You might've heard the news late Wednesday. How they managed to keep it under wraps, I have no clue, but the Boston Celtics sent a shock wave thru the basketball world by snagging young prodigy Brad Stevens from Butler to be their new head coach. What he'll exactly be coaching is unclear, given the ultimate rebuild has started in Beantown, with only Rajon Rondo left from the core of players who made two Finals appearances in the past six seasons, and even Rondo himself seems to be the final piece on the move.
No matter what happens in Boston, Stevens will be fine. Worst case scenario, the Celtics win 30 games combined over the next two seasons, GM Danny Ainge is run out of town for lack of acquiring any talent, and the new guy in town runs Stevens back to college, leaving him to choose among a dozen major conference suitors who would undoubtedly sign him to a BIG contract within hours of his removal from Boston. Best case scenario, after winning the 2014 Lottery, Stevens builds a title contender in Boston around Andrew Wiggins, and his X's & O's approach pays huge dividends in the Association, and he's the second coming of Red Auerbach, sans victory cigar, not having to deal with the trivialities of convincing 17 & 18 year old kids to come throw on a jersey to play in Indianapolis or whatever college town in which he may have landed.
But where does this leave Butler? Behind guys like Hayward, Mack, and Nored, Stevens coached the Bulldogs to heights so-called "mid-major" schools had never dreamed of: two Final Fours and back to back NCAA Championship Games, literally fractions of an inch of a Hayward 45-footer from hanging an NCAA Title banner in Hinkle Fieldhouse. These journeys had led Butler to a new conference home, from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 to being invited by the "Catholic Seven" to join the new (old) Big East, where football is pushed aside for the hardwood and the battles within a 94' x 50' rectangle are what define collegiate athletic glory.
Butler will have to chase that glory under the command of a new general. Who will it be? The Bulldogs are already handicapped by the timing of Stevens' departure. The coaching carousel in college basketball has made its rounds already, the biggest splash coming when Steve Alford left New Mexico for UCLA. Presuming that never happened, wouldn't Alford have been a natural fit for Butler, the native son and legend returning home to coach the upstart school? Wouldn't going from New Mexico (in the Mountain West) to Butler (in the new Big East) be an upgrade? Moot point now, but it would've been perfect.
I bring this up because the question lingers: with two Final Fours in the past four seasons, but its coach now gone, how much clout does the Butler brand carry? Can the Bulldogs pluck a hot, young coach from another "mid-major" school? Guys like Shaka and Marshall aren't going anywhere, but who's left? Alford's to UCLA. Andy Enfield went from tournament sensation Gulf Coast to Southern Cal seemingly overnight. Son of the reigning National Title-wining coach, Richard Pitino, made his move from FIU to Minnesota. Longtime Duke assistant Chris Collins (I will refrain from making editorial comments here) finally made a move, to Northwestern, leaving Krzyzewski to find some other peon to handle his halftime interviews. (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)
Butler's left in a huge bind here, and it seems to me they have two options. One, they find a top assistant from a big time school. I think Collins would've been a good fit, someone in that mold. Or two, and from the early reports I'm seeing this is the plan, hire from within and try to hold the course with one of Stevens' assistants, Terry Johnson or Michael Lewis.
How does this hurt Butler as they move to the Big East? I think they're okay. You can't forget that behind all the hype of the new Big East, it's really only Georgetown, Marquette, Creighton, Xavier, and some also-rans. If the Bulldogs can find an X's and O's guy that can come somewhat close to replicating Stevens' game management and pair that person with a decent recruiter that can point to the conference name and the Final Four banners, Butler should be able to maintain their standing as pesky upstart who you'll have to deal with in March, despite the upped competition in the new conference. Where Stevens' departure hurts them is building upon the foundation which he laid, and that is where this new hire is going to be critical.
Butler has to be competitive in the Big East, that is the minimum expectations for the next head coach. Returning to the second and third weekends of the NCAA Tournament will be a bonus, at least for now, as they make acquaintances with their new conference neighbors.
Spoiler: You will get more takes from Mikey on the NWA U.S. Title scene from 1986 thru 1990 than you will on PAC-12 or Big Ten football.