By Jon Rothstein
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I first thought it was a joke.
Then I figured it was just a rumor.
And when I found out for certain that Brad Stevens was indeed leaving Butler for the greener pastures of the NBA to coach the Boston Celtics, I said probably the same thing as everyone else who heard the news.
Wow for Stevens.
Wow for the Celtics.
And most of all, wow for Butler.
Why the last wow?
It’s real simple.
Stevens’ decision to leave the Bulldogs program couldn’t have come at a worse time. Butler, like everyone else in college basketball is about to begin the summer recruiting period next week.
But this isn’t just any other summer recruiting period for Butler.
It’s the first time that the Bulldogs will be able to be out on the circuit looking for potential players that could come to Hinkle Fieldhouse to play in the best league that Butler has ever been a part of — the Big East.
The Bulldogs wouldn’t have been in the Big East without Stevens, and as tough as he’ll be to replace, we know what people will say about Butler’s history.
The Bulldogs once had Thad Matta, then lost him, and replaced him with Todd Lickliter. Then they lost Lickliter, and replaced him with Stevens.
The names changed, but the results didn’t. The Bulldogs always won, and won big in 2010 and 2011, when they reached back-to-back national title games under Stevens.
So Butler athletic director Barry Collier will just promote someone either within the program, or with ties to the program, and all will remain copacetic, right?
When Lickliter replaced Matta, and Stevens replaced Lickliter, they both did so in the Horizon League.
And while Stevens did an admirable job last year in the Bulldogs’ lone season in the Atlantic 10, Butler still has to come to grips with the fact that they are stepping up a weight class when they head to the Big East.
And that’s why this might be the most important hire in the history of the Bulldogs’ basketball program.
Keeping it in house, and either promoting standing assistant Brandon Miller or bringing back Michigan’s LaVall Jordan, who played for the Bulldogs over a decade ago seem like the likely moves.
But are they the right moves?
The next Butler coach won’t just have to do things “The Butler Way”. He’ll have to recruit some of the best players in the country — against some of the best recruiters in the country.
You see, coaching makes a big difference in college basketball — but recruiting makes more of a difference. And now, the next coach of Butler is going to be recruiting on an annual basis against people like Steve Lavin, Jay Wright, Buzz Williams, Ed Cooley, John Thompson III, and Chris Mack.
If there was ever a time for Collier to hire a coach outside the Bulldogs circle, this might be it.
Even with Stevens on the sidelines next season, I thought Butler would struggle. In my Big East off-season notebook that I’ll release on Monday, I had planned on ranking the Bulldogs eighth in my Big East preseason poll.
Without Stevens, I’m not so sure what to expect of Butler moving forward.
I know the new version of the Big East isn’t what the old one was, but it’s still a league that boasts more talent than any other conference the Bulldogs have ever played in.
It was going to a bear for Butler to handle with Brad Stevens on the bench.
Can they handle it with a first-time head coach in his place? There are no guarantees.
“The Butler Way”?
We might be about to find out if it works one more time.
If it doesn’t, don’t be surprised.
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