For a team from the Horizon League to lose arguably the best player in school history and still make consecutive NCAA men’s basketball championship game appearances is beyond astounding.
And rightfully, that storyline is getting a lot of attention as the Butler Bulldogs prepare to play the University of Connecticut for the men’s NCAA title tonight in Houston.
But Butler has an equally impressive accomplishment notched in its belt. The fact that Butler has found, hired and nurtured four successful coaches in a 15-plus-year span is almost unparalleled.
In the time that Indiana University has struggled to find a suitable replacement for Bob Knight, Butler has had strong seasons under Barry Collier (now the school’s athletics director), Thad Matta, Todd Lickliter and now Brad Stevens. And I’m not just picking on IU. Lots of NCAA Div. I schools in football and basketball have struggled to find the right coach for their system. Some of them have struggled repeatedly.
The fact that Lickliter struggled at Iowa and Collier to a lesser degree at Nebraska only serves to reinforce the point. Butler somehow, some way, gives its coaches what they need to succeed.
Of course, no Butler coach has succeeded the way Stevens has, and that has put more pressure on the small school nestled near Broad Ripple. Last year, Butler granted Stevens a 12-year contract extension that sources close to the deal said pays him between $750,000 and $1 million annually.
Lots of credit goes to Butler President Bobby Fong and Athletics Director Barry Collier for finding the right talent and providing an atmosphere for the school’s coaches to succeed. But it’s also important to remember former Butler President Geoffrey Bannister, who in the late 1980s hatched the idea of turning the men’s basketball program into a power that could be used as a marketing tool for the larger school. Significant credit also goes to John Parry, who served as Butler’s athletics director during from 1990-2006, a time of significant growth.
After this year’s run, the school may be forced to consider another pay raise for Stevens. Bigger schools will certainly continue to knock on Stevens’ door.
But maybe Butler officials have less to worry about than it appears. After all, Butler has a record of finding hidden gems to replace hired-away coaches. And an even more impressive record of providing an environment where those coaches can succeed.