After four successful years at Butler, Brad Stevens is heading to the NBA. (McClathy Tribune/Getty Images)
Butler is going to be OK.
Maybe not tomorrow -- well, definitely not tomorrow after Brad Stevens’ stunning move late Wednesday afternoon to take the head coaching job with the Boston Celtics. And maybe not this season, given that it’s already July, so hiring the right replacement may be very difficult at this stage of the college offseason, and the Bulldogs are entering a new life in the retooled Big East.
But Butler is going to be OK. More than OK. Because Butler, now more than ever, is more than just Brad Stevens, as incredibly successful as he was in his six seasons in charge.
What Stevens accomplished there, and what his presence meant for the program and the school, should not be marginalized in the slightest. He took a true mid-major program to two consecutive national title games. He was three inches away from a crown. He went 166-49 in his tenure there, good for a tremendous .772 win percentage. He led the program to 27 wins in their first year in the higher-level Atlantic 10.
He is incredibly bright and polished, which with his success made him the obvious first target for every major-conference athletic director with a job opening. The Indiana native said no every time, happy with his gig and the way Butler made multiple efforts to keep him. As a marketing device for the school, he was worth whatever he was getting paid many times over.
Now, in the blink of an eye, without any rumors or forewarning -- truly Stevens’ style -- he’s gone.
And Butler is going to be OK.
Before Stevens, there was Todd Lickliter and three seasons with at least 26 wins. Before Lickliter, there was a year of Thad Matta, who won 24 in his only campaign. Matta was set up by Barry Collier, who won at least 22 games in his final four seasons in charge. The Bulldogs had made Sweet 16s in both 2003 and 2007 before Stevens took over and brought the program to even greater, almost unfathomable heights.
The point is, Butler has been winning a heck of a lot of games for a heck of a number of years. The Bulldogs have put in their dues to gain acceptance to the Big Boy Club, and despite losing a remarkable basketball coach today, is in the best position it ever has been as a program.
Two days ago, the school officially became a member of the new Big East, conferring it with a never-before-obtained level of basketball cred. When the Fox Sports 1 money starts flowing into the school’s coffers, it will have ample opportunity to pour more cash into its marquee program. In the 2012 academic year, Butler spent nearly $4 million on basketball, a rich 27 percent of its overall athletics budget, and that number unquestionably will increase. Recruiting will be conducted at a higher level. An investment project to renovate and update historic Hinkle Fieldhouse is underway. With the top line of the athletics budget swelling, and an administration that has shown consistently strong acumen, the basketball program will continue to thrive.
The question today isn’t what Butler will do now that Brad Stevens is gone. It’s how big a name will understand the opportunity and become the next guy to take over the helm. Athletic Director Barry Collier is in a tough spot right now, but whatever his short-term solution -- promote an assistant (as an aside, what is new South Alabama head coach Matthew Graves thinking right now?), move back down to the sidelines himself for an interim season, or somehow poach the right guy this late in the summer -- the longer term looks exceedingly bright.