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Butler basketball will survive the departure of Stevens

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Bulldogs' success is two decades in the making

Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 4:44 am

INDIANAPOLIS – Former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the topic of being fearful simply for the sake of being afraid, but I'm not sure that he had the Butler men's basketball program in mind at the time of the famed statement. However, keeping that thought in its proper perspective, it is apropos that we consider it in light of the most successful coach in Bulldog history (with all due respect to Tony Hinkle) leaving the program after a remarkable six-year run.

Brad Stevens is no longer the coach at Butler.

For five years I've always known that I'd type those words someday, but to do so with finality feels sad and bizarre, as Stevens leaves to become the head coach of the Boston Celtics.

“I didn't treat (Stevens' leaving) as an inevitable,” Butler athletic director Barry Collier said. “But I always approached it as every day, and effectively every year, that Brad was our coach it was another good year for Butler.”

Calling it “good” doesn't do Stevens' tenure justice. His six seasons have been fantastic. The list of what he achieved is mind-boggling: a pair of National Championship game appearances, a 77 percent winning percentage, four conference championships, and five NCAA Tournament appearances.

But before any Bulldog fans go sprinting and leaping into the Canal, consider the fact that Butler played in six NCAA Tournaments between the years of 1997 and 2007 before Stevens took over. That run included a pair of Sweet 16 appearances. Butler was pretty good before Brad Stevens, and it can be – and Collier will make sure that it is – pretty good after Brad Stevens.

“The opportunity to keep our program going and continue to represent Butler in a great way,” Collier explained, “is there in front of us. So we are excited about that piece of our future.”

Collier's optimism isn't meant to diminish the success of the Stevens era, and yes, the competition is higher today as a member of the Big East Conference than at any point in program history. But the 'Butler Way' is bigger than Stevens, regardless of how great he has been. And he's been awesome.

“Butler is a great place,” Collier said. “We have an excellent program that has been possible because of the efforts of lots of people, our student-athletes, our coaches, and that will continue.”

It will be deliberated under the new coach as to the degree in which Butler has the ability to attract the elite level of athlete. But the truth of the matter is Stevens never out-recruited the more nationally-renowned programs.

Year after year, high school players signed on with lesser programs from bigger conferences rather than to accept playing for Butler.

Now the contrarian will point out that Stevens took that talent and coached them to a higher level, which included beating three top 10 squads this past season. And they'd have a point.

But I'd also recognize that it takes a coaching staff to implement a game plan and develop those less heralded athletes. As Collier noted “lots of people” played a role in this program's success, and Stevens would be the first to concur.

The direction that Collier turns in finding the next great coach will more than likely be a familiar path if history, and words from Wednesday night's news conference, are any indication.

In the past quarter century, Butler has hired four men's basketball coaches and each came from within the Butler family.

Collier was a graduate who returned to his alma mater, while Thad Matta and Todd Lickliter were both alums and current assistant coaches. Stevens was the lone non-graduate, but had spent eight years as an assistant within the program.

That leads one to believe that current assistant Brandon Miller, an alumnus and former Bulldog great, would have a legitimate opportunity to be the next coach.

“We've begun the search already,” Collier said. “If you are doing your job, then you have always got a Plan B and so we'll execute that. Our plan is to move and hire the right person in a relatively succinct time.”

Danko also shed light on the topic of the next hire, by praising Stevens for helping the program prepare for this day.

“Brad has done a tremendous job for us,” Danko said. “Obviously it is a loss for us. But we move ahead with confidence.

“The good news is, because of Brad's very approach, the way that he has thought about things, he was always focused on other people also being equally developed, we're in a great position to build on that.

“Butler has a phenomenal way of attracting people that really do step up to the way that we do things at Butler and I'm extremely confident that we'll move ahead undaunted.”

Brad Stevens is no longer the coach at Butler. And the program will be fine.

The tradition will continue

Butler has been one of the nation's most successful men's basketball programs long before Brad Stevens arrived at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Here is a year-by-year rundown of the Bulldogs' success since Barry Collier was hired in 1989:

1989-90 - 6-22 (Barry Collier)

1990-91 - 18-11

1991-92 - 21-10

1992-93 - 11-17

1993-94 - 16-13

1994-95 - 15-12

1995-96 - 19-8

1996-97 - 23-10

1997-98 - 22-11

1998-99 - 22-10

1999-2000 - 23-8

2000-01 - 24-8 (Thad Matta)

2001-02 - 26-6 (Todd Lickliter)

2002-03 - 27-6

2003-04 - 16-14

2004-05 - 13-15

2005-06 - 20-13

2006-07 - 29-7

2007-08 - 30-4 (Brad Stevens)

2008-09 - 26-6

2009-10 - 33-5

2010-11 - 28-10

2011-12 - 22-15

2012-13 - 27-9

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. E-mail Tom Davis at