Butler Bulldogs Back in the Final Four Thanks to Brad Stevens' Coaching

Josh RosenblatContributor IIIMarch 27, 2011

At just 34 years-old, Brad Stevens has led Butler University to the Final Four in back-to-back seasons.
At just 34 years-old, Brad Stevens has led Butler University to the Final Four in back-to-back seasons.Dave Martin/Getty Images

The story is all too cliché.

The small-town team with an inexperienced head coach enters a tournament with low expectations. As they move through the tournament, their confidence starts to grow.

Next, the team proves all of their doubters wrong as they gain a huge following, reaching the championship game. They arrive to play none other than their polar opposite: the most glorified program in the country with the nation's most esteemed coach.

The story goes that the small town team fights hard through the game, but in the end, talent wins out. The team goes back to their town as heroes, still happy with their performance, and prove that winning isn't exactly everything.

But, for head coach Brad Stevens and his Butler Bulldogs, there's a twist.

The story replayed itself the very next year.

In 2000, Brad Stevens was 23, working at Eli Lilly and Company's marketing department in Indianapolis. He had just graduated from DePauw University, majoring in Economics.

While Stevens was living in the Indianapolis area, Butler University reached out to Stevens, offering him a volunteer opportunity with the Bulldogs' basketball program.

After quitting his day-job at Eli Lilly and Company, Stevens rose through the ranks at Butler, earning a full-time assistant coaching position under Todd Lickliter in 2001. Then, in April of 2007, Brad Stevens was named Butler's head coach after Lickliter resigned to take a job coaching the Iowa Hawkeyes.

In his first season, at just 30 years old, Stevens led Butler to a 30-win season. After the year, Butler signed Stevens to a seven-year extension.

After losing four starters heading into the 2008-2009 season, Butler battled to a 26-6 record, adding to Stevens' reputation as the hottest and best young coach in the NCAA.

Then, a season later the Bulldogs captivated the nation, going 28-4 in the regular season and earning a No. 5 seed in the 2009-2010 NCAA Tournament. They ran through tournament, eventually meeting up with big, bad Duke in the finals.

Stevens was brilliant in the tourney run, making halftime adjustments to beat UTEP in the first round and Murray State in the second.

In one of the greatest games in college basketball history, Butler was unfazed. Led by Brad Stevens' calm demeanor, Butler battled all the way to the end of the game, only to lose to Mike Krzyzewski's squad by two.

The nation held their collective breath as Gordon Hayward's half-court heave bounced off the backboard, hit the rim and fell to the floor, like the hearts of millions who had joined Butler's bandwagon during their run to the championship game.

One might have safely assumed that Brad Stevens' Cinderella story would end there.

But it didn't.

After superstar Gordon Hayward left for the NBA, Butler's doubters were plentiful, and they only grew after the team started Horizon League play with a 6-5 record.

But, as only the great coaches do, a now 34-year-old Stevens led his team to rally with nine straight victories to take the Horizon League Championship and earn an automatic bid to the 2010-2011 NCAA Tournament.

As the eighth seed in the Southeast region, Butler battled to a buzzer-beating victory over Old Dominion. They next faced a talented Pittsburgh team, beating them with a frenzy of controversial calls in the final seconds of the game.

Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers came next. After beating them by seven to reach their second consecutive Elite Eight, Stevens and his team had the most tournament experience of any of the eight teams still alive.

And that experience was key in Butler's three-point overtime victory over Florida.

With that win, Brad Stevens has entered a select group of college hoops coaches who have led their teams to back-to-back Final Fours. But this time, Stevens doesn't want to just reach the Final Four.

He wants to win the NCAA Championship.

In the post-game press conference, Stevens constantly emphasized the fact that he was proud of his team for "staying the course."

For Brad Stevens, giving up his job to volunteer for a mid-major basketball program was just another part of "staying the course." And Butler University is all too happy they embarked on the course Stevens presented, as they are set to play in their second consecutive Final Four.