Brad Stevens: Will he stay or will he go?


Brad Stevens: Will he stay or will he go?

By Rich Levine

Before tonights National Championship game, lets rev up the DeLorean to 88 MPH and take a quick trip to March Madness 2022:

To be honest, I don't know much about what the world is like.

I dont know if weve finally gotten our hands on some flying cars. Or warp zones. I dont know if we now understand the long-term effects of cell phone use andor 5-Hour Energy.

Will Coors Light ever stop making those fake press conference commercials? I have no idea.

Same goes for the NCAA tournament.

Eleven years from now, maybe the fields expanded to 256 teams (and thats just the play-in round) . . . Maybe 31-year-old Kalin Lucas is somehow still eligible at Michigan State . . . Maybe every win of John Caliparis careers has been stricken from the record . . . Maybe an 82-year-old Dick Vitale is still on TV screaming about the jump ball rule . . . Who knows?

But for all we dont know, theres one thing Im fairly sure of:

Brad Stevens wont be coaching at Butler.

At some point between now and then, Stevens will take a bigger and better offer from a bigger and better school and bail on the 12-year extension he signed after last season. Maybe hell replace Coach K at Duke, or Ben Howland at UCLA. Or maybe hell take over at Indiana, the team he grew up rooting for.

Eventually hell get that offer he cant refuse, his "dream job," and he wont look back.

Thats just always been my assumption. I think most people feel the same way.

Coaches like Brad Stevens dont stay at schools like Butler. They never have, and never will. Hed be insane to turn down those other schools, and theyd be insane to not make an offer.

After all, in his four years at Butler, Stevens has a record of 117-24. Over that time hes become the third-youngest coach to have a 30-win season. Last year, he broke the NCAA record for most wins in the first three years. He became the second-youngest head coach to make the National Championship. This year, at 34, he became the youngest coach to go to two Final Fours. He set the unofficial record for most awkward involvement in a post game mosh pit. He's got serious potential.

In the last two tournaments, Stevens has taken a lower seed with presumably less talent and beaten Jim Boeheim, Tom Izzo, Jamie Dixon, Bo Ryan and Billy Donovan. Despite his age, and unimposing presence, hes in complete control. Hes a little bit like Tiger Woods in the way he talks. Everythings casual, but completely calculated.

He gets his players. Im sure thats the age, but either way, hes got them figured out. Hell dance around in the locker room, throw around chest bumps after a big win, and at times you swear hes the student manager stealing a moment with the superstars. But all the while, Stevens maintains total respect. He gets it.

What else can you say? This guy just took Butler to back-to-back Final Fours, back-to-back championship games. He might even win a title. But win or lose, this isnt a fluke. It cant be. This is beyond Cinderella. Hes turned this into a real program.

And now . . .

I dont know.

Maybe this is the start of something real? Why does it stop here?

You have to wonder: Is there a chance he doesn't leave? Could he just go nuts and turn this into Duke Midwest?

After back-to-back Final Fours, and his reputation around the country, players will come to Butler. Parents will want their kids to come to Butler. Obviously, the Hoosiers are an unbelievable local draw, but youre nuts if you dont think Stevens will start making an impact on IU recruiting. The Hoosiers have history, but Stevens has reality. And, anyway, its not all about Indiana anymore. People will come, Brad.

Last week on TV, I saw that George Masons put up 32 new buildings since their Final Four trip in 2006; they generated 600 million of free advertising. Butlers now done it twice, and has a far more sustainable product. Win or lose tonight, the money will come in. Sponsorships will come in. People are going to want to be apart of thee Brad Stevens brand. Facilities will improve. Talent will improve. The team will keep winning.

And after winning, why else does a coach leave? I mean, once youve been to back-to-back Final Fours, what more can these other schools offer you?

More money?

Stevens will never have to worry about money again.

More recognition?

Spotlight doesnt get much brighter than tonight. Or last year.

More tradition?

I dont know. Would you rather spend the rest of your career living up to UCLA or Duke history, or being Butler history?

Why go to a place were they expectdemand things to be done their way, when you can make your own rules. Be your own tradition. Every program starts somewhere, right?

UCLA only had two winning seasons in the 15 years before John Wooden showed up. Duke had been to only one Final Four in the 20 years before Coach K came on. And no, Im not saying Stevens is John Wooden, just that not every storied college program has always been storied. It starts somewhere, with someone.

Is Brad Stevens that someone with Butler? Would he have signed that extension if at least a part of him didnt envision staying in the Horizon Conference through 2022?

Or is it just a matter of time before, hes accomplished all he can,' and that dream job offer comes by way of Indiana or Duke or UCLA, and he just "has to" accept?

Only time will tell.

But for now, I guess he just has to get through tonight.
Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line


Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.