Posted July 06, 2013

Brandon Miller cannot replace Brad Stevens, but he must be the best replacement

Butler
Former Bulldog Brandon Miller was named head coach at Butler Saturday. (Michael Conroy/AP)

Former Bulldog Brandon Miller was named head coach at Butler Saturday. (Michael Conroy/AP)

Whomever was hired to succeed Brad Stevens at Butler was going to have to deal with impossible expectations, following in the footsteps of the man with the winningest first six years in college basketball history. It’s pretty certain that no one would be able to match or surpass what Stevens did there, since no one had ever achieved to that extent anywhere before.

Butler is not in a unique situation in this respect. Very few programs are able to replace a legendary coach — and, yes, despite having just a handful of years on his resume, Stevens achieved legendarily at Butler. Kansas did it with Bill Self, and the man he replaced, Roy Williams, is doing a strong job of returning North Carolina to Dean Smith levels. You can argue other modern examples, but it’s rare, and it’s never coming from a guy who has not been a head coach before.

So it’s folly to examine Brandon Miller, the newly re-hired assistant coach who was bumped up to Butler’s big seat on Saturday, under that comparative prism. It is fair, though, to ask whether Butler, in sticking with the in-house succession process that has served the school extremely well to this point, did the best thing this time around, with its maiden season in the Big East looming.

Had he not left earlier this spring for South Alabama’s head job, Matthew Graves almost certainly would have been tapped as Stevens’ replacement. Graves’ work was a huge piece that helped fuel Stevens’ teams over the past several years, and his hiring would have made perfect sense. A standout Butler player and long-time assistant, he would have hit every checkbox for a good hire for this program at this time.

Stripped of that option, though, Butler only considered Miller and current Michigan assistant LaVall Jordan, an excellent recruiter and former Bulldog who was thought by many earlier this week to be the more likely of the two choices. Miller is also a former Bulldog star, having led the team in scoring as a senior in 2002-03, and having been hired twice by Stevens is as good a referral as a prospective coach could have. After the news broke that Miller would be the choice, Stevens immediately endorsed him.

Miller had to be hired the second time, though, because he left coaching for a year after the 2010-11 season, when he was working at Ohio State (under former Butler coach Thad Matta). After a year away from the sport, he returned as a special assistant at Illinois last season before being hired back by Butler in April after Graves left the staff. He’s ascended to the head coaching job without working a single game as an assistant in his second stint at the school.

Miller was widely regarded as a rising star in the business before he left it, so this is not a case of an unqualified hire. An inexperienced one, maybe, in terms of head-coaching expectations, but being young certainly didn’t hurt Stevens, or a number of other coaches thriving nationwide.

Should Butler have considered other options, though? The speed with which Barry Collier made the replacement speaks to a man with certainty about his fallback options, and the process has worked multiple times before for the school. But this is a new era of Butler basketball, with national expectations that make the job a bigger deal than any time in its history.

Stevens’ success set the school up to become part of the Big East, but now the head coach will have Fox Sports 1 money as part of his war chest. Miller shouldn’t be expected to win 28 games a year for the next six seasons, as Stevens just did at lower levels, but he will be expected to elevate Butler’s base standards. That means recruiting, scheduling and performing at a major-program level. For years, high-major fans scoffed that Butler could never survive a Big East schedule. Now, that’s the mandate.

It’s quite possible Collier made the best possible hire, and it’s understandable that he would trust a process that has worked before, but Collier’s process decision sets up the real question that will chase Miller as he builds Butler in his own mold. It’s not about whether Miller can be the next Brad Stevens. It’s about whether he was the best choice to follow him.

6 comments
Mike26
Mike26

Butler, despite the slobbering of the media for that past 6-7 years, is not an elite, marquee or even outstanding program.  I don't understand the problem with Butler doing what they've done for years:  hire an insider.

TheMick
TheMick

Perhaps the author has difficulty understanding the qualities of strength and integrity and lapses into the old saw that it's all about winning.  Winning counts but the author has virtually no skill in assessing matters of style.  

SandersonKramer
SandersonKramer

Sorry I don't get the point of this article at all. Butler stated before they hired a new Coach that the new coach would be someone with ties to Butler so they would continue with the same philosophy of how the Basketball program would be run. That is basically what the school, alumni and players wanted but I guess not you. With that criteria, they had 2 Candidates with Butler ties and they hired one. Were there any other Coaches available with better resumes with Butler ties? If not, then what is your point? Sorry I don't get it. If Butler had said that their criteria was for the best available Coach no matter if he didn't have Butler ties, I could see your point. But they clearly didn't say that.

gary41
gary41

It is not a question of whether he has the best resume, but whether he is best suited for the immediate job at hand.  Most certainly this is the right decision, because with the unfortunate and recent departure of the last assistant, he provides a relatively seamless transition, which is most respectful of existing players and recruits coming into the program.  Finally someone is thinking about the players, instead of other issues.  You can speculate about whether another young assistant coach might be a better recruiter or a better coach, but given acute time constraints, this was the right thing to do...... 

Jameson
Jameson

@SandersonKramer The point is that process works well at lower levels. At the major college level, most schools work on the principle of getting the best coach that fits that school's "brand" and is a proven winner, typically as a head coach of at least a mid major program. My guess is that no other school in the Big East would limit its recruiting only to coaches with ties to the school. Butler is now a destination that many highly respected coaches would consider. The pool was larger than 2. Why put limits on? That's like saying, after moving from a small town to the big city, I'm only going date girls from my home. Most people would re access their options.

Jameson
Jameson

@gary41 Well, not exactly. He wasn't on the current staff until April so he wouldn't have had much contact with recruits and because of NCAA rules, limited contact with the existing players. Butler also has the obligation to the players to get the best available coach that is right for the school. It may prove to be the right decision but it is not anything close to a certainty. The Big East isn't the best place to break in an inexperienced head coach.