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Stevens' move comes as surprise to Bulldogs

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Hours after Coach Brad Stevens told athletic director Barry Collier he was leaving Butler University for Boston, he sat down to explain the decision to his players.

Tears were shed and hearts were broken.

Yes, this is going to take some to get over.

On Wednesday, the 36-year-old Stevens stunned the city of Indianapolis by leaving the tiny school he led to back-to-back national runner-up finishes to take the Celtics job. The news hit hardest inside historic Hinkle Fieldhouse where, just two days earlier, players, coaches and administrators were celebrating their official entry into the re-formed Big East.

‘‘When all the guys came in, we really didn’t know what the meeting was about,’’ Bulldogs forward Khyle Marshall explained in a hushed tone. ‘‘Me, personally, I cried a lot because we've been through so much together. Me, personally, I took it very hard, and so did a lot of other guys.’’

Stevens did not attend the hastily called news conference.

For years, the departure of Stevens seemed preordained.

Rumors swirled each offseason about some other job that would land him more money, a bigger recruiting budget or put him on a bigger stage to showcase his coaching talent. Each time, Stevens said no. So when the latest rumors, after UCLA hired Hoosiers native son Steve Alford in March, the Bulldogs figured they had again avoided losing Stevens.

They were wrong.

Collier said the Celtics never contacted him about talking to Stevens and that he didn’t realize anything was different from the previous job overtures until Stevens walked into his office Wednesday morning.

‘‘Brad did not make his decision until he talked to me,’’ Collier said. ‘‘But he had given it great thought and he was really torn.’’

Stevens’ decision caught everybody off guard.

On Monday, he seemed so inclined to stay that when asked about the large banner hanging outside Hinkle touting the conference move, he said: ‘‘All I see is a Bulldog.’’

On Wednesday, the same man who left his job as a marketing analyst at Eli Lilly and Co. to take a volunteer coaching job on Thad Matta’s Butler staff in the summer of 2000, suddenly had an offer he couldn’t refuse.

It has forced the Bulldogs to quickly find a new men's basketball coach, much to Marshall’s chagrin.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Butler’s six incoming freshmen have already begun summer school. Stevens’ longtime top assistant, Matthew Graves, accepted South Alabama’s head coaching job three months ago. Next week, recruiting kicks into high gear and, in early August, the Bulldogs are off to Australia for a summer tour. Meanwhile, most of the big-name coaches have already landed jobs for next season.

Callers to local radio shows wondered whether Collier might try to find an interim coach to fill the job until a longer search can be conducted next year.

One possibility that was floated included Collier, the former head coach at Butler and Nebraska, returning to help out his alma mater. Don’t bet on it.

‘‘I thought about this and then I decided I was going to come here to announce that Brad had taken the job with the Celtics and that I had hired myself as basketball coach and it took me about that long to fire myself,’’ Collier cracked, infusing humor into an otherwise straight-laced news conference. ‘‘So now I'm going to go find a good coach.’’

One that can, perhaps, begin the healing process.

‘‘What I know for sure is it’s going to be a Butler guy, a guy who knows our identity as a team and who is not going to change our identity,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘I think we'll be pretty comfortable with whoever the guy is.’’
 

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