Brad Stevens looks young enough to be mistaken for a player or student manager, but the 33-year-old Butler coach's boyish face belies the meandering journey he's taken to reach this Final Four.
Less than a decade ago, Stevens was on the corporate track as a marketing associate for an Indianapolis pharmaceutical giant. He shocked his friends and family by walking away from that job to attempt to forge a path for himself as a basketball coach, rising from a volunteer assistant to the leader of the bracket-busting team that has brought the movie "Hoosiers" to life.
"Now it looks like a great idea," Stevens said, chuckling. "At the time I just thought it was something that I really wanted to try, really wanted to do. I was really fortunate at 22 or 23 years old not to have any responsibility beyond myself. I didn't have a family. I wasn't married up to that point. My long-time girlfriend at the time and I both decided to kind of chase that dream."
As his future wife, Tracy, moved to Cleveland to finish law school and live with her cancer-stricken mother, Stevens decided he couldn't live with himself if he didn't pursue his basketball dreams. The former DePauw University basketball player had run an AAU program and volunteered as coach for a local high school while working at Eli Lilly, but his passion for hoops wasn't satiated until Thad Matta hired him as a volunteer assistant at Butler in summer 2000.
Stevens has risen astonishingly quickly through the coaching ranks at Butler, partially because the coaches that preceded him moved on to bigger jobs and partially because he possessed the energy, dedication and acumen to take advantage. When Bulldogs coach Todd Lickliter took the Iowa job in spring 2007, athletic director Barry Collier needed only to interview the three assistant coaches on the Butler staff and one or two outside candidates before realizing that Stevens was the man for the job.
Although Stevens began as the second-youngest head coach in Division I basketball, the transition has been more seamless than Collier could have hoped. Stevens has compiled a 88-14 record in three seasons at Butler, leading the Bulldogs to three consecutive NCAA tournament berths culminating with this year's historic hometown Final Four appearance.
As Stevens prepares to match wits with the likes of Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Huggins this weekend, does he ever allow himself to consider what life would have been like had he stayed in the corporate world?
"If everything else remained the same, I would have been as happy as heck," Stevens said. "I have a wonderful wife, great kids, tons of friends in Indianapolis that I've grown up with in high school and went to college with. You know, it's not like life was bad. It was just one of those things you wanted to take a shot and see what happens."