When it was announced this week that Brad Stevens was leaving Butler University, many in the college basketball world, most notably ESPN announcer Dick Vitale, bemoaned the fact that Stevens was leaving the college game. And while it is indeed shocking that one of the bright up and coming college coaches left academia, the college game is fine. Well, the ills that plague college hoops has nothing to do with the people coaching it and everything to do with the people in control of administering it. If cutters are allowed to, you know, actually cut without impediment and the block/charge call was made correctly, college basketball would be a much more beautiful game to watch. That all being said, the college basketball world will not implode because the head coach at Butler decided to take his talents to Beantown.
A few weeks into the next season for college basketball and Butler will be on the back burner, lost to the dustbin of great flashes in the pan of hoops history. At places like Butler, the coaches make the program, but for a select few programs, they make the coaches. Which leads to some interesting discussion: What’s going to happen when some of the bluest of the blue blood programs change coaches? What will happen when Coach K leaves Duke, Roy Williams leaves North Carolina and John Calipari leaves Lexington?
North Carolina and Kentucky have shown that the programs are almost self-sustaining. A very good coach (Bill Gutheridge and Tubby Smith) can get your team to the Final Four and, as with Coach Smith, can have your team cutting down the nets on the final Monday of the season. And a great coach can provide your school and its fans with dynasty. But we’ve also seen less that stellar coaches (Matt Doherty and Billy Gillispie) not be able to truly stop the inherent momentum built into the programs. There’s a reason UNC’s five titles have been won by three coaches and UK’s eight won by five: the beat goes on in Chapel Hill and Lexington, almost regardless of the coaches.
The interesting case will be at Duke when Mike Krzyzewski decides to step down. Whenever Coach K decides to leave, we’ll have the closet thing to John Wooden retiring at UCLA. Despite a Final Four appearance in 1966 and a NCAA Runner-up finish in 1978 (both Blue Devil losses to the Wildcats), Duke University’s men’s basketball teams success and reputation has been built on the shoulders of one man: Coach K. In the end, I think Duke will be able to find a suitable replacement that might not, and probably won’t, be able to replace Coach K’s success, but they will be able to find someone that will keep the Blue Devils at, or near, the elite of college basketball.
The point is, coaches come and go in college basketball. It happens. If the game is strong enough to lose Adolph Rupp, Dean Smith and even Bob Knight, the game is strong enough to withstand Brad Stevens defection to the NBA. The Butler Bulldogs, however, well… it was a good run, wasn’t it?