By Dave Wischnowsky–
We know where Brad Stevens has been (the 2010 national championship game). We know where he’s at right now (headed back to the Final Four). And we know where he might be next Monday night (cutting down the nets at Houston’s Reliant Stadium).
But what everyone seems to really want to know is where will the brains behind Butler University basketball be next season?
Well, smart money says that come this fall the hottest young coach in America not named Shaka Smart will probably be right where he has been since 2007 – patrolling the sidelines of Hinkle Fieldhouse as head coach of the Butler Bulldogs.
In part, that’s because after leading Butler to a national runner-up finish last spring, Stevens, 34, inked a 12-year contract extension that could keep him at the small Indianapolis school through 2022.
But anyone who thinks Stevens will still be coaching at Butler – and in the ho-hum Horizon League – when he celebrates his 45th birthday is more nuts than this year’s NCAA Tournament has been.
That’s just not gonna happen.
Because, rather than represent a true a promise to Butler, what Stevens’ long-term contract provides is a comfy security blanket and the time to be very patient in picking out the perfect spot to write the next chapter of what’s looking like a legendary coaching career.
Butler has long been a fine basketball school – and Stevens is making it a great one – but a coach with his obvious talents and intelligence deserves a bigger stage, better resources and brawnier conference than what Butler can deliver.
After this weekend, speculation will swirl wildly about whether Stevens might take an available job at a major-conference university – perhaps even in-state Purdue, if Matt Painter does indeed bolt for the rumored big bucks at Missouri.
And it is certainly possible that Stevens could land at a bigger school this offseason (although, I’d advise more patience). But, even if he does, I have a guess as to where Stevens may ultimately end up, several years from now.
And that’s at Duke, as the eventual replacement for Mike Krzyzewski. After all, someone has to follow the legend someday, you know.
Last spring, Coach K spoke highly of Butler’s precocious young coach throughout the Final Four weekend. And after Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils nipped Stevens’ Bulldogs 61-59 in one of the most exciting championship games in NCAA history, Coach K was asked what advice he would give Stevens when coaching offers from higher-profile schools started rolling in.
“Well, I think especially in this age of college basketball, you can be in the tournament and you can be really good and you don’t have to be like football in a BCS conference,” Krzyzeweski said. “I would tell him to stay put. They also should pay him more.”
Stevens ultimately listened. So did Butler. And Krzyzewski went on to say that by taking his team to college basketball’s pinnacle event, Stevens has a chance to do something special at Butler – which is precisely what he has done this season.
“He has the opportunity now and will always to coach at a place where he believes in the values and believes in the school,” Kryzezwski said, sounding as if he was talking about his own beloved Duke. “Butler will no longer be what it has been, which is pretty darn good. And everything that is good about Butler – which is many things – will be seen in many areas, not just basketball. It’s scary good.”
And so, too, is Stevens. He’s proven that this March.
Now, I don’t believe that the 64-year-old Krzyzewski – who’s closing in on Bob Knight’s all-time Division I wins record – will be looking to retire in the immediate future. But he will eventually, and when he does, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stevens succeed him.
Part of the reason for that is because Krzyzewski’s own coaching tree – which includes lackluster branches such as Johnny Dawkins, Mike Brey, Tommy Amaker and (eesh) Quin Snyder – offers no clear-cut, or truly impressive, heir apparent. But, beyond that, Stevens’ demeanor and smarts strike me as the type that Coach K would see fit for his hand-picked successor at Cameron Indoor.
During the 2010 Final Four, Stevens told reporters in Indianapolis that he read Krzyzewski’s book “The Gold Standard” for inspiration during an exhibition tour of Italy with Butler the previous summer.
“I think the best way I can put it,” Stevens explained, “is coaches like him write books and I get to read them.”
Right now, at least. But, some day, Stevens might do more than just read Mike Krzyzewski’s book. He might write the sequel to his story at Duke.
And if Stevens does, remember that you heard it here first.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.