There’s been some question about how an impending move to the reincarnated Big East will change the Butler men’s basketball program.
Saturday’s hiring of 34-year-old Brandon Miller to replace Boston Celtics-bound Brad Stevens as head coach suggests an answer.
Not very much at all.
Make no mistake, the Big East will offer the Bulldogs their biggest regular season stage ever. The league already has a national television contract with the new Fox Sports 1 cable channel, and its 10 schools have combined for three national titles and 21 Final Four appearances.
But it appears the business of big-time college basketball isn’t going to alter the Butler Way.
And that’s a very good thing.
Fans at Hinkle Fieldhouse often get a chance to walk on the court after games. If they congregate in the correct corner, they might even find themselves mingling with players as they exit the locker room.
Despite the campus’ location in the center of Indianapolis, Butler maintains a small-town feel.
It’s difficult to imagine some of the Bulldogs’ new conference rivals — Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette spring to mind — putting their program in the hands of an assistant coach who was just rehired by the school four short months ago.
That’s just not how the nation’s college basketball factories act. They chase successful head coaches in smaller conferences or court assistant coaches from the NBA. Anyone whose name can generate media attention and money from boosters moves to the top of the list.
Miller — a New Castle native who was a part of Butler’s Sweet 16 team in 2003 — does not fit that bill.
But Butler rarely chooses the most obvious path.
Miller began his coaching career as a part of former Bulldogs head coach Thad Matta’s staff at Ohio State. He spent six seasons with the Buckeyes squeezed around a one-year return to the Butler bench.
Then, in 2011-12, Miller stepped away from the game altogether. He returned last fall as an assistant coach at Illinois under John Groce, and Stevens hired him in April after top assistant Matthew Graves left to become the head coach at South Alabama.
He’s replacing a former Eli Lilly marketing associate who went on to produce two national runner-up finishes in six seasons.
No one can be certain whether Miller will approach the bar Stevens has set at unprecedented heights. The Butler Way does not guarantee success.
But it’s the blueprint athletic director Barry Collier put in place during his own run as head coach from 1989 to 2000 (which coincidentally also began at age 34). And it’s helped build a program that hadn’t made an NCAA tournament appearance in 30 years before his arrival into a major conference member and national title contender.
Through the past two decades, Butler has helped changed the landscape of big-time college basketball.
Let’s hope and pray big-time college basketball never changes the Bulldogs.