Probably less than your Saturday morning after that blue bad boy above.
Did you know that Brad Stevens was just hired by the Boston Celtics? Some heard it first from Twitter, others from sports news sites like ESPN. I happened to be outside and heard it first from the echoing wailings that wafted down from Indianapolis as Butler fans moaned all at the same time in perfect, harmonious dissonance. Safe to say, that program won’t be what it was before. Their new coach might do a pretty good job, but the level of success that Butler enjoyed under Stevens was so high, that anything else might be a letdown.
Let’s face it, some programs ARE their coaches. In fact, Sports Illustrated recently took a look at three high-level college ball programs, and wondered what would happen when their long-term coaches were finally out the door.
Syracuse, Duke, and North Carolina will all be in something of a bind when their iconic coaches leave. Duke may have the hardest time of all in replacing Coach K, but Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim won’t be the easiest acts to follow, either. But it got me thinking: What happens to Kentucky when Cal decides it’s time to hang it up?
The Kentucky program is one that has shown it can be successful under different coaches. Unlike many others (UCLA, Duke), UK has championships with multiple coaches. Rupp. Hall, Pitino, Tubby, and Cal have all won a title here, so there’s no reason to think that the first guy P.C. (Post-Cal) won’t be able to do it, too.
But it won’t be easy.
Even Josh Pastner knows. “Whoever ends up following this guy is crazy,” he told his friends of Calipari’s eventual successor. Not knowing then, of course, that he’d be that guy when Cal left for Lexington. And eventually, somebody’s going to have to take that spot here like Pastner took it there–with great care and a lot of effort.
The first big consideration is realizing that Cal’s system of yearly-turnaround won’t treat a new coach very well at all. Tubby famously won a championship his first year with “Pitino’s players.” Safe to say, the next guy probably won’t have a ton of All-Americans to buttress his first year, and that could make for a slow start that might frustrate Kentucky fans. Calipari functions like a microwave: everything’s done in a matter of minutes. But if the next guy takes a little longer, that may be expounded by the fact that he’ll probably have to build more than at other programs around the country.
Secondly, even if the Next Guy is able to match the on-court success, will it be possible that the recruiting will continue at the same pace? And if so, what will we do with our offseasons? Imagine, hypothetically, that Tom Izzo was in Lexington. He’s a great coach, and would have great success, but the April-October months would be a little less exciting than we’ve gotten used to. And that’s a bummer.
Ultimately, I’d put Kentucky’s risk for a hangover in the “medium” range. There’s no doubt that Cal will be a hard guy to follow, and the precedent he’s set in just his first four years is pretty lofty. But Kentucky, more than any other school, has demonstrated that it is a program that’s bigger than just one coach. If it wasn’t, the titles would have stopped with Rupp.
So while the Dukes and Butlers of the world have to worry about how to replace the coach that created the program from out of nothing, we at least don’t have to worry about that.
We might be groggy for a little while, but that shouldn’t last too long.