by Ben Heisler
IU Final Four News Bureau
It’s safe to say that Butler head coach Brad Stevens doesn’t represent the stereotypical NCAA championship game coach.
After all, his counterpart, 63-year-old Mike Krzyzewski, has coached in 11 Final Fours, won three national championships and written six best-selling books. His most recent work, “The Gold Standard,” chronicles the men’s USA Olympic basketball team he coached to a gold medal in 2008.
The 33-year-old Stevens is coaching in his first Final Four and has no best-selling accounts – yet. For now he states poetically that the legendary coaches “write books, and I get to read them.”
Krzyzewski is, of course, on Stevens’ reading list.
If you type in mikekrzyzewski.com into your Web browser, you’ll be automatically directed to coachk.com – the official Web site of the Hall of Famer. Type in bradstevens.com and you land on the official Web site of a very different Brad Stevens who resides in Texas. That site promotes ready-made picture frames and massage therapy.
Restaurants and sports bars all over the country have pictures, photographs and authentic Duke apparel with Coach K’s signature scribbled across them. Stevens was asked at a Sunday press conference if he still gets carded when he enters bars.
The comparisons between the two are obviously skewed and unfair. After all, Krzyzewski began his coaching career a few years before Stevens was even born.
The savvy Coach K has already played the Final Four chess match. He’s gone through the motions before and has come out victorious. But somehow, unfazed through it all, is Stevens. He remains calm. And his team is embracing his cool demeanor.
“I think it affects us directly,” said sophomore guard Ronald Nored, who hit two clutch free throws with six seconds left against Michigan State on Saturday night to give the Bulldogs a three-point lead.
“We see him like that and he’s our leader. I think under any circumstance, any situation, we’re the same because he trusts in us, believes in us and there’s no need to get rattled in certain situations.”
That may help explain where Nored and his teammates get their on-the-court composure. But what about Stevens? Where did his inner calm originate?
“I remember when I was a kid,” Stevens said. “My mom shared with me the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling. It stuck with me. I certainly believe if you can keep your head about you while all those are losing theirs, it’s a good thing.”
It’s fair to say he’s kept his head. This is only the young coach’s third season. He has been the baby face of tranquility throughout this entire tournament. He’s shared the sidelines with coaching greats like Tom Izzo of Michigan State and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, who have a combined 1,193 wins between them.
Stevens outdueled both of them.
If he can beat Krzyzewski on Monday, he’ll have beaten a trio of coaches with over 2,000 combined victories, 2,059 to be exact.
But in typical Brad Stevens fashion, he’ll emphasize he didn’t personally beat them – his team did.
“If it’s just me against them, we’re in trouble … Butler has beaten those teams,” Stevens said.
“We’ve been fortunate to win those games. It has nothing – it has very little – to do with me. It has a lot to do with these guys going out there and giving it everything they have.”
His players have given their all and more, yet now they’ll have to weather another stormier forecast. News broke late Sunday afternoon that junior forward and second-leading rebounder Matt Howard is now officially a game-time decision after suffering a mild concussion in the second half of Butler’s 52-50 win vs. Michigan State.
Another challenge thrown the Bulldogs way and still they continue to embody the unruffled spirit of their coach.
“When Matt went down, people were able to step up,” said sophomore guard/forward Gordon Hayward.
“Coach is going to draw up a game plan no matter what. We’ll be ready to go. Next person will step up. It won’t faze us.”
Whether Howard plays or not, the show will go on at 9:21 p.m. EST. One team will control the tip. And 40 minutes later, a new champion will be crowned.
It will be Krzyzewski with 866 career wins on one bench, Stevens with 92 victories in just three seasons on the other. Remaining composed and continuing to lead his team by example has brought Stevens to this moment.
Regardless of the outcome, both coaches will remain fans of one another. Even Coach K has taken a liking to the job Stevens has done in such a short time. When told that Stevens has read his best-selling works, Coach K replied with the perfect sentiment:
“Well, I’ve already put a preorder in for his book …”
A team of Indiana University journalists is reporting for the Final Four Student News Bureau, a project between IU’s National Sports Journalism Center and the NCAA at the men’s tournament in Indianapolis.