Butler University men’s basketball coach Brad Stevens visited with UCLA officials this week, sources said early Friday, and considered the school’s head coaching job. But several sources, including ESPN and CBS Sports, reported Friday afternoon that Stevens was staying at Butler, citing sources familiar with the situation.
Earlier this month, UCLA fired Ben Howland after 10 seasons as head coach.
KTLA-TV and KCLA-TV in Los Angeles reported that Stevens was on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles on Thursday for an interview and tour of the basketball facilities and campus.
UCLA posted information on its website early Friday morning saying Stevens and school officials were in contract discussions. That information has since been taken down.
Butler officials Friday morning declined to comment.
“We don’t comment on job speculation,” said Jim McGrath, spokesman for Butler’s athletic department.
Stevens, too, declined to comment.
Stevens did tweet Friday morning: “Love walking thru Hinkle [Fieldhouse] in the morning… Anxious to get started on our spring workouts next week.”
Whether those spring workouts will be in Hinkle on the Butler campus or at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion is anyone’s guess.
The sources told IBJ Friday that Stevens had received an offer from UCLA and that Butler Athletic Director Barry Collier was huddling with President James Danko and trustees to consider a counter-offer to retain their star coach. The sources wished to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the topic.
Butler has made a major commitment to basketball since 1989, when then-university president Geoffrey Bannister decided to use the men’s basketball team as a primary marketing tool for the larger school and its academic causes.
Though Butler, a private university, doesn’t release details of its coaches’ contracts, information from the school’s not-for-profit filing, plus information from sources, indicated that the men’s basketball coaches salary has increased more than five-fold in the last decade and has tripled in the last three years to nearly $1 million annually.
Stevens’ salary is a significant commitment for a school with 4,200 students and a small alumni base from which to draw. Sources said UCLA is offering Stevens between $2.7 million and $3.2 million annually. That would put him near the salaries of the top-paid NCAA Div. I coaches. IU’s Tom Crean makes $3.16 million per year. Purdue pays Matt Painter makes close to $2.5 million annually.
Stevens, 36, is one of the top young college basketball coaches in the nation. In six seasons as Butler’s head coach, he’s 166-49 and has taken the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament championship game twice.
Two factors may keep Stevens at Butler. First, he’s a native Hoosier who played high school ball locally and played collegiately at DePauw University. Second, he has more job security at Butler than he’ll ever have at UCLA—or likely anywhere else.
One Butler official told IBJ recently “Stevens basically has tenure here.”
Officials for UCLA will be far less patient and likely far more demanding. Howland got fired despite compiling a 233-107 record and taking three teams to the Final Four during his decade at the school.
Whether Butler keeps Stevens or not, school officials will likely have to consider increasing their men’s basketball coach’s salary if they want to stay competitive and maximize marketing opportunities through the team.
After last season, Butler jumped from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10, and next year the Bulldogs will jump to the new Big East, which features schools such as Georgetown University and Marquette University.
Stevens has gone from the highest paid coach in the conference—the Horizon League—to close to the lowest paid coach in his new conference—the Big East—in two years.
Butler’s slice of the conference revenue-sharing pie will grow significantly with its jump from the A10 to the Big East, but the school likely will have to pour that right back into the program to cover increased travel expenses and pay hikes for all coaches.
“They’re swimming in a much bigger pond now,” said Mark Rosentraub, a University of Michigan professor and sports business author and expert. “And it will be more costly to compete.”
In the end, sports business experts said, the jump to a bigger conference could be a money loser. Butler officials have said the greater marketing opportunities—particularly on the East Coast—were simply too great to pass up.