Eleven years ago, Brad Stevens followed a dream.
A former basketball player at United Methodist-related DePauw University, Stevens was just starting a promising marketing career with Eli Lilly when he chose a different path. He left the corporate world to take a volunteer high school coaching position. Only seven years later, he became head basketball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis.
This past spring, Stevens rose to the national spotlight when the Butler Bulldogs unexpectedly ended up in the NCAA championship game, narrowly missing a win with a half-court shot that bounced off the rim at the final buzzer.
A lifelong United Methodist who is currently a member of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Stevens remains a down-to-earth, family-oriented guy who says faith is the most important thing. Coach Stevens talked with us about the importance of character and how he views success.
What’s the best thing about being a basketball coach?
To me, it’s watching players grow and develop, not only on the court, but as they move forward academically and ultimately graduate and pursue careers. Watching them come back and seeing how their growth has been positively affected by being a member of a team is something I really cherish.
You had a promising business career when you chose coaching instead. Was it a difficult decision? Did you ever question if it was the right choice?
It wasn’t as difficult as it may sound now. I was 22 years old; I didn’t have anyone relying on me to make sure we had food on the table. I knew I wanted to coach. To do that, I knew you would probably have to start at the very bottom and try to work your way up – and that was the case. I wanted to be at a place where you could achieve at a high level with great students. I am so very fortunate to be at Butler. I think it’s a great fit for me.
Talk about the “Butler Way.” What is it?
It starts with being a values-based organization and sticking to a vision and a mission that you’re trying to achieve – the values that we deem necessary and important to have a successful team and be fulfilled as individuals. Certainly there are a lot of ways it’s been phrased, but the bottom line is it’s about doing things for others and really enjoying the journey – while at the same time constantly striving to get a little bit better every day.
How important is faith in your life? Does it affect the way you coach and the way you live?
I hope it affects everything I do. Just as I ask our team to try constantly to improve every day, I’m trying to improve every day. And that being the most important aspect of my life, that’s the part where I think I’ve got the greatest room for improvement. I’m really blessed to have not only this great opportunity here, but a great family and a great church family. We have been very thankful for that, and we hope to continue to grow.
You were a near miss away from a national championship. How do you deal with the disappointment?
It’s a hard thing to deal with. Everybody will always say you’d rather not lose in a game like that, and just be that close. But if you prepare well, if you really care and if you’re a good person and teammate, then let the results take care of themselves. This time it didn’t work out for us … but if you do all those things, you can be at peace with whatever the final score on the scoreboard says.
You’ve become quite a celebrity. How do you handle all the attention?
It’s been good because it’s positively promoted Butler. That’s the reason we do it. It is difficult at times because you have to say “no” a lot more than you can say “yes” just because of timing. There aren’t enough hours in the day.
You’re only 33 years old. Did you expect to achieve this level of success at such a young age?
I don’t really focus a whole lot on “success.” I don’t know that anybody’s got a true definition of that. I want to be striving to do better in my job, better with my family, better in the other important areas of our lives and to continue to be and live a certain way. We always tell our teams that success is having an excellence in being. So every day is a new challenge.
What advice would you give other people about following their passion?
The interesting part of it is if I were at Lilly right now, I’d be plenty happy. The faith, the family and the friends would all still be the same. I’m still in the same place, and I’ve certainly had a chance to meet great people here and develop great relationships. At the same time, as you grow older, your priorities change as you have a family and kids … so keep the right things in mind as you’re following that passion. We’ve been lucky to have the best of both worlds here at Butler. It’s invigorating to come to work when you’re really excited about the people you’re working with, not just what you’re doing.
You work a lot with youth basketball camps. What do you try to get across to kids?
We try to talk about being a great teammate – at home, in the classroom and on the court. Just being a considerate person who cares about others. I hope that as the campers take home things they learned from drills or stations or games, they also take that home. Most of them already knew that or have already been told, but they can at least say, “Hey, that’s the way Butler tries to do it, too.”
Diane Degnan serves as director of public relations at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.