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LEXINGTON, Ky. – On Selection Sunday, Brad Stevens and I stood in the back of the Wildman Room at Hinkle Fieldhouse while the CBS broadcast played out on television and discussed a myriad of topics related to college basketball. At one point, we got on the topic of college campuses and I asked him if he had ever visited UCLA and he hadn't.
“If you are ever offered that job and turn it down,” I humorously posed, “I'll write a column questioning your sanity.”
Here I am.
The Butler men's basketball coach and his wife, Tracy, burst out laughing when I made the remark. But fast-forward 14 days and that half-joking remark has taken on a bit more serious light.
On Sunday, UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero informed Bruin coach Ben Howland that he was being fired.
A source familiar with the UCLA athletic department told the Los Angeles Times that the top two candidates to replace Howland would be VCU's Shaka Smart and Stevens.
No one at 46th and Sunset Avenue should be resting easily now.
This will be a telling moment for the Butler coach. He's been offered many other opportunities to leave the only collegiate program that he has ever worked for in his 13-year professional career. However, he hasn't been offered the UCLA job before.
There are several negatives attached to the Bruin job, most notably the fact Guerrero just fired one of the more successful coaches in program history.
Howland led the Bruins to three Final Four appearances and won the Pac 12 championship earlier this month.
Ultimately, this type of treatment of a coach will resonate with those of the caliber of Smart and Stevens. Those two won't want to work for a boss that doesn't appreciate Final Four trips and conference titles.
Guerrero's treatment of Howland will more than likely force Guerrero to have to look further down his list – way down - for a replacement.
But hiring option number seven, as opposed to Stevens or Smart, will put Guerrero in a tough spot.
UCLA just spent $138 million renovating Pauley Pavilion; Guerrero needs someone that can fill the facility – a difficult chore with an apathetic fan base - with excitement to start generating dollars to justify that expenditure. Bringing in option number seven won't accomplish that. So that will leave Guerrero one choice and that is to give a top-tier candidate whatever they ask for.
Stevens and Smart are going to be able to negotiate, not just a top salary (UCLA has a history of being tight with its dollar, but can't afford to be if it truly wants Stevens or Smart), but also facility upgrades (the Bruins need a practice facility), length on the contract, security on that contract (Howland got just $3.2 million as a buyout for the remaining four years on his deal), and assurances that this coach can run the program as he sees fit.
You give Stevens all of that, coupled with the lifestyle that living in Beverly Hills (just a long jump shot from the UCLA campus) brings, and all of sudden Butler fans have a very legitimate reason to be nervous.
I don't question Stevens' love of Butler in any way. I love my alma mater, as well. But when he visits the UCLA campus and tours a renovated Pauley Pavilion, visits the private school where his children will attend in Beverly Hills, eats lunch and plays golf at Bel-Air Country Club (just across Sunset Blvd. from the campus), takes Tracy and the kids shopping along Rodeo Drive, and has them (second) home-shop in Hermosa or Manhattan Beach, where they'll spend their weekends, I can't fathom that Stevens doesn't give pause before waving it off.
The timing for this opportunity is poor, for sure. Butler is set to move into the Big East next season and the excitement surrounding the Bulldog program has never been higher, despite Saturday's NCAA Tournament loss to Marquette.
But there is no doubt, Stevens' love of raising his family in Indiana, his love of Hinkle Fieldhouse, his love of his players, coaches and administration, his affection for everything about his position at Butler, is going to be tested if – when – Guerrero calls.
Stevens has always said “No, thanks” to job offers. And perhaps he will again. But an opportunity to coach UCLA is different. I told him he'd be crazy to turn it down. So here I am.