Get over the shock of Brad Stevens becoming the next coach of the Boston Celtics, and it’s easy to see why Butler’s baby-faced wonder found one of the NBA’s most prestigious gigs alluring.
If Stevens wins in Boston, he’ll have achieved something Rick Pitino, John Calipari Mike Montgomery could not: success in both college basketball and the NBA. If he turns out to be a bust with the rebuilding Celtics, there’s still no downside. He gets a big NBA payday, yet can still pull a Pitino and snap up the first big vacant college job he wants if he gets fired.
Word Stevens was Boston-bound first came via a bombshell of a joint press release issued by Butler and the Celtics on Wednesday evening as most people were getting ready to enjoy a long July 4 weekend. The news blindsided those in basketball circles because there had been no talk of Stevens as a candidate and because the Butler coach had turned down lucrative overtures from the likes of UCLA, Illinois and Oregon since leading the Bulldogs to two straight Final Fours in 2010 and 2011.
If it inspires skepticism that so many college coaches have flamed out so spectacularly in the NBA, there’s reason to believe Stevens can be the exception to the rule. His calm yet competitive disposition is a good fit for the NBA, as is his well-chronicled enthusiasm for analytics and a coaching style that relies more on Xs and Os substance than rah-rah speeches and recruiting pitches.
The challenge facing Stevens will be earning the respect of NBA players, no easy task considering many of them look older than the 36-year-old coach and a few of them actually are. He’ll also need patience from Boston fans and ownership considering the Celtics are facing a major rebuilding project after jettisoning Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in recent weeks.
Whatever obstacles Stevens faces in Boston will pale in comparison to Butler’s challenge trying to replace him.
From Thad Matta to Todd Lickliter, other coaches have succeeded at Butler before Stevens, but his laid-back demeanor and ability to win big second-tier recruits and win big with them made him a perfect fit for the mid-major power. Worse yet, top assistant Matthew Graves, a potential candidate to replace Stevens, just left Butler to become the next coach at South Alabama earlier this offseason.
The timing of Stevens’ departure also could not be worse for Butler since the school is set to begin play in the Big East next season. It will be up to the next coach to prove the Bulldogs haven’t peaked and to continue the ascent that Stevens accelerated.
Regardless, Butler fans can’t be too bitter Stevens is going green.
He gave them 166 wins, 12 NCAA tournament victories, four regular season league titles and three conference tournament championships. Now he’s leaving for a new challenge that has more upside than downside.