It may seem strange to write an adulatory column for a coach less than 24 hours following his team losing a game that it shouldn’t have, but that is precisely what is occurring.
Butler fell to Seton Hall 70-64 Saturday in front of a sold-out Hinkle Fieldhouse, but one game does not diminish what third-year Bulldog coach Chris Holtmann has accomplished during his time with this program. He recently said that “one moment is not going to define us,” in reference to his team, and Saturday’s loss shouldn’t “define” Holtmann as a coach.
Yes, he has done a tremendous job this season, but more importantly, he has done a phenomenal job with this program, overall.
On the micro level, Holtmann has blended an inordinate amount of newcomers into one of the nation’s best teams. Of his dozen scholarship players, nine had played either one or zero seasons for the program entering this year.
“It really helps when you have high-level kids,” Holtmann said recently of the tremendous chemistry within his locker room, “and quality kids and unselfish kids. We talk a lot in recruiting about recruiting guys that can kind of get over themselves.
“When you have guys that can get over themselves and understand that they are a part of something, inevitably, it does lead to pretty good chemistry.”
Having players that can “get over themselves” is a monumental reason as to why Butler is 23-7 (12-6 in the Big East). However, on a macro level, Holtmann having the ability to get over himself, is why this program is as strong as it is and will continue to be so as long as he is leading it.
When Holtmann took over the program, he made two critical choices that have positively impacted the Butler program to this day.
First, he made the conscious decision to “coach to his convictions,” as he told me recently, and secondly, he was astute enough to look at all of the positive attributes of the program historically and not mess with them. And both of those things took incredible humility, yet also, self-confidence.
Holtmann didn’t have the Butler basketball lineage to lead this program when he was hired, and let’s be honest, the only way he could have ever ascended to lead it is for some unfathomable situation to unfold.
Which is precisely what happened.
But instead of being intimidated by the “Butler way” and wanting to show that he was his own guy, Holtmann embraced the Bulldogs’ past, and still does.
Holtmann got over himself.
“We’ve been fortunate,” Holtmann said, “that we are part of a program here that (being team-oriented) has been the template for our success.”
Under Holtmann, Butler continues to recruit the right kind of players, meaning, talented student-athletes, but even more critically, unselfish ones.
Junior forward Kelan Martin is the team’s leading scorer, yet hasn’t started nine times this year. He didn’t pout when he got sent to the bench mid-season, he worked.
Senior forward Andrew Chrabascz got benched less than 60 seconds into his senior year and still takes coaching to this day without a flinch.
These are fifth-year senior guard Tyler Lewis’ final playing days, but he too, has been moved to a role off the bench. He has responded by doing whatever he can to help the team be successful when he is out on the floor.
Each of those players – and what they have endured this season - are examples of Holtmann’s unwillingness to bend when it comes to coaching his players.
In late January, Butler had recently played arguably its worst two games of the season in home losses to Creighton and Georgetown. With a very significant road test at Marquette looming, Holtmann made the decision to bench Martin, his most productive offensive player, for nearly the entire game.
Butler won that game, but regardless of the outcome, that decision demonstrated the high level of leadership that Holtmann possesses in guiding this program.
With Missouri firing its coach (Kim Anderson) today, that is just one more program that will reportedly be interested in pursuing Holtmann to lead it (he is already appearing on lists of “potential hires”).
Holtmann has done a fantastic job at Butler and would be immensely successful with any program. He’ll be heavily pursued this year, and every year, that he is with the Bulldogs. But he is also smart enough to understand that being at Butler has allowed him the opportunity to coach the way he wants to, but also, work with the types of players that he wants to, which is just as important.
He has spoken often of his great appreciation for his current job. However, that should only be equaled by the amount of gratitude that the Bulldog Nation should have for the work that he has done in coaching the Bulldogs.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org.