Three years ago, shortly after resigning at Gardner-Webb to be an assistant at Butler, Chris Holtmann found himself in a unique and pressure-packed situation -- specifically one that had him replacing Brandon Miller as the Bulldogs' coach on an interim basis.
That happened on Oct. 2, 2014.
Butler's first game was just 44 days away.
Which meant Holtmann was presented with the following challenge: "Take this team you barely know, that finished 4-14 in the Big East last season, and is projected to finish seventh in the league this season, and do something positive with it. If you do, hey, we might let you keep the job. But if not, a national search for a permanent replacement will begin, and you and your family -- and your staff and their families -- will all be looking for new jobs and new homes in five months. Good luck!"
"When it was basically a day-to-day interview, during the interim deal, I said [to the assistants], I said, 'Listen, if I'm a little worked-up at times, that's the reason,'"-- right after he'd taken that team projected to finish seventh in the Big East to second place in the league standings and impressed his bosses enough to get the job permanently. "I didn't want to screw this up for my family, of course, but certainly for their families as well. I had a few of those moments. It was a significant weight, for sure."
If you're reading this now, reading a college basketball column in June, you likely know how Holtmann's story has unfolded. He guided Butler to the 2015 NCAA Tournament, 2016 NCAA Tournament and 2017 NCAA Tournament. He won games in all three and made the Sweet 16 this past March. And early Friday .
Twenty! Four! Million! Dollars!
So a man who was in his first year as a Butler assistant just 33 months ago is now the head coach of The Ohio State University. And a man who was coaching for his career, for his life, just 30 months ago, and doing it with a team nobody thought would be much good, is now making $3 million a year at a Big Ten power.
Do we live in a great country or what?
Holtmann's rise from there to here is perhaps only trumped, recently, by Brad Stevens going from a 30-year-old Butler assistant to coach of the Boston Celtics in a span of six years. So it's possible "The Butler Way" actually stands for, "Be awesome at what you do, move up in the world and get super-wealthy."
In all seriousness, though ... wow.
And it couldn't happen to a more level-headed and kind man. I mean that sincerely, by the way. If there's somebody out there who dislikes Chris Holtmann, I've yet to meet them. They might exist. But I don't know them.
On that note, if you don't mind, let me tell you a story.
My wife and I were expecting last year -- and our doctor's son was a high school senior getting ready to graduate and enroll at Butler. Big basketball fan, obviously. So one day our doctor mentioned he and his son were going to Indianapolis for a game, at which point I said, "You know, you should meet Chris Holtmann while you're there. You'd like him. I'll tell him you might hang around after the game. I'm sure he'd be happy to shake your hand or snap a picture or something."
They thought that was amazing.
So I texted Holtmann and just said, "Hey, this father and son I know are coming to Tuesday's game. It's our doctor and his son. If you could just say hello, it would make their day. But if not, totally understand."
Holtmann's response: "Have the dad text me."
Next thing I knew, Holtmann had personally invited them to, and hosted them at, Butler's shootaround -- and given them a private tour of Hinkle Fieldhouse before what turned out to be an 87-76 win over Georgetown. Blew them away. And what I later found out, sadly, is that this all happened one day after Butler assistant Emerson Kampen's 6-month-old son died from a terminal genetic disease -- meaning Holtmann had every reason in the world to cancel. He was dealing with a tragedy. Something truly awful. But he so badly wanted to not cancel that he just put on a happy face and gave them a memory nobody else could've given them.
That's Ohio State's new basketball coach.
He's undeniably a good coach and by all accounts a good dude -- sorta like his predecessor, Thad Matta. And that's among the reasons I think Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith ultimately got this right. The path he took to get to Holtmann doesn't appear to have been the most direct. But that's beside the point now. Ohio State ended up with the right guy. It took a big financial commitment, absolutely. But if Holtmann consistently wins at Ohio State like he consistently won at Butler, it'll all go down as money well spent.