At one point in Saturday’s introduction of Brandon Miller as the new men’s basketball coach at Butler University, athletic director Barry Collier described the tenacity of his new coach from an appearance standpoint.
“The people that know Brandon,” Collier said, “struggle to separate a picture of him and a picture of a real Bulldog.”
The crowd gathered for the news conference laughed heartily, but there is some merit to that statement, and I’m not discussing Miller’s physical looks.
A real Bulldog looks like a friendly enough animal, but those that have had them will attest to their strength, determination, and in a competitive situation, even their ferocity.
That would be Brandon Miller, for you.
I sat in Miller’s office a couple of weeks ago, not interviewing him, but just talking life, basketball, and baseball (he’s a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan, which demonstrates his intelligence), and the impression that I walked out of there with is that he has an aura of intimidation to him.
Obviously, former Butler coach Brad Stevens had a lot going for him, including respect, intellect, and a fierce competitiveness in his own way. However, no one ever used the word “intimidating” to describe the newest coach of the Boston Celtics.
That is what separates Miller from Stevens.
Miller has toughness about him that reflects more U.S. Marine than collegial professor. The Bulldog players have only been around him since he returned to the program a few months ago, but I bet that they’ve already seen glimpses of that trait – or at least they will soon.
“I’m not Brad Stevens,” Miller stated. “I’m Brandon Miler. I’ve worked with Brad and I’ve known Brad. A lot of the things that I believe in, he (also) believes in. We share a lot of the same characteristics in terms of our philosophies and how we coach.”
It takes a coach that possesses an inordinate amount of self-confidence and determination to follow the most successful coach in Butler (in leading the Bulldogs to a pair of NCAA title game appearances) and NCAA history (over Stevens’ initial six seasons). And that is why Miller is the right guy for this “terrific job,” as he repeatedly referred to leading the Bulldog program.
Miller is going to walk a perilous path with many Bulldog fans over the next few years, just as Stevens would have, as Butler competes at a level that it never has before, as a member of the Big East Conference.
However, Stevens’ legacy will never take into account that fact, but Miller’s will. Which is completely unfair to Miller, but is another reason why Miller is the right guy for this situation.
Revisionist historians will remember how Stevens always found a way to beat the more renowned programs, though in actuality, he lost more (15) than he won (12) against top 25 programs. The first loss to a ranked team by a Miller-coached team and there will be whispers among the packed Hinkle Fieldhouse crowd that Stevens would have found a way to win the game.
Miller has the toughness to handle that skepticism and understand it isn’t fair or accurate.
If Park Tudor High School senior forward Trevon Bluiett selects to play for another program other than the Bulldogs, those same nonsensical fans will say that Stevens’ departure doomed the Bulldogs’ chances and Miller couldn’t seal the deal with the highly-touted recruit.
Again, that would more than likely be inaccurate, but unquestionably would be unfair to Miller - and Bluiett for that matter. Stevens lost out on many elite-level recruits, but that fact gets shadowed by a 77 percent winning percentage and Final Four appearances.
It wouldn’t have been easy for the most seasoned coach to replace Stevens, let alone for a first-time head coach to do so. But just try prying this “special” opportunity away from Miller with criticism and cynicism. He’s a Bulldog and Miller’s not going to let go of it.