published Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Wiedmer: Butler coach Stevens’ price keeps soaring

COLUMN

For all those Tennessee basketball fans harboring hopes of luring Brad Stevens away from Butler, the price just rose to $3 million a year.

That’s what happens when you become the first coach in more than 50 years to take anything approaching a mid-major team to two consecutive Final Fours. We repeat: ... a mid-major ... two straight Final Fours.

And the Bulldogs’ 74-71 overtime victory over Florida in the Southeast Regional final Saturday afternoon wasn’t like last season, when Stevens had a lottery pick in Gordon Hayward. Other than guard Shelvin Mack, he’s got a bunch of future YMCA lunch bunchers who will be going pro in something other than basketball.

But as Kentucky’s five first-round draft picks proved last season, the NCAA tourney isn’t the NBA. Heart and pluck and, on occasion, luck still matter in a one-and-done format.

So does coaching, which is why Stevens’ asking price — if the lifelong Hoosier has one — just shot through the roof. This guy make the sport’s original Cool Hand Luke — former Louisville coach Denny Crum — look like comedian Robin Williams on a sugar high. He could make a statue blink first.

Against the Gators’ Billy Donovan — one of only two active coaches (Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski being the other) to win back-to-back national titles — Stevens appeared the stronger coach, guiding his team from 11 points down halfway through the second half.

Before Saturday you could argue that the Bulldogs had enjoyed more breaks than most, that they’d been dipped in pixie dust before last year’s draw and it hadn’t yet worn off.

But Mack turned his ankle in the opening half against the Gators. The team’s tallest player — 6-foot-11 center Andrew Smith — fouled out. While Florida was swishing its first dozen free throws, Butler was missing eight of its first 14.

And yet the Bulldogs won, which surely makes Stevens the hottest coach in the country right now who hasn’t yet won it all.

Of course, he’s not the only name out there. There’s Chris Mooney, who guided the Richmond Spiders to the Sweet 16 before they ran into Kansas. There’s Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart, who faces the Jayhawks today in the Southwest Regional final.

There’s Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, whose Shockers remain in the hunt for the NIT title.

There’s also a potentially huge trickle-down if Texas coach Rick Barnes decides to leave one of the richest posts in college hoops to take up the challenge of rebuilding North Carolin State, given Barnes’ Carolina roots.

Let Barnes make that move and everything changes everywhere. Even perhaps, at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. If Smart were to exit VCU for Tennessee, Oklahoma, N.C. State, Texas, Georgia Tech or someplace else, Wofford’s Mike Young would reportedly be in line for VCU.

Should that happen, UTC’s John Shulman might become a prime candidate to replace Young, since he was once an assistant to Richard Johnson, now the Wofford athletic director.

At that point, UTC could go after a trio of former SEC coaches: Mark Gottfried, John Pelphrey and Bruce Pearl.

One word of caution for those who’ve become caught up in the 33-year-old Smart’s gaudy tourney run. His recruits have accounted for only 17 percent of the Rams’ tourney points. The remaining 83 percent have come from VCU’s four senior starters and junior super sub Bradford Burgess, who all were signed by current Alabama coach Anthony Grant.

This isn’t to say Smart should be ignored or that he didn’t have a hand in these players’ recruitment before Grant left VCU before last season. But as Arkansas painfully learned when plucking Stan Heath from a similar situation at Kent State following the 2002 NCAA tournament, hiring a guy who’s been in charge for a year or two of a veteran team can be a mistake.

Yet for all the possible Pearl replacements that have kept Volniacs buzzing the nation over, one name that hasn’t drawn much attention is Oakland coach Greg Kampe.

It’s not just that Kampe sneaked into Knoxville last December when the Vols were undefeated and ranked seventh nationally and walked away with a victory.

It’s what he said during last week’s news conference in preparation for his team’s second-round game with Texas.

Asked what he thought of President Obama picking Texas to beat Oakland, Kampe replied, “I didn’t vote for him, either, so I guess we’re even now.”

In a Volunteer State that went more heavily Republican in 2008 than 2004, at a university where the most powerful booster — Jim Haslam — is the father of the governor, that can’t hurt Kampe’s chances if UT wants to follow the notion that if you can’t beat ’em, hire ’em.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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