Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
If you kept up with the UCLA coaching search, you’d know that Brad Stevens—of Butler head coaching fame—was UCLA’s primary target. The stoic, young, and perhaps brilliant head coach took a mid-major program to consecutive Final Fours and captured the heart of the nation with his team’s underdog status.
Of course, Stevens spurned the Bruins to stay at Butler. The athletic department at the school in Indiana fended off another major college program, this time a true college basketball blueblood in UCLA.
At the time, it seemed as if Stevens would be a Butler man for life. And then the Boston Celtics came knocking at his door. And they brought a few million friends:
Yes, $3.7 million a year is a pretty penny, and an NBA head coaching gig has a bit more prestige than 99 percent of college coaching gigs. It might even be fair to say that the Celtics coaching job is more prestigious than the UCLA job, given the Celtics are the most storied franchise in NBA history.
So it’s not totally fair, if we’re being objective, to blame UCLA for losing out on Stevens. It’s hard to believe that UCLA’s pursuit of Stevens was executed poorly considering dozens of other programs, bluebloods or not, failed to acquire the services of the baby-faced 30-something-year-old.
Stevens will have a hell of an uphill battle, though. While many college basketball analysts posited that the UCLA coaching gig was not for Stevens given the nature of recruiting at UCLA (one which pretty much requires that the Bruins recruit elite high school talent, a pool of kids that many label as egotistical and self-centered), it can’t be much easier for Stevens to manage the egos of grown men making many more millions of dollars than Stevens. Even further, while the Celtics may embrace Stevens’ reliance on advanced statistics, there’s little data on whether such an approach to basketball—be they at the managerial level or at the coaching level—works in the NBA. Sure, it worked at Butler, but when ten-million-dollar men are asked to sit because their PER might be lower than the rookie behind him, they might not take it so well.
So while the hire was lauded for its gutsiness, most “gutsy,” high-risk hires are generally viewed positively, even if they’re not the right hires. (See: Andy Enfield at USC.)
UCLA fans, and college hoops fans in general, will be watching the Celtics with a keen eye this November. Who knows? Perhaps after Stevens flames out, he’ll end up in UCLA blue and gold after all.