INDIANAPOLIS – Eight days before Brad Stevens became the new head coach of the NBA's most storied franchise, I was sitting in his office at Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse, the same magical place where "Hoosiers" was filmed.
His wife, Tracy, sat in the corner, paying bills on a laptop. I was asking Stevens about what it's been like when, after every college basketball season since Stevens took this mid-major Cinderella to two consecutive national championship games, his name has popped up in every big-time college coaching search.
What does it feel like when you're the supposed No. 1 target every time a job opens up, whether it's UCLA or Illinois or Minnesota? The word might be "exasperating."
Rumors always abounded about the brightest young mind in college hoops. Classmates of his 7-year-old son would ask about his dad's job status. Yes, Stevens always listened when people came calling, but he never met with a single school. I asked Stevens whether any of the college jobs where his name was floated were difficult decisions. He shook his head: "Nope. None of them have been."
Stevens told me about once when someone reported on Twitter that he had just landed on a campus and was taking a new job. His cell phone started blowing up in the kitchen. But Stevens was in his backyard, fishing with his 7-year-old son on that Friday afternoon. His wife brought his phone outside. Stevens told his son he had to go inside to answer some questions -- questions "about Daddy leaving Butler."
"Is that because you lost all those games?" his son replied.
Stevens laughed telling the story last week. There was no indication that a week later he'd be heading to one of the most prestigious coaching jobs in professional sports. Maybe the Celtics deal -- six years, $22 million, according to Yahoo! Sports -- announced on Wednesday already was in the works. Maybe it came as out of nowhere for Stevens as it did to Celtics fans.
I know I didn't pick up an inkling that Stevens soon would be heading to the home of Russell and Bird and Auerbach.
That's the delicious irony about Stevens leaving Butler for the Celtics -- the freakin' Boston Celtics, 13 months after he was a head coach in the Horizon League!
Every time a big-time job opened up in the college ranks, we assumed Brad Stevens' name was at the top of every list. Every spring when the coaching carousel started spinning, we assumed the Stevens family was facing another difficult decision on whether to leave their home for greener pastures at a bigger, most prestigious university.
We always assumed Brad Stevens was going to be the next Coach K.
Turns out the brightest mind in college hoops would rather give a try at becoming the next Phil Jackson.
In the coming months there will be no shortage of reminders that the NBA is different than college. There will be cautionary tales of college legends who flopped in the pros (Rick Pitino and John Calipari, Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier). There will be warnings about taking over a rebuilding project in a city that expects championships. There will be projections of how the 36-year-old -- whose resume of head-coaching experience includes only six years at Butler -- will deal with the enormous egos and talents of the NBA, and with moody superstars such as Rajon Rondo.
But you know what? I love the Brad Stevens hire. It's a gutsy move by Celtics general manager Danny Ainge. Stevens is the calm, thoughtful, humble type who ought to adapt easily to an NBA locker room. He'll learn to manage the egos without putting his ego first. Selfishly, as a college-basketball guy, I'm sad Stevens will be leaving Butler just as he would have encountered his biggest challenge yet as Butler joins the new Big East Conference.
Yes, he's leaving Butler in the lurch. Players could transfer. The school's cachet takes a hit. And filling a coaching vacancy in July won't be easy, although the school's athletic director, Barry Collier, is the former Butler basketball coach and ought to fill in ably on an interim basis.
But who is going to question a man for taking one of the best coaching jobs in sports?
In March, after Butler got knocked out of the NCAA tournament and Stevens' name was floated for the UCLA job, Stevens sent out this tweet:
Love walking thru Hinkle in the morning... Anxious to get started on our spring workouts next week.
It was his roundabout way of saying, hey, I love this place, I'm not leaving. On Wednesday, though, he left. And he left for a job anyone in his right mind would take.
Sitting in Stevens' office last week, I asked him why he wasn't leaving for one of those college jobs. He was speaking about the speculation for the UCLA job, but he just as easily could have been speaking about this Celtics job.
"At the end of the day, for each coach, they need to decide what's best for them at that time," Stevens said.
"The only people that matter in those decisions are you and your family and people you're around. Anybody else can say what's better for somebody else. You have to know where you can be the best you can be."