Friar Basketball

Stevens’ Departure a Week One Blow for Big East

His team went 30-4 in his first season as a head coach. Butler defeated Michigan, Texas Tech, Florida and Ohio State that year (about the only thing he didn’t do that season was beat out Drake head man Keno Davis for the Hugh Durham award for mid-major coach of the year).

Year Two brought the loss of four starters, and the typical questions for any coach who gets off to a fast start with “someone else’s” players. Those questions were answered shortly thereafter, as Butler finished 2008-09 26-6, giving Stevens the second most wins to start a head coaching career through two seasons.

He was 32 years old.

Then the fun began. The 2009-10 Bulldogs ran through conference play, and the conference tournament, to finish 20-0 against conference opponents. They overcame top seeded Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament, knocked off Kansas State in the Elite Eight, and upset Michigan State in the National Semifinal before falling to Duke in the National Championship – snapping a 25 game winning streak. Prior to surrendering 61 points to Duke in the final Butler became the first team since the shot clock era to hold five consecutive NCAA Tournament opponents under 60 points.

Stevens was the second youngest coach to ever reach the Final Four. The other? A 32 year old Bob Knight.

A year later his Bulldogs were miraculously back in the Championship game. This time they fell to Jim Calhoun and Connecticut.

He followed that season up with a pair of 20+ win campaigns (22 in 2011-12 and 27 last season), while turning down overtures from the likes of Illinois, UCLA, Wake Forest and Oregon along the way.

It’s no wonder Jim Boeheim told ESPN’s Andy Katz that Stevens was “the best young coach I have seen in my time.”

* * *

The praise for Stevens was overwhelming in Katz’s piece.

“Coach Stevens is everything that is right about our profession, and was an absolute star at Butler,” Marquette’s Buzz Williams told Katz.

Mike Krzyzewski told Katz, “He has a maturity of an established head coach right away. I just think — forget about young coaches — I think he’s one of the best coaches. I don’t think you could have a better guy.”

And now he’s headed to the NBA.

The Boston Celtics’ gain is the Big East’s loss.

After a short stint in the Atlantic 10, Butler is now a member of the reconfigured Big East, with the hope that Stevens would potentially help to grow the Big East brand in a way that Jim Boeheim, John Thompson and Lou Carnesecca did in the ’80s.

The latest iteration of the league that was built on rising coaches just lost their brightest sideline star.

Butler is a school that has made 12 NCAA Tournament appearances in their history, with five coming under Stevens in the past six years. In fairness, after a 35 year drought from 1962-97, they began the turnaround prior to Stevens’ arrival, reaching the NCAAs in 1997, ’98, 2000, ’01, ’03, and ’07.

They’ve won at least 20 games in all but two seasons since 1995-96.

Yet, it was Stevens who took their program to a another level of notoriety, and that’s why his departure, which happened the week the new conference officially formed, is a difficult blow for the Big East.





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