What Stevens’ departure means for Butler
by Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY Sports
Brad Stevens always liked to joke that Butler’s live bulldog mascots were more popular on campus than he was. He loved talking about historic Hinkle Fieldhouse and how important it was to the program and recruiting.
And while those two parts are integral to Butler’s brand, the school just lost its most recognizable piece – who is also one of the top coaches in the college game. Stevens, quite literally, is one of a handful of coaches who would feasibly be in the running for any college basketball job opening, be it Kansas or Duke or UCLA.
On Wednesday night, Stevens, 36, announced that he’d be leaving Butler after 13 years (seven as an assistant, six as head coach) to coach the Boston Celtics.
Butler athletic director Barry Collier, a former Butler men’s basketball coach himself, will have to move quickly to hire a replacement. The July recruiting period is nearly upon us, and the Bulldogs are also in the process of making a big jump up to the Big East.
The good news? Butler wasn’t Butler solely because of Stevens. Collier took a program that had been floundering for decades to the NCAA tournament three times, a stretch that included four seasons with 22-plus wins. Thad Matta, now the coach at Ohio State, went 24-8 in his lone season as Butler’s head coach. After him, Todd Lickliter took the Bulldogs to two Sweet 16s.
Of course, Stevens led two teams to the Final Four, taking the program to unprecedented levels. He’s been the mainstay as the athletic department moved from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 and, now, three days into its Big East tenure.
While Butler will miss Stevens’ .772 winning percentage, charisma and smarts, perhaps this doesn’t signal a huge dropoff, even if this coming season might be full of adjustments and struggles.
“Butler’s been really good for a long time,” Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart said. “Brad’s done a terrific job there, but several coaches before him made it a great program. I’m sure they’ll hire a terrific coach and build on that success.”
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas agreed: “Butler was a great … [For more on Analysis: What Brad Stevens' departure means for Butler, click here.]