I love Brad Stevens. Yes, I said it. He is everything that someone would want as a coach and mentor of young men. When his Butler Bulldogs have had success, he assigns all the glory to his players. And success they have had, compiling an overall record of 166-49 during his tenure, along with some amazing March Madness runs, which included two chapionship games. Yet when the Bulldogs have encountered losses, he looks into the mirror well before pulling out the magnifying glass to assess the fault of others.
Now, Brad Stevens is taking the giant step from coach of a rising mid-major college team to the most storied of the NBA franchises, the Boston Celtics, the organization linked to Russell, Havlicek and Bird, and more recently to “The Three Amigos.” He follows the coaching legacies of the likes of Red Auerbach and Tommy Heihnson.
Yet with my utmost respect for Coach Stevens and the thrill I feel for a really good guy getting a great opportunity, I can’t help but reflect back on a career track of another rising star of the coaching past. Much the same as Stevens and VCU’s Shaka Smart are viewed today, so too was Tim Floyd viewed as the next best thing in the mid 1990’s.
Floyd was tutored by UTEP Hall of Fame coach Don Haskins from 1977-1986. Thereafter, his star kept rising, with coaching stints at the University of Idaho and three great seasons at the University of New Orleans. By May of 1994, he became head coach of the Cyclones of Iowa State University, a basketball program of also-rans of the not so powerful Big 8 Conference. Over the next four years, Floyd showed that he was more than just hype. He was the only ISU coach ever to win twenty or more games in three consecutive seasons. His team had three NCAA Tournament bids, and his Cyclones beat 5th ranked Kansas in the 1995-96 Big 8 Conference Tournament.
So the Chicago Bulls came calling in 1998, precisely 15 years ago this month. Here was Floyd, preparing to take over a franchise that epitomized success. He would become associated with names such as Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Floyd was seen as Jerry Krauss’s boy, and the Bulls commitment to their next generation of success appeared to be a given. But it wasn’t. Gone was Jordan, followed soon by Pippen and every other remnant of the team that would twice three-peat in the NBA within less than the last decade. And soon the rising star that was Tim Floyd became the flare in the sky that shines brightly on its way up, and dissipates into darkness on its return trip to earth. With a franchise ill equipped to take on even the perennial bottom dwellers of the NBA, Floyd lasted four seasons, compiling an overall record of 49-190. He was then unceremonially given his first “pink slip,” discharged by the Bulls. He followed his tormented years in Chicago with a respectable 41-41 record in his one season as head coach for the New Orleans Hornets in 2003-2004, despite losing its star Jamaal Mashburn mid-way through the season. Good was not good enough and he was given his second pink slip.
Floyd then hoped to resurrect his college coaching career, taking over as head coach for USC. He encountered success, raising the basketball program’s prominence in the then PAC-10, finishing 85-50 over four seasons. Then, the walls came tumbling down. Young stand-outs Demar DeRozen, Daniel Hackett and Taj Gibson elected on the same day to make early entry into the NBA. Some scandalous recruiting allegations followed involving O.J. Mayo. Floyd left the program with what would have been another pink slip had he not resigned.
And where is “Pink Slip” Floyd now? Back where his coaching career all began, UTEP. During his short tenure, he has compiled a respectable 40-27 record competing in the mid-major Conference USA. But his name never comes up when people think of who is among the best of the best.
The Boston Celtics have come calling and Brad Stevens answered. According to Danny Ainge, Stevens is his boy, number one on his coaching replacement list after the Celtics traded their coach to the Clippers. But where have I heard this story before? Stevens is now part of a franchise that is purportedly dedicated to its next generation of success, but is lead by potentially uncoachable Rajon Rondo, the only remaining face of the franchise and who is coming off a major knee injury, and little else other than future draft picks.
Brad, may the luck of the Irish be with you so you don’t become the next “Pink Slip” Floyd. I think you’re going to need it.