Mark Story: Butler's Stevens as calm as he looks — most of the time

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 22, 2013 

This just in: Brad Stevens does yell.

In a profession filled with screamers, preeners and cursers, the Butler University head man, 36, carries himself on the bench like the economist he is trained to be rather than the stereotypical major college basketball coach.

"He's definitely the calmest coach I've ever played for," said Butler senior Rotnei Clarke, a transfer from Arkansas.

On Saturday evening, Stevens will be in Rupp Arena trying to coach his Bulldogs to their third NCAA Tournament round of 16 berth in the past four seasons. No. 6 seed Butler (27-8) will face No. 3 Marquette (24-8) in an East Region game expected to tip off around 7:45.

As anyone with even a passing knowledge of basketball knows, those 2010 and '11 Butler Sweet 16 berths both led to appearances in the national title game.

It is how Stevens has gotten his players to perform so far above the level suggested by their recruiting pedigrees that is most interesting.

When Roosevelt Jones beat Gonzaga earlier this year with a steal and last-second shot, Hinkle Fieldhouse was a madhouse. Yet when the TV cameras found Stevens, he may as well have been finishing up a seminar presentation like those he used to do as a young marketing associate for Eli Lilly.

"Buzzer-beaters, close games, the guy you see from the outside, that's the (real) guy," said Butler junior forward Khyle Marshall. "He's a calm, classy, composed guy."

Working in the state where Bob Knight took ill-tempered coaching comportment to new levels, it is another coach from another sport — one who also won a championship in Indiana — that Stevens cites as his model for how a coach should conduct himself.

"I've always admired and thought the ultimate coach was Tony Dungy," Stevens said of the ex-Indianapolis Colts head man. "But he's way better than I am and way more calm and poised than I am."

Rather than trying to emulate anyone else, Stevens says a coaching colleague advised him at the time he became Butler's head man that a key to success was not attempting to be someone or something he wasn't.

"He told me, 'Just be yourself, and if it works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't. But at least that way, you'll have no regrets with it,'" Stevens said.

Stevens' cool focus gives Butler a lethal advantage in NCAA Tournament games. As was widely tweeted Thursday, the coach is now 12-4 in the NCAAs.

In Thursday's round of 64 meeting with Bucknell, Butler was on the wrong end of a 19-2 run that turned an 11-point lead into a six-point deficit.

Yet when Stevens called timeout, his players found a coach who was far from rattled.

"His calm carries over to us," Clarke said. "When we get in the huddle, and he's calm, we realize, 'Hey, it's going to be OK, we'll make a run, too.'"

Said Marshall: "If you are going through some rough patches in a game, he is not the kind of coach trying to beat us down. He'll say, 'This is what happened, it's over, and this is what you need to do to correct it on the next possession.' That motivates you. It makes you want to play for him."

Against Bucknell, Butler came out of Stevens' huddle, went on an 8-0 run of its own and reasserted control of the game.

Ah, but the Butler players swear — they swear — there are certain things that can make even Stevens raise his voice.

Getting run out of the gym (84-52) at VCU was one.

"That was one of the games where we saw him lose a little composure, at least in the locker room," Clarke said. "He was just embarrassed. We fell apart on all cylinders. He was pretty upset, because we were not demonstrating what the 'Butler Way' is all about."

Said senior center Andrew Smith: "At VCU, he yelled a little bit at me. That's kind of unusual, because when he does yell, he usually yells at everybody, doesn't single anybody out."

In general, getting beaten to loose balls and giving up offensive rebounds are other things that can elevate Stevens' voice.

"Those plays are what make teams tougher than other teams — who's gonna be first on the loose ball and who is gonna get the block-out," Marshall said. "If you don't do that, those are the things that tick (Stevens) off the most."

The irony about the coach who, by the standards of his profession, rarely yells is that the impact when he does is magnified about 1,000 times.

"Because it doesn't happen very often," says Clarke, "when Coach Stevens raises his voice, you know it is something really important."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230 Email: mstory@herald-leader.com Twitter: @markcstory Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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