Athlon's sits down with the young floor leader.
Brad Stevens orchestrated one of the most compelling NCAA Tournament runs in college basketball history last spring — just 10 years after quitting the business world to accept a volunteer coaching position at Butler. Stevens, 34, had his Bulldogs in the national championship game against Duke in Butler’s hometown of Indianapolis. The Hollywood script almost played out perfectly, but a last-second half-court shot bounced off the rim and Butler fell to the Blue Devils 61–59.
Stevens has enjoyed a measure of celebrity since: He threw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field in May, his team served as the Grand Marshal of the Indy 500 Festival parade later that month, and the Bulldogs were honored by the Colts at their home opener in September. In his first three years as a head coach, Stevens has won more games (89) than any other coach in NCAA history, and his fourth team is expected to be strong once again. The former DePauw guard who married his college girlfriend Tracy and now has two young children, has become college basketball’s hottest young coach. Athlon Sports caught up with Stevens as he prepared for the upcoming season.
Athlon Sports: Do you have a moment that sticks out to you more than any other of the six-game NCAA tournament run?
Brad Stevens: The moment that sticks out to me was driving on I-70 past Lucas Oil Stadium at about 3 a.m. when we were getting back from Salt Lake City (after winning the regional). That was the only time we allowed it to be surreal. The stadium was lit up. The Final Four banners were out. To know we were going to be playing in there in seven days was a pretty unique feeling.
AS: When you were at the Final Four with Duke, West Virginia and Michigan State, did you feel like Butler received the 'little brother' treatment from the national media?
BS: No. I don’t mind being called an underdog, and I certainly don’t mind being called a ‘mid-major.’ I take it more of a compliment if you can be successful. It is known in basketball circles and now hopefully in the general public that we’re not a ‘mid-major’ in terms of results. I don’t think it is ever a bad thing to be called an underdog.
AS: Since your team plays in the same gym that Hoosiers was filmed in, and the Final Four was in Indianapolis, the obvious storyline was to plug Butler into the Hickory High role. Did you or the players tire of that angle at all?
BS: Our players are pretty young. We didn’t have anyone born when Hoosiers was filmed. That shows how great the movie is because it has stood the test of time. I think they embraced the comparisons, but I don’t think we ever thought we couldn’t be successful.
AS: What was it like going toe-to-toe with Mike Krzyzewski for the national championship? Did you catch yourself glancing down the sideline and saying, 'Is this really happening?'?
BS: I didn’t, and maybe it is because I’ve had some experience with this before. Six games into my head coaching career, we were playing Coach (Bob) Knight and Texas Tech in Alaska. To be an Indiana kid coaching against one of the true giants of the game, who had a huge mark on your impressions of basketball growing up, that was an ‘ah-ha’ moment. But since then, it has been about preparing our team. I know who is on the other sideline and how good of a coach they are. Mike Krzyzewski has been the standard-bearer in college basketball for a long time.
AS: Did you try to treat the national title game as just another game, or did you realize this might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing for everyone involved and treat it as such?
BS: We tried to treat it is a regular game and our kids did a good job with it. They went to class that morning, we did our shootaround, we did our film that we usually do. We wanted to do what we do. There are always things you would like to have back within the course of the game, but as far as preparation, there are no regrets.
AS: Butler has become familiar to college basketball fans at this point, but for sports fans that don't follow college hoops that closely, how would you describe what makes Butler unique and how it came to be that reaching the Final Four was surprising but not necessarily impossible to believe.
BS: There are a lot of people that poured their hard work into this. Barry Collier set the foundation in the mid-1990s and I’ve been lucky enough to ride it. Thad Matta did great work. Todd Lickliter did great work. One of the things I enjoyed most about the Final Four was hearing from every player I had coached and every coach I had coached with after every game. It was pretty neat.
AS: You decided not to pursue more lucrative opportunities at bigger schools after the season. Why?
BS: Lucrative just refers to money, and I was given a really good piece of advice— resources aren’t dollars, they’re people. That is something we really put a lot of thought into and we are really happy at Butler. We know we are fortunate and we are thankful to have the job we have, and I’m talking about my staff and people in administration. This is a really good place to be.
AS: What ultimately made you decide to leave the business world for the coaching world?
BS: I was only 22 and didn’t have any financial responsibilities other than myself. I had been fortunate enough to save a little money and fortunate enough to have parents, family, friends and my girlfriend who is now my wife who all supported me a ton. They all said, ‘Go for it,’ and that was a big part of it.
AS: Did you have any 'What-have-I-done?' moments when you were stuffing envelopes in the Butler basketball office in 2000?
BS: Certainly, you question things, but the people at Eli Lilly were so great. They wanted me to do it and they were great about saying, if it doesn’t work out, let us know. That gave me a sense of ease in the transition. Whether or not I would have gone back for a job, I don’t know. I just had to jump in with both feet.
AS: Describe the day when you got the head coaching job at Butler at age 30.
BS: You are excited, but then it is right back to work. I never really had the moment of, ‘Wow, this is what I’m doing.’ You just go out and do it. The first thing that goes through your mind is, are all the players in the program going to stick with you, and are all the recruits who are coming still coming? Unanimously, they were all great, so that was a great start. Then you are moving on to the next group of recruits.
AS: You didn’t have to pitch going for the head coaching job to your wife, I assume.
BS: She loves being a part of the team. She was a soccer player in college so we both have always valued team sports in general and all that you can learn from being a member of a team and competing.
AS: How has she handled the lifestyle change of going from no children, to one, to two, during your time on the Butler staff?
BS: We’ve been fortunate in that we have been surrounded by a lot of friends and a lot of family. She grew up in Cleveland, so the farthest family we have is five hours away. I grew up here, so we have friends from high school and college here. The biggest change is she stopped working in the last couple of years, and that was an adjustment. She calls it ‘temporary retirement.’ I think she’s going back at some point.
AS: Were your two children able to go the NCAA tournament games last spring?
BS: My four-year old loves airplanes. He could care less about the basketball games. He was excited to fly to San Jose and Salt Lake City. He may have been the only person in Indianapolis who was mad that the Final Four was in Indianapolis. It was hard for both of them to make those long trips, but they went. My wife considered not taking them to the national championship game because it was a 9:18 p.m. tip, but we figured if they look at pictures later on in life and they weren’t there, they aren’t going to be very happy.