Butler University basketball coach Chris Holtmann’s name has popped up on a list of candidates to replace Jamie Dixon as the head coach at Pitt.
Coaches have bounced out of Butler to higher paying, more prestigious jobs for more than 15 years, and for good reason. They are really good at it, and have learned how to win while endowing a program with a positive culture.
It’s not surprising that Holtmann is being targeted as a candidate for an ACC gig, but that doesn’t mean he should embrace the opportunity to coach the Panthers if it is offered.
There are plenty of reasons for Holtmann to politely decline the Pitt overture in favor of remaining at Butler. I could rattled off 25 great reasons, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll leave it at a list of the top 10.
Here they are:
10. Jamie Dixon just left for TCU. Maybe Dixon was pushed, maybe he realized his career clock was ticking. Maybe he realized coaching at the school where he played was worth the financial sacrifice. Whatever the reason, Dixon was a very good coach at Pitt, but couldn’t consistently crack the upper-echelon of America’s elite basketball conference. Sure, Dixon has stuffed his bank account with a bunch of Pitt’s cash, so he is flush in a way Holtmann is not, but maybe this chatter will get Holtmann a better deal in Indianapolis.
9. His AD gets it. Barry Collier isn’t just a great athletic director, he’s the inventor of The Butler Way, and coached the basketball team to its first extended success. Then, he left. Collier accepted an offer to coach at Nebraska, and lasted six years before deciding to return home as the AD of his alma mater. Collier learned not to mess with happy.
8. The big time requires concessions. The Big East is a gauntlet, but the ACC is different. Competing year in and year out against Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Virginia requires talent – serious talent – the kind of talent that isn’t procured through beating the bushes to find great kids who can develop into solid contributors. You need to find a way to attract impact players, and that requires the occasional moral compromise.
7. Butler is a perfect fit for a compassionate leader like Holtmann. There is more to life than basketball. That has long been a basic tenet of Butler Basketball, and Holtmann has become the latest outstanding caretaker of that person-first ideology that filters out knuckleheads in recruiting and graduates outstanding well-rounded young men. Being an educator is not always as prized an attribute for a coach as it is at Butler.
6. Cash alone isn’t a good enough reason to do anything. if the only reason to roll from Butler to Pitt is a significant bump in pay, that’s not a good enough reason to leave Butler. In fact, cash is not a good enough reason to leave any job. If you get out of bed looking forward to your day, leaving a challenging and satisfying job for cash is always a mistake that results in regret.
5. Holtmann is not in Steven’s shadow. Brad Stevens was — and is — a big deal at Butler after leading the Bulldogs to back-to-back national championship games. His teams’ successes will be forever remembered at Hinkle Fieldhouse. But Holtmann has succeeded to the extent that no one is pining for Brad. Holtmann has retained what has always made Butler different, while evolving the program into a force in the Big East.
4. Pitt is afterthought in its home city. The Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, and beer are the passions of the Iron City in the same way the Cubs, Bears, Bulls, White Sox, and Hawks attract attention away from DePaul in Chicago. There is no level of success at Pitt that will captivate the emotional investment of Pittsburghers in the measure the big brains at Pitt believe they are due.
3. Joey Brunk. This is the kind of kid Butler can attract because of the combination of basketball competence and educational culture. The soon-to-be Southport grad is the latest recruit that can bring wins and pride to a fan base that craves both. Families of Indiana high school stars understand what is special about Butler, and they long to be a part of it. They have seen Matt Howard, Shelvin Mack, Andrew Smith, Gordon Hayward, Kellen Dunham, Ronald Nored, Roosevelt Jones, and the current players succeed while maintaining balance between hoops and school. Who doesn’t want to be a part of that lineage? Who wouldn’t want to coach that kid?
2. Butler can compete in Big East. It’s not easy to find a path to success for a basketball program that was a member of the Horizon League four years ago to win against Villanova, Georgetown, and Xavier, but Butler does it annually. The Bulldogs have caught and lapped longtime members DePaul and St. John’s, and is knocking at the door of the upper crust of the Big East. Jumping to a parallel program in a superior conference is not the best career path for a young coach, regardless of the bump in pay. Just ask Todd Lickliter (although Iowa was a serious step up at the time Lickliter left).
1. Don’t mess with happy. What’s better than a bounce in your step when you get to work? Nothing professionally equals the great feeling of working at a place where everyone is pulling in the same direction. It’s easy to overlook the importance of collective purpose when you have enjoyed it for a period of time — as Holtmann has — because you tend to feel it exists everywhere. It doesn’t. In fact, it’s surprisingly rare. Walk out of Hinkle out your own risk because it’s likely a work day at the Petersen Event Center is going to feel different – and not in a good way.
Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sports-talk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3 p.m.-6 p.m., and writes about Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.