Coaching Search Notes: Stevens Making Inroads and Debunking Smart

USA TODAY Sports

Several media reports confirm that Butler head coach Brad Stevens is the top choice to replace Ben Howland as head coach at UCLA, though his particular thought process and even his current physical location is not as clear.

Yesterday became kind of a crazy day in the search for the next UCLA Men's Basketball Coach. After the usual and expected poo-pahing from the mainstream media through the first part of the day, Peter Yoon and Andy Katz teamed up for a piece on ESPNLA late in the afternoon. After days of floating second and third-tier coaches like Lorenzo Romar and Mark Gottfried as well as the disgraced Bruce Pearl, and stretching a tenuous connection with Shaka Smart, they finally admitted that Brad Stevens is the coach at the top of UCLA's wish list, and that the interest is mutual.

An interesting part of the story is one which didn't actually last for very long:

Sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com that the two sides were in contract negotiations. Stevens didn't confirm or deny he's talking to UCLA but reaffirmed his coaching status via text message.

"I'm the coach at Butler," Stevens wrote. "As you know, my stance is to not comment on any other speculation or situation."

Which was accompanied by this:

Later in the evening, the lead sentence claiming that contract negotiations were ongoing was edited out of the piece, as was the tweet from Andy Katz's twitter feed. That edit did not go unnoticed by David Woods of the Indianapolis Star. In a column describing how important Stevens is to Butler, he discusses how difficult it is to read what the coach is thinking about his future plans, but also how well he thinks that he would do as the lead man in Westwood.

Don’t be quick to ascribe to the theory that Stevens’ style would not sell in Hollywood or Westwood. He has tailored the Bulldogs to allow them the best chance of winning, and that has been with suffocating defense and sometimes-methodical offense. If he had elite athletes at UCLA, he would inevitably amend his approach.

Stevens loves basketball. Watches it, studies it, analyzes it. I expect him to be the U.S. Olympic head coach someday, and he would not necessarily do it the Butler Way.

"He’s probably the best coach in the nation, so he’s a fit everywhere," one source said. "It’s hard to argue with what he can do."

Stevens has a system which has worked very well for him at Butler. But it seems that he is less wedded to a particular system or style of play than he is to a modern, analytically-based approach to the game. Maybe the radio silence and delay in getting an agreement done is part of Brad's negotiating tactic to get Drew Cannon a transfer spot in the Anderson School.

Late last night, Nestor posted a video of Jon Crispin - JON! CRISPIN! Clap Clap Clap Clap Clap! - reporting for FoxSports.com, noting that sources placed Brad Stevens in Westwood on Thursday, while making the claim that Stevens is likely to be the replacement for Ben Howland at UCLA. I have not seen confirmation elsewhere that Stevens was in LA yesterday, but keeping in mind that FoxSports isn't in the habit of completely making stuff up.

Looking back at the now-lapsed Shaka smart/UCLA storyline, USA Today college basketball reporter Nicole Auerbach wrote a story on Smart's contract extension at VCU. In the process, she debunked one of the claims floating around the past couple of days: That Smart shot down a firm offer from UCLA to stay at VCU.

The reality here is actually a regular occurrence in the world of college basketball, and was always by far the most likely explanation. Whatever tier we though Shaka should have been in the coaching search, the people running the search did not agree - there might have been some communication between the parties, but if he thought the interest was lukewarm, it made sense for Smart to leverage it into more money and resources at a school and a city that he legitimately enjoys.

There has been plenty of other talk, rumors and other musings revolving around the coaching search lately. But let's hope it does not last too much longer!

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