I always have mixed feelings when a truly good college basketball coach makes the jump to the NBA. It hardly ever works out well — the two are almost different sports, and the athletic prowess in the NBA makes coaching somewhat of an afterthought. Does anyone who really knows basketball think that Eric Spoelstra is a better coach than Gregg Popovich? And have you listened to those mic’ed-up NBA coaches during time outs? “We have to keep grinding!” Hey, easy on the x’s and o’s, professor.
So I watch Brad Stevens head to the Boston Celtics with a touch of sadness. He was so good for Butler — and college basketball. His teams played with patience or abandon, depending on the possession, and intelligence and heart, always. At 36 he’s a throwback to great fundamental coaches of yesteryear — with a large helping on Moneyball on the side. He grew up in Indiana watching the Hoosiers in Bobby Knight’s heyday, and indeed Knight — by now the coach at Texas Tech — once said of Stevens’ Butler team: “I wish we played as smart as they do.”
He was the youngest coach since Knight (1973) to make it to the Final Four, which he did twice. He never won fewer than 22 games in six seasons as the Bulldogs’ head coach, and led Butler to two national championship games.
Butler officially joined the Big East on Monday, which is kind of like the NBA anyway.
Stevens, in a Butler press release today:
“Our family is thrilled for the opportunity given to us by the leadership of the Boston Celtics, but it is emotional to leave a place that we have called home for the past 13 years.
“We truly love Butler University and Indianapolis, and are very thankful to have had the opportunity to celebrate so many wonderful things together. What makes Butler truly unique is the people that we have been so blessed to work with. When it comes time for our kids to look at schools, we will start with Butler University.”
I would have loved to see Stevens step in to coach the Hoosiers when Knight was forced out — but he was working at Eli Lilly and Company pharmaceuticals then. He didn’t become an assistant coach until the following year, and had been at Butler ever since.
Bold move by Danny Ainge, and a smart one. Unfortunately, it’s my opinion that Stevens’ talents will be wasted in the NBA. He was born to coach kids and confound other college coaches. Hell, he’s practically just a kid himself. But this is no-lose for Stevens himself. It’s not like he can’t go back to college anytime he feels like it.
And speaking of that … whoa:
Brad Stevens is the American Dream personified. Couldn't be happier for him. Thought: Coach K retires right around time Celts fire Stevens?
— Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) July 3, 2013
That just blew your mind.
Brad Stevens just did this pic.twitter.com/fjl2cgNLm2
— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) July 3, 2013
Brad Stevens is trending worldwide. Even people in Turkmenistan are shocked.
— Neil Best (@sportswatch) July 3, 2013
Smart move by Danny Ainge to get rid of all the players who were older than Brad Stevens before bringing him on.
— Mike Hayes (@michaelhayes) July 3, 2013
This has to be the slowest sports news year in Boston ever
— Greg Bishop (@nytbishop) July 3, 2013
I feel blessed for all my success and years at Butler and I feel blessed for this opportunity. Thank you for all the support.
— Brad Stevens (@BOSCoachStevens) July 4, 2013