Brad Stevens has the Boston Celtics on a good path. In the third year of a five-year contract, Stevens has overseen a rebuilding project that made the playoffs last year in a weak Eastern Conference and is a good bet to back there this season in a stronger East. Stevens is well-regarded in Boston, by both the fans and his employer. He is well-respected among NBA observers as a rising star in the coaching ranks. But now may be the best time for him to get out and go back home to Indiana.
Stevens, you may recall, was the coach at Butler when they made runs to consecutive NCAA finals in 2010 and 2011. He is coveted by a lot of Indiana alums as a replacement for Tom Crean, whose seat gets warmer with each passing day and each possession where his talented Hoosier team fails to play anything remotely resembling defense.
The timing is right from a financial perspective for Indiana to open the vault for Stevens. Following this season, the buyout costs of Crean’s contract drops significantly. Stevens will only have two years left on his Celtics deal to buy out. Furthermore, if Indiana continues to underachieve this season—this is a team good enough to win the Big Ten and make the Final Four and is instead playing like a fringe NCAA Tournament team—it makes the case for IU to get rid of Crean even stronger.
Now the question becomes, why would Stevens want to leave? The Celtics are a team with talented young players, they’re deep and as mentioned, Stevens has a lot of good will in the bank. The reason is simple—Brad Stevens belongs in the college game.
I’m not breaking any new ground by pointing out that college basketball is a coach’s game and the NBA is a player’s game. I’m also a Celtics fan and while I respect what Stevens is doing, if he were to leave, I wouldn’t feel like the entire rebuilding project is at risk. That’s just the nature of the NBA.
Now on the flip side, if Stevens goes to Indiana, he has to chance to become a coaching legend. If he could built a strong national program at Butler, how much more could he do with the resources available in Bloomington?
It’s also a good time for Stevens to come into the Big Ten. Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan is nearing the end of the line and that would leave room for the Hoosiers to replace the Badgers as a consistent contender in this conference alongside Michigan State. If we look at some of Indiana’s nearby non-conference programs, how much longer will Rick Pitino be at Louisville or John Calipari at Kentucky? The departure of either or both would leave a void in the region that a Stevens-led Indiana would be well-suited to fill.
Finally, let’s come to the essential justice of this change at Indiana. Crean entirely deserves to be on the hot seat right now and to be fired at season’s end if his team doesn’t drastically change direction. This is a head coach who has been fawned over in the national media for allegedly “rebuilding Indiana from nothing” to take the common narrative. But it’s nonsense.
What this narrative conveniently overlooks is that IU made the NCAA Tournament in the final year before Crean’s arrival, under Kelvin Sampson. And the sanctions that cost Sampson his job—making too many phone calls in recruiting—did not cost Indiana anything in terms of scholarships or postseason appearances. It was essentially a “don’t do this again,” rebuke.
Indiana takes doing things the right way seriously, a legacy of Bob Knight, so even this mild slap on the wrist caused a coaching change. At Kentucky it wouldn’t have been any more than a blip on the radar. Crean responded by tearing the entire program down, cutting players loose and rebuilding from scratch. Why should he get credit for building from the ground up when he’s the man who tore down the building to begin with?
Crean should be given his buyout and told to go hang out with brothers-in-law, John & Jim Harbaugh. Stevens should get the call to come back to Indiana and unless he has some burning desire to specifically coach in the NBA, he should take it. And my Celtics? Well, there’s a pretty good head coach out there who just became available and who has some ties to Boston. How about we bring Kevin McHale back? This is the “Everybody Goes Home” scenario.