For hot coaches like Brad Stevens, best move may be to stay put
As tempting as it is, it's wise for coaches to not jump at the first bigger job
Todd Lickliter made mistake by bolting for Iowa; many others have done same
Are you confident enough to turn down a job because you can earn a better one?
Now that Brad Stevens has done the near-impossible, leading Butler to the national title game, let's see if he can perform the hardest task in his profession:
That's it. Nothing. Just sit there at your desk, Coach, and don't watch film, don't wonder if Gordon Hayward will turn pro, don't worry that this is as good as it will ever get at Butler, don't think about the schools that would gladly quintuple your salary, don't wonder what it life is like in the Big East and ACC, and don't ...
Hey, Brad! Come back here!
For most college coaches, nothing is impossible.
Before Wake Forest's Dino Gaudio had been fired (despite having a 61-31 record at Wake), there were rumors that the Demon Deacons were eyeing Stevens. Of course they are. Everybody will eye Stevens, because everybody is looking for the next hot coach, and you don't get hotter than a 33-year-old who led a Horizon League team to within one shot of a national championship.
When Brad Stevens pulls into a gas station, three ADs offer to fill his tank. That is his life now. He will be mentioned for every job that comes open, and quite a few jobs that don't come open. Schools without basketball teams will start programs so they can hire him. Towns without schools will open universities so they can have basketball teams so they can hire him.
And this is where we'll learn all about Brad Stevens. Will he take the next big job that's offered to him? Or will he stay put until the right offer for him comes along?
Please understand: this is not a moral question. Butler has gotten its money's worth out of Stevens. He is entitled to leave for another gig.
This is about Stevens making a smart career choice, not just the obvious one. The obvious choice is to go to Wake Forest, a bigger name in a bigger conference that pays bigger money -- or, if not Wake Forest, then the next big school that comes along.
But the obvious choice for Todd Lickliter was to leave Butler for Iowa. The obvious choice was for Dan Monson to leave Gonzaga for Minnesota, and for Tom Crean to leave Marquette for Indiana, for Billy Gillispie to leave Texas A&M for Kentucky. If you offered all those guys a do-over now, only Crean would hesitate. And he might still take the Indiana job.
Wake Forest has its appeal: Tobacco Road, ACC, all that. But Stevens would be going from the best job in his league to a tougher one in a tougher league. It is one thing to win over Indianans with 58-55 wins; another to beat Duke and North Carolina that way. And if Stevens adjusts his style ... well, that would be tough, too.
Stevens would also find out what coaches rarely consider: in coaching, credits don't carry over when you transfer. Kentucky fans didn't care how much Gillispie won at A&M. Arkansas fans didn't care that Stan Heath had taken Kent State to the Elite Eight.
You can't hang your old banner from the new arena. But you can be sure that everybody in Spokane appreciates Mark Few.
None of this is meant as a shot at Wake Forest. It was a great job for Skip Prosser and can be the great job for somebody else -- maybe even Stevens. But he would be wise to think this one through.
It's tricky business, this job-hopping thing. Too often, coaches reach for the next rung on the ladder without even looking at it -- sometimes they don't even visit their new campus until they arrive for the press conference. Athletic directors fall in love with anybody who pulls off a tournament upset. It can be a lethal combination.
"I'm surprised at some guys going some places," said former coach Pete Gillen, who is now an analyst for CBS College Sports. "I'm not going to mention names. I know they're not fits ... I don't claim to be an expert, but I say 'Man, that's not a fit.' And I'm not the only one thinking that. It's the general consensus."
Gillen was the hot young coach once. He turned Xavier into a national power, and he stayed almost a decade. But he says he thought, "I don't want to be sitting on the porch one day wondering what it's like at the highest level."
He left for Providence because it was in the Big East and his in-laws lived in New England. Then he went to Virginia because it was in the ACC and offered a ton of money. He says he had no regrets.
"I just made some mistakes at Virginia," Gillen said. "I don't regret going there."
Gillen says he had his own requirements for any new gig: "I wanted to go to a job where people cared about students, where they wanted to win of course -- that's my job -- but cared about students, and sincerely, SINCERELY wanted them to graduate."
Gillen said he had that commitment at all three schools. That, too, is something Stevens will have to consider as schools come calling. If a coach is committed to following the rules and having his players graduate, he can't go to a place that just cares about winning.
Gillen pointed out that athletic directors fall for whoever has won lately. But especially in basketball, where one player can have such a big impact, mediocre coaches sometimes have great years.
"You can get hot for one year and move on," Gillen said. "Guys who have done it for a few years, those guys are for real. A lot of these (ADs) are not basketball guys. They're fundraisers or they're associate AD in charge of the facilities. There's nothing wrong with that. But they wouldn't know a good coach if it hit them in the head."
Gillen has spent a little time with Stevens lately. He does not claim to know what Stevens will do, and will not say what he thinks Stevens should do. All he has is a hunch.
"I have no inner knowledge of what he is going to do," Gillen said. "But my sense is he will stay at Butler for a while. I don't think money is the biggest thing for him. He's not a big ego guy. I don't think he is a wheeler dealer. He's just a nice solid person from the Midwest. I think he's grounded enough, he's just not going to jump to a big job that is going to offer a fortune. Maybe down the road."
That would not be the obvious choice. But if Stevens stays put for the next five years, he'll consistently contend in his league, be adored in his community, make more money than he needs -- and many of his colleagues will think he is a fool.
That's the pressure on Brad Stevens now. It is pressure any of us would feel. When everybody in your profession is whispering "bigger, better, richer," are you strong enough to say no? Are you comfortable enough with yourself to stay put? Are you confident enough in yourself to turn down a good job because you think you can earn a better one down the road?
The hard choice can lead to an easier life. The hard choice is for Stevens to stay at Butler, at least for a little while, until he is sure as can be that the right job has come along.
But then, the hard choice for Steve Donahue was to stay at Cornell, where he had security and roots. This week, Donahue was introduced as the new coach at Boston College. "There is no downside in this job," he said.
We'll see about that.
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