No Ego: Brad Stevens Is Showing How College Coaches Can Succeed in the NBA

Rick Pitino, John Calipari and a slew of others have failed in some way or another while attempting to jump from the college coaching ranks to the NBA. Whether it has been organizations giving them too much power, the coaches not being readily equipped to handle the daily grind, or some other factor, it seems as if more of those coaches fail than not.

Then there’s Brad Stevens, a coach who made Butler into a NCAA Tournament darling; helped that program garner enough respect to be invited to join the Big East Conference; and is showcasing how it is possible for college coaches to succeed at the next level.

After a rough debut season (25-57) with the Boston Celtics in 2014, Stevens is doing more with less. Actually, he is doing more with a roster that was likely designed to get as many ping pong balls as possible rather than compete for a playoff spot.

Everything is up this season. Boston has more wins, the fan base feels it has a strong coach for the future, and there are whispers of naming Stevens as Coach of the Year. So how exactly is he pulling this off?

Obviously Stevens is an excellent in-game coach. That should go without saying. Coaches don’t take rosters as void of talent as Boston’s and hurl them into a position to battle in the offseason. Even in a not-great Eastern Conference, Stevens has taken a team whose highest paid player, Gerald Wallace, is averaging just over 1 point per game in just 8.6 minutes per outing, and turned said team into a playoff contender.

It is essentially a roster of throwaway guys. You have a player like Avery Bradley who has found a larger role under Stevens. Then there are guys like Jared Sullinger, who has averaged more turnovers than he has knees. That is not even mentioning the slew of other guys who would be playing sparsely elsewhere — mostly for good reason — who have found minutes under Stevens.

Being an excellent in-game coach and having the ability to maximize his players’ talents aren’t the primary reasons for Stevens’ success, though. Those are merely two of many other smaller reasons that flow from one characteristic Stevens possesses, which has allowed him to garner the respect of his locker room.

Simply put: Brad Stevens has nearly no ego.

Imagine that, too. The NBA is full of players making millions upon millions of dollars, usually much more than their head coach. It is a league that dictates how good a coach is by the roster he is provided. An NBA landscape that will swallow coaches in their entirety if the players don’t buy in. Stevens is excelling.

Somehow he has made it work. He has gotten the NBA’s version of The Knockaround Guys  to trust him. Not the system. Not the history of the Boston Celtics. Not even the idea of what can become of each of them if they fail. Stevens has broken through because he has sold his players on the idea that he can help all of them by helping each other and the team.

This is a weird time for Stevens, too. Normally a coach’s long-term job security would probably be better off if a team built to make the lottery fails miserably and lands a top NBA Draft pick it can use as its centerpiece. In Boston, the departure of Rajon Rondo was conceivably meant to set up just such a scenario… except that the concept of “being bad so you can then become better” no longer seems to apply to Stevens. He has transcended being just another college basketball coach to try the NBA, and has made the leap to being a known NBA coaching commodity, one that most organizations would kill to have.

He has done all of this without ego.

Stevens never put himself or the ideas of his system over his players. That is important, because the players could have very well sunk his tenure before it ever got going. Really, they had no reason to buy into him being their coach to start. Yet they have, because they had to, because Stevens gave them no reason not to.

Stevens has done nearly everything in a manner that’s almost completely opposite what his “college coaches to the pros” predecessors did. It is why he, not them, has found a home in the NBA as long as he wants it.

The future seems bright for Brad Stevens with Boston. Seriously, what he is doing with this roster can’t be understated with any amount of positive adjectives. Now, just imagine what he can do with a good roster.

About Joseph Nardone

Joseph has covered college basketball both (barely) professionally and otherwise for over five years. A Column of Enchantment for Rush The Court on Thursdays and other basketball stuff for The Student Section on other days.