SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Todd Lickliter is available.
No, really. Butler needs to think about its next coach as it gets ready for its first-round NCAA tournament game against Texas-El Paso here on Thursday.
Former Butler coaches are scattered all over the place. Thad Matta has taken Ohio State to a Final Four and may do it again this season. The current AD, Barry Collier, lasted six years at Nebraska before coming back home to Butler, where he had coached for 11. Lickliter got fired this week at Iowa.
The point is, the grass isn't always greener but the big bucks always are. All of the coaches mentioned above were wildly successful at Butler. Only Collier stayed longer than six seasons. Matta lasted one.
The school's latest hot-as-July coach is Brad Stevens, who won't be around for long. Come on, it's Butler. As warm, fuzzy and successful as the program and its fieldhouse have become, Butler is a stepping-stone job.
The program is at a crossroads as it gets ready for the 12th-seeded Miners. It is winning (big time, with the nation's current longest winning streak), it is getting players, it is overshadowing Purdue and Indiana at the moment.
There are other mid-major programs moving up the ladder, but perhaps none as consistent, or as small, as the 4,000-student university tucked into downtown Indianapolis.
Now, how do you keep your coach?
"We're doing everything we can to improve," Collier said. "That's part of our mantra of doing things the Butler way. We've got a special makeup right now. Brad is a key part of that. It's one of those great fits."
|Brad Stevens has 84 wins in just three seasons at Butler. (AP)|
That doesn't smack of winters spent inside a drafty old barn, watching a 20-game winning streak take shape. That's business.
"We never thought we were warm and fuzzy," Collier said.
Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse is at least warm, a bandbox of a place that seats 10,000 and was famously featured in Hoosiers. It's charming, it's quaint and -- in a strictly big-time basketball sense -- it's probably holding Butler back.
That will be portrayed as heresy in Indianapolis, where the Bulldogs have elbowed their way into media coverage with the Colts and Pacers, as well high school basketball. And other colleges. But sharing the stage is also the reason their game stories weren't getting on the front of the Indianapolis Star sports page until their current winning streak.
Sophomore guard Gordon Hayward is probably typical of his teammates, 10 of which are from Indiana. Hayward says he was "brainwashed" by his parents, both Purdue grads, to be a Boilermaker.
"I was still, like, there is no way because I never watched [Butler] or went to any games," Hayward said. "I thought it was just this small school, didn't even really know it was D-I."
Hinkle or no Hinkle, fifth-seeded Butler is no longer an underdog. It can't be with the likes of Hayward, the Horizon League Player of the Year. The program has produced only three NBA players, none since 1972 according to basketballreference.com. Hayward might be the next one. The 6-foot-9 swingman is projected as a first-rounder. Big-time recruit Crishawn Hopkins is coming in next season.
Butler can't be an underdog with two Sweet 16s since 2003 and two top five seeds since 2005. Butler hasn't lost since Dec. 22. Only four times since Jan. 10 has a team come within 15 points. Whether you're in the Horizon League or the National League, that's impressive.
"It's hard to fly under the radar when you're name is always in the Top 25," junior forward Matt Howard said.
But with a new arena, perhaps Butler could make its job a destination job. Stevens fears playing a 12th-seeded UTEP with "three or four future pros," but how do you improve without getting the players to match that firepower?
"I don't know that I would still be there," if Butler got a new arena, Stevens said. "I think Hinkle Fieldhouse is part of what Butler is all about. It's bigger than anything new or plush or fancy can do."
The Edge: No. 5 Butler vs. No. 12 UTEP
Expert Picks: Miners over Bulldogs
|East | West | Midwest | South|
Could the Bulldogs be hitting their heads on a steel ceiling? That would be what the girders are made of at Hinkle. Butler is more Gonzaga than Hoosiers, a mid-major that is expected to compete for the Final Four. Except that it hasn't. Is that too much to expect?
"They're one of those chic mid-major guys like Gonzaga -- Gonzaga has moved beyond that -- to become one of the elite teams in the country," said UTEP coach Tony Barbee, an Indianapolis native. "Butler is on its way to that same level."
Except that Butler isn't even UTEP at the moment in terms of tradition. UTEP claims Hall of Fame coach Don Haskins, scores of NBA players and its own movie, Glory Road, about the 1966 national champions.
"We are the franchise," Barbee said. "There are no professional sports organizations in the general vicinity, so UTEP athletics, UTEP basketball is what people get excited about."
The amazing thing is how Butler has sustained itself. When Stevens leaves, and he will soon, Collier will get another coach off the staff or higher some up-and-comer to take over.
Or hire back Lickliter, who went 131-61 at Butler in six seasons.
Stevens is too good, too young and, although he won't say this, too ready to leave. He is off to the best three-year start by a coach in major-college history. His 84 victories are three more than Gonzaga's Mark Few and Mark Fox of Nevada put up.
"I don't even look at it as a cautionary tale, per se, but rather a friend," Stevens said of Lickliter, who he coached under and replaced at Butler. "As far as learning from it, I think every situation is probably unique and different, and I'm happy to be where I am, and I'm lucky to be where I am."