INDIANAPOLIS – When Butler University athletic director spoke of his athletic programs joining the Big East Conference Monday, he addressed the subject of expectations.
“There was a question earlier about expectations from the outside,” Collier said. “The expectations from the outside are pretty high, and they are higher than they were (in the past). But the process and the determination to do things the 'Butler Way' and to succeed by (Butler's basketball coaches) are somewhere up here (as the 6-foot-7 Collier stood and lifted his hand).”
Tonight those expectations have been shifted from Stevens and the men's basketball program squarely onto Collier, as he begins the difficult task of hiring the next great Butler coach.
It isn't a situation where Stevens was the only Bulldog coach to be able to achieve success. Since Collier was hired in 1989, the past four coaches (Collier, Thad Matta, Todd Lickliter and Stevens) have each proven successful enough to parlay their Butler victories into higher profile jobs.
However, somehow this feels different.
The program is no longer a successful mid-major program that advanced to Sweet 16s and occasionally upset a ranked team. Stevens took this team to five NCAA Tournaments, the National Championship game twice, and this season alone beat three top 10 teams.
Now with membership in the Big East Conference, those types of achievements are expected to occur on somewhat of a regular basis.
Which brings us to the next chapter in this unfolding drama: Who can successfully replace Stevens?
The quick answer is no one.
There is no coach anywhere at any level that will dull the legacy of Stevens in Bulldog lore. He's the winningest coach in NCAA history for the start of his six-year career, how can Bulldog Nation ever hold anyone against that standard? They might, but would be realistic to do so.
However, what they can do is to expect Collier to keep the trend of hiring successful coaches continuing. That measurement of success will transcend wins on the basketball court. The next coach will be required to recruit great student-athletes, great students, great people and represent the university in an impeccable manner. Those are requirements. That is the 'Butler Way.'
So who would fit such a criteria? Here is a list of coaches that could be considered by Collier:
Shaka Smart, VCU - If a high-major job is open, it's a requirement to add Smart to any list. He is the only coach in America that could immediately fill the celebrity hole left by Stevens. Everyone else will fail in this regard, though to no fault of their own.
However, Butler is not going to break the bank for any coach (they didn't for Stevens), and Smart wouldn't leave VCU for UCLA's money, let alone Butler's.
Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt - A perfect fit for Butler in so many ways, right up until the point where Collier talks salary. The former Purdue player and coach has a proven track record as a head coach, recruits at an elite academic university, and recruits successfully not just nationally, but also internationally.
However, Butler will seek to pay a coach in the neighborhood of $1.5 million (Stevens made $1.2 million), and that would be a pay cut for Stallings.
Tony Bennett, Virginia - Great, experienced coach with a style that Butler fans would love and has experience recruiting elite players for a strong academic institution.
However, Bennett has tremendous facilities to work with in Charlottesville, is in a fantastic league (ACC), and makes way too much money for Butler's taste.
Fran McCaffery, Iowa - Don't laugh Big Ten fans. Butler is in the Big East as of Monday and the Bulldogs' job is infinitely more attractive than the Hawkeyes' position in every way imaginable aside from salary (ask Lickliter).
Brad Brownell, Clemson - Much like Stallings, Brownell would truly be a perfect fit in a multitude of ways.
Like Stevens, Brownell is an Indiana native (Evansville), who played at DePauw and coached successfully in the Horizon League (Wright State). He also was successful in his first stint as a head coach at UNCW.
Brownell's type of student-athlete and style of play would match Stevens'.
However, Brownell has five years remaining on his contract with a massive buyout that severely prohibits him from leaving for another position, as well as him and his family love living in the Southeast.
Dr. John Giannini, LaSalle - Would be a great hire by Collier, and a possible hire. Dr. Giannini has been a head coach at three universities (LaSalle, Maine and Rowan) and has been the winningest coach at all three.
Though Butler has evolved into a national program with recruits from all over the United States, Dr. Giannini's experience recruiting the East coast would prove invaluable.
From a professional standpoint, he would be attracted to the step up from the Atlantic 10 Conference to the Big East, and the salary range and facilities (Hinkle Fieldhouse) would also be enticing for him.
Dane Fife, assistant, Michigan State - Another strong candidate for Collier. Anyone that questions how the former Indiana guard did in his first stint as a head coach (IPFW) doesn't truly understand the magnitude of what was achieved.
Fife understands managing a program the right way and has proven in his current position that he can recruit the best players in America. Spartan coach Tom Izzo doesn't hire just anyone and he knew exactly what he was doing when he grabbed Fife.
Todd Lickliter, Marian University - Stevens' predecessor will get a hard look by Collier and if Stevens could name his successor, this would be the guy.
However, Lickliter failed at his one shot at a high-major job (Iowa) and his hire would not excite many of the Bulldog followers. His ability to recruit nationally would be questioned until proven differently.
Bryce Drew, Valparaiso - Indiana native and legendary player knows something about filling big shoes, as he replaced his father, Homer, the Crusaders' most successful coach.
Drew has been a very successful head coach and could recruit the type of student-athlete that would fit the 'Butler Way.'
He has had his opportunities at bigger jobs and thus far, has said no. He'd walk to Butler if offered that position.
Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa - Tremendously successful in his seven seasons as head coach at UNI. Has won a pair of Missouri Valley Conference regular season titles and is 150-86 overall.
Jacobson signed a 10-year contract extension this past spring, but his salary at Butler would almost triple what he is making with the Panthers. Plus, going from selling Northern Iowa to Butler, the Big East and Indianapolis would be a no-brainer.
LaVall Jordan, assistant coach, Michigan - This hire would win the press conference. After helping rebuild the Wolverines into a national power (they fell to Louisville in the 2013 National Championship game), that alone would be impressive enough. Throw in the fact that Jordan is a former Butler coach and alumnus, plus a young African-American, who has experience recruiting elite players, whoa boy!
However, he has never been a head coach before. But come to think of it, neither had Collier, Matta, Lickliter or Stevens.
Matthew Graves, South Alabama - Probably spent the better portion of Wednesday evening on the ground kicking himself repeatedly.
Longtime Butler assistant accepted the head coaching position with the Jaguars this spring. Knows every aspect of the Bulldogs' roster and program better than anyone, aside from Stevens.
Not sure the Indiana native wins the press conference, but would be deserving of a shot at leading the program that he played a critical role in constructing.
However, his telling ESPN Wednesday evening that he was not interested in returning to Butler told me either he knew that he had no chance at the job or he had kicked himself in the head.
Brandon Miller, assistant, Butler - The former Bulldog great not only has served as an assistant coach with the Bulldogs, but at Xavier, as well as being the top assistant to former Bulldog player and coach Thad Matta at Ohio State.
He left Ohio State and spent a year out of coaching, ultimately landing a non-coaching position with the Illinois program last season, but returned to Hinkle Fieldhouse this spring to replace Graves.
He played one season under Matta before finishing his career under Lickliter in 2003. The New Castle native has an abundance of experience recruiting at the elite level and knows the 'Butler Way' of doing things.