by Kent Sterling
There is some discontent in Bloomington. The Hoosiers have posted 16-wins over the past two seasons, and that isn’t going to get it. The recruiting class that is supposed to prove that last year’s top ten class was no fluke currently consists of two kids at positions where Indiana already has depth. Moses Abraham, one of the best big men who didn’t sign a letter of intent in the fall, chose Georgetown over IU despite a heavy late push from Tom Crean.
So people wonder if Tom Crean is the right guy for the job. They wonder if the Crean hire was just another blind stab in the dark by Rick Greenspan, the man who did very little to stop IU’s athletic evolution toward the bottom of the Big Ten.
As Butler prepares to go make the 15-minute drive from Hinkle Fieldhouse to Lucas Oil Stadium, Hoosier fans are wondering if Brad Stevens might not be the right guy to lead IU out of this eight-season funk that has reduced the once proud best in-state program, and one of the top-five nationally respected basketball schools to no better than the fourth best in Indiana.
Stevens story will be told thousands of times this week. He accepted an unpaid position at Butler in 2000, leaving a nice gig at Eli Lilly to follow his dream to coach collegiate basketball. Butler was in the middle of its rise from obscurity to a nationally respected mid-major, and launched coaches to big-time gigs. Barry Collier went to Nebraska. Thad Matta jumped to Xavier and then Ohio State. Todd Lickliter bounced out to Iowa. The Bulldogs administration liked the momentum and decided to hire an internal guy each time.
That allowed Stevens to ascend at comparative light speed – taking the head job at 30. Three years later, Butler is a combined 88-14 under Stevens. He didn’t build this culture of winning on 49th Street, but he has refined it, and while some will say that the kids like Jukes, Howard, and Hahn were Lickliter’s, Stevens had a major hand in recruiting all of them and was the guy in getting Howard to commit to Butler – their first Top 100 kid ever. He followed that up by getting Shelvin Mack, Gordon Hayward, and Ronald Nored. A lot of people say, “If you can’t shoot, you can’t play.” Steven’s ignored that axiom with Nored – an 18% stoker from deep – and his defense has been instrumental in getting the Bulldogs a couple (we hope) extra home games.
Would he fit in Bloomington? Stevens has proven himself exceptionally adept at operating what amounts to a small business, but can his culture be successful at what amounts to General Motors – a former giant that is lumbering along praying for a light at the end of a very dark tunnel it has dug for itself? Or, is he just great at being where he is?
If not for Crean – if the job was open – would Brad Stevens be the absolute best coach available? Is Crean the guy to do the job. Two years in, there are questions – serious questions about that. At Butler, Stevens answers to Barry Collier. At Indiana, Crean answers to damn near anyone who has ever worn downed a pint at Nick’s. Brad can wander Indianapolis in anonymity. In Bloomington, Crean is the most recognizable guy in town. This brings up another question – would Stevens be willing to accept a job that would mean a hike in profile that would be life-changing when he doesn’t have to? Remember that Stevens’ Dad was a red-shirt freshman on IU’s Rose Bowl team, and the the two of them drove to Assembly Hall countless times to watch the Hoosiers play in the ’80s and 90s.
These are two very different questions. My guess, knowing Stevens work-ethic and personality a little is that he would adapt grudgingly to the lifestyle, but would thrive in the position in Bloomington. He is a very skilled young man who delegates well, and delegation is the key to operating a big clunky business like IU basketball.
So that leaves two questions, are the first two years of the Crean regime indicative of what’s to come for IU, and would IU AD Fred Glass have the stones to buy out Crean’s contract and restart (AGAIN!) the process of getting Indiana back to respectability? The first answer is unknown and because of that, Glass shouldn’t do anything. It’s possible that this spring will be the one chance Indiana might have to go get Brad Stevens, but they would be doing it at the expense of the guy who might yet be right for the job.
There is no doubt that as Glass watches the thrilling Butler run to what could be a national championship, he is making that determination in his own head. He won’t share that with anyone because to do so would start a rumor machine best left silent, but he knows Stevens is so well established in Indiana that he could do a great job recruiting Indiana kids to play at Indiana (what a concept). And not only do Butler kids graduate – they excel in the classroom. These aren’t the end of the bench kids either. Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward are academic All-Americans – Howard is a first-team selection, and Hayward a third-teamer. Butler is the only school with two kids selected.
So does Glass stroke a fat check to Crean, hire Stevens, and hope? Or does he continue to hope that Crean can right the ship, and not beg alums for another big bag of cash? This is an academic argument. No way Glass turns against Crean. It took Baylor seven years to move toward excellence, and it will take Indiana that long with Crean, Stevens, or the ghost of Henry Iba. Glass will ride with Crean, and hope the Cook Center can tip the scales further in IU’s favor.
Stevens will stay at Butler for now, continue to grind and keep Butler atop the Horizon League until they bolt for the Atlantic 10. He will enjoy going to work everyday, saying hello to Jennifer Johnson (who launders the players uniforms, and plays a great second base for an old broad) and Collier with the same enthusiasm. There is something to be said for loving your job and feeling loved in it. Lickliter found that out a couple of weeks ago. I get the feeling Stevens is smart enough to get it without earning that lesson the hard way. We’re going to find out because someone is going to back a big-ass truck full of cash up to Stevens’ front door in the coming weeks.
He’ll have to make a decision, but it won’t be Glass whose offer he’ll refuse.
Click on the RSS Feed icon to the left to subscribe to indysportsonline.com and receive automatic updates when new material is posted. If you enjoyed reading this, forward the link to friends.