matta at Ohio State.
Jeff Boals, Ohio State assistant. An assistant for Matta at Ohio State, Boals has spent most of his career in the midwest at Robert Morris and Akron before Columbus. He’s ready for his first top job.
LaVall Jordan, Michigan assistant. Another assistant with Butler connections. Jordan started at Butler from 1998-2001 before serving as an assistant and coordinator of operations under Lickliter. He's spent the last four seasons at Michigan working with guards Trey Burke and Darius Morris.
Bryce Drew, Valparaiso. Knows the territory of Indiana basketball and has won two Horizon League regular season titles at his alma mater. Seeing him anywhere other than Valpo would be a strange sight, though.
Todd Lickliter, Marian (NAIA). He led Butler two the Sweet 16 twice in six seasons before a 38-57 tenure at Iowa. If Butler wants to go back to the well, he’s down the street in Indianapolis at Marian of the NAIA after spending last year as an assistant at Miami (Ohio).