Butler head basketball coach Brad Stevens has been the talk of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. The 34-year-old wunderkind has taken Butler to two consecutive Final Fours despite being a 5 seed in 2010 and an 8 seed this season. Stevens has spoken with President Obama, appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, and may have had multi-year contract offers from several power conference schools after last season. And although the 2010-11 Bulldogs have a fair amount of talent, it’s clear that the team has succeeded largely because Stevens has outcoached so many of his colleagues on the other side of the scorer’s table.
All of this raises the irrelevant yet entertaining question at hand.
Whose coaching services are/were hotter in the sporting world: Brad Stevens’s in March 2011 or Jim Harbaugh’s in January 2011?
Never mind that Stevens almost definitely won’t leave Butler. His contract doesn’t run out until current 5th graders graduate from college (that’s right: Stevens is signed through the 2021-22 season). And never mind that Harbaugh’s job search ended in one of the most covered and speculated-about employment bonanzas in sporting history. Yes, we’re basically talking apples and oranges here, but who cares? It’s fun.
Harbaugh: Earned four varsity letters at Michigan while guiding the Wolverines to multiple 10+ win seasons and being named an All-American. Harbaugh led all players in passing efficiency in 1985. Upon leaving Ann Arbor for the NFL, he was selected in the first round of the 1987 draft by Chicago. Harbaugh started 140 of the 177 NFL games he played, came in second place in 1995 MVP voting, and is a member of the Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor.
Stevens: Played four years at DePauw as a point guard, and captained the team during his senior year in Greencastle. Stevens averaged 7.8 points per game over his collegiate career and, despite playing guard, recorded more rebounds than assists. His best year came as a sophomore, when he knotched career highs in points per game, minutes, rebounds, and blocks.
Between the Lines
Harbaugh: Although Harbaugh’s 29-21 record on the Farm doesn’t jump out as a remarkable statistic, he systematically rebuilt a program that was in shambles when he arrived in 2007. Stanford improved in the PAC-10 standings each year during the Harbaugh era, going from 7th to 6th to tied for 2nd to solely in possession of the runner-up spot. Harbaugh got the Card to the Sun Bowl in his third year, and earned an Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech to top off the 2010 season. That campaign, the last for Harbaugh as Stanford’s coach, was perhaps the best football season in school history.
Stevens: If Butler wins the national championship this year, Stevens will never have lost more than 9 games as head coach. His 116-24 record in four years with the Bulldogs is one of the most exceptional records for the beginning of an NCAA coaching career in history. Stevens is the 5th-fastest coach to amass 50 wins in NCAA history, and will own the most successful 4-year start to a coaching career once this year’s records enter the books following the season. Butler has made the FInal Four in each of the past 2 seasons, and has never finished below first in the Horizon League since Stevens took over head coaching duties.
Harbaugh: The classic, in-your-face, I-like-him-but-he’s-pretty-annoying football coach.
Stevens: A John Wooden-type coach that rarely shows emotion on the sideline and is tough to spot distressed or worked up. Of course, there is this:
Advantage: Neither. Harbaugh’s style tends to work better in football than it does in basketball, and Stevens’s demeanor is common among hardcourt legends like Phil Jackson, Wooden, and Roy Williams. That said, it’s hard not to think that Stevens is an easier guy to get along with. If you’re not convinced, take a look at ESPNU’s excellent All-Access spot done earlier this year with Stevens and his team.
Harbaugh: Speculation regarding Harbaugh’s future dominated the lead-up to the Orange Bowl, the coverage of the game itself, and the several days following the Card’s win in Miami. Harbaugh even ran away from an ESPN reporter to avoid questions about his coaching future.
Stevens: In addition to the aforementioned appearance on Letterman and the phone call with the president, the Butler head coach is sure to attract a lot of offers from big-name schools this offseason, despite his insistence that he will stay in Indiana. But unlike Harbaugh, Stevens has been adamant and explicit about his intention to stay put for the long term.
It’s no stretch to say that Cardinal fans would like both of these men to be Stanford employees.
Of course, if Stevens wins a national championship next week, it’s hard to pick against a ring.