While it appears Butler could have enticed a more proven coach to take over the helm of the program, Bulldogs fans have little doubt in their newly appointed head coach Brandon Miller.
The position very unexpectedly opened up last week when Brad Stevens was introduced as the new head coach of the rebuilding Boston Celtics. Miller's hiring was much more predictable considering his history with the program.
"I am confident that Brandon will carry on the Butler University basketball tradition of excellence, especially as we make the transition to the Big East Athletic Conference," athletic director Barry Collier said. "As a player, assistant coach, and person, Brandon has exemplified the Butler Way and brings a blend of energy, talent and integrity to this role. With Brandon's leadership, Butler is well positioned to expand upon the success of the last few years."
As a player, Miller scored in double figures and dished out at least three assists per game in all three seasons he played for Butler. He played an instrumental role on the NCAA Tournament team that upset the Josh Howard-led Wake Forest Demon Deacons in 2001.
He then cemented his legacy with the program in 2003 with a last-second shot that lifted Butler over Mississippi State in the opening round of the Big Dance. The Bulldogs went on to the Sweet 16 for the first time in over 40 years.
Miller helped the team to a 77-20 record during his playing career, winning three Horizon League titles and becoming one of eight in program history to score 1,000 points in three seasons.
Being one of the final 16 teams left in the hunt for the championship became a much more common occurrence for Butler under Stevens, who lifted the program to new heights with a pair of appearances in the title game. His understandable departure from Indianapolis for the NBA coincides with the Bulldogs' uphill climb into the Big East.
It appears the 34-year-old Miller has an impossible act to follow in his inaugural season as a head coach, which will only be more challenging due to Butler's much more difficult conference slate. Playing in the Big East also will have a positive effect, though, as it will boost the school's attractiveness to recruits.
Stevens accomplished a great deal as a coach, but his signings were very rarely blue chip-caliber prospects. Butler has been considered one of the smartest teams in college basketball over recent years. Miller was considered an excellent recruiter while serving as an assistant and can offer the players on his wish list a chance to play in the Big East.
Miller should have an easier time in recruiting battles than his predecessor did, which could be dangerous for the opposition if the system that exhibits a very high basketball I.Q. stays intact.
Miller may be a rookie head coach, but he built a very impressive assistant coaching resume during his career, which started under Stevens in 2007-2008 and continued at Ohio State from 2008-2011 under Thad Matta. He then took a year off to spend more time with his family before returning to basketball last season as a special assistant to John Groce at Illinois. Miller became the first coach ever to be hired by Stevens twice when he signed on to be an assistant once again in April.
Collier mentioned how Miller was a prime example of "The Butler Way" when he introduced him on Saturday. This means he demands commitment, denies selfishness and accepts reality, yet seeks constant improvement while promoting the good of the team above self.
His reputation as one of the rising assistant coaches on the college basketball scene came to an end when he stepped away for a season. It looks like everything fell into place perfectly for both Miller and Butler.
Miller has little experience but an abundance of potential. The hiring of younger coaches is becoming more and more common for good reason. If Butler hired a former Big Ten coach who had already been in the limelight, it likely would not have gotten quite as hungry of a new leader. Miller was a smart player on the court and spent an ample amount of time learning how things work in successful programs.
Butler has now made four consecutive in-house hires for its head coach position. It clearly values loyalty and an understanding of the culture. It took a six-year offer from one of the most historic franchises in all of sports to pry Stevens away from the Bulldogs as he could have left for more lucrative opportunities in one of the power conferences. Now with Butler settling into one of the elite basketball leagues, it has a new coach in it for the long haul.
Butler was the big fish in the small pond for much of Stevens's tenure because it was a powerhouse in the Horizon League. The Bulldogs made it to the NCAA Tournament last season in their only year as a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference. They will be underdogs in the Big East, but there is no doubt Hinkle Fieldhouse, where the movie "Hoosiers" was filmed, will continue to be a tough place to win for the opposition.