Senior Writer

Butler's Stevens is too smart to take the next best thing


NEW ORLEANS -- Brad Stevens won another game in the NCAA tournament late Thursday.

Across the nation, the reaction was predictable.

Folks made jokes about Stevens' age and boyish looks (He's not even old enough to drink!), commented on how he'll be ridiculously wealthy soon (Some big school is about to pay that dude!) and even wondered whether Butler should seek a different conference affiliation (Get the Bulldogs in the Big East, ASAP!). Seriously, after a 61-54 win over Wisconsin that put the Bulldogs in a position where they need only to beat Florida here at the New Orleans Arena on Saturday to become the first non-BCS school to make consecutive Final Fours since UNLV in 1990 and 1991, a reporter asked Stevens if he could ever see Butler aspiring to be in a larger conference.

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Stevens did what he always does with a dumb question.

He handled it with class and intelligence.

Then he used it to make a larger point.

"Our league is very good, and I think we need to do everything we can so that people understand you can be 13-5 in [the Horizon] and be a contender on the national stage when it's all said and done," Stevens said. "[Then maybe teams from non-BCS leagues won't] have to play with that kind of pressure in January and February. ... [There are non-BCS] teams we all know are very good, but we just magnify their losses in January and February. So I think if we can use this microphone to spread that cause, that's a really good thing, and [then] I think you end up getting more teams [in the NCAA tournament] like VCU, who's hotter than heck. They were [12-6 in the Colonial]. We were 13-5 [in the Horizon]."

In other words, Butler doesn't need a bigger league.

Butler just needs the benefit of the doubt.

And if the Bulldogs didn't have it before, it's safe to assume they've earned it over the past two weeks because this team that limped through much of the regular season -- FYI: Butler was unranked on Selection Sunday with nine losses to schools that are no longer playing -- is again rolling through the NCAA tournament. They're the Southeast Regional's No. 8 seed that's already beaten No. 9 seed Old Dominion, No. 1 seed Pittsburgh and No. 4 seed Wisconsin. Add those to the list, and Stevens has led Butler to postseason wins over some of the sport's best coaches in the past 13 months -- specifically Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Frank Martin (Kansas State), Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Blaine Taylor (Old Dominion), Jamie Dixon (Pittsburgh) and Bo Ryan (Wisconsin).

So it's time to stop with the "best young coach" stuff.

The qualifier is no longer necessary.

"A lot of times people can label somebody based on their age, and I don't think that's fair to Brad," said Florida coach Billy Donovan. "Brad has been a terrific coach, you know, [since] before he made it to the national championship game a year ago. He was a terrific coach before last year started."

Stevens is young, sure.

He's 34 years old.

But, like Donovan suggested, calling Stevens a great "young" coach discounts his abilities and accomplishments, and commenting on his age is more cliche than creative. In four seasons Stevens has enrolled prospects, developed them, instilled his beliefs in them and used them to go 115-24. He's made four NCAA tournaments, two Elite Eights and a Final Four, and a second Final Four is now within reach. Yes, Florida is the higher seed and favorite. But Stevens is 5-1 against higher-seeded teams in the NCAA tournament, point being that it's probably wise to disregard the number the selection committee assigned to Butler two Sundays ago.

Is Stevens as accomplished as Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino or Roy Williams?

Of course not.

But he's already as smart, good and composed as any of them.

Especially smart.

Which is why throwing Stevens' name into every coaching search is just as silly as focusing on his age or Butler's league affiliation. Trust me when I tell you this: Brad Stevens will not leave Butler for any of the jobs currently available. If you're an athletic director at a school with a coaching vacancy and Stevens is on your list of candidates, throw that list away and make a realistic one. Stevens watched his old boss, Todd Lickliter, leave Butler for a tough job at Iowa and get fired three years later, and now Lickliter is just hoping to be Florida Gulf Coast's next hire, which is a reminder of how far a coach can fall with one bad career decision. Stevens won't make the same mistake.

Do I think he'll retire at Butler?


But he's making good money and he's got the best job in a league at a school that's now a national brand, and he's practically guaranteed to achieve a certain level of success as long as he remains in Indianapolis. Plus, as previously noted, he's young. So there's no reason to rush into anything.

Stevens will never leave Butler for Oklahoma or Missouri or Tennessee or any program like that. The day he leaves Butler will be the day a top-tier program with every built-in advantage imaginable has an opening and makes him an offer -- something like North Carolina, Duke, UCLA, Kansas or, of course, Indiana. Till then, Stevens will keep winning Horizon titles, one after another. He might lose games in November and December, and in January and February, too. But Stevens has proven he's capable of molding young men into a team that can compete with anybody come March.

He doesn't need a better job, a bigger league or a fake ID.

He just needs to be put in the bracket.

Then he'll take care of the rest.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.

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