Fireworks weren’t supposed to be part of Andrew Smeathers’ Wednesday afternoon. After all, formal celebration of this country’s 237th birthday wasn’t scheduled for another 24 hours.
Brad Stevens changed all that shortly after entering Butler men’s locker room to address his team. Stevens on July 3 dropped the biggest bomb of all: He was leaving the Bulldogs after six history-making seasons to coach the Boston Celtics.
“We were in the locker room talking to coach Stevens and our athletic director (Barry Collier), so we found out about 30 minutes before it was released to the media,” said Smeathers, the 6-7 guard/forward out of Center Grove High School who is about to start his junior season.
Smeathers, like virtually everyone else present, didn’t know what to think.
Was this a joke, Stevens pulling one over on unsuspecting young men who under his leadership obliterated the stereotype that mid-major programs could reach only for mid-level accomplishments?
No way could Stevens, a Zionsville native, opt for parquet over the Butler Way. He was Butler.
But as the moments passed and players saw their coach was serious, a certain realness settled in like a thick fog, touching off myriad of emotions.
“Initially, I was stunned. To have him leave was a huge shock for all of us,” Smeathers said. “I was angry at the beginning, but I’m happy for coach Stevens now. He’s not only a great coach, but a great guy.”
Exit Stevens. Enter Brandon Miller.
Smeathers was about to start first-grade when Miller opted to leave Southwest Missouri State for Butler following his freshman season (1998-99). Those Bulldogs teams (2000-03) with the gritty guard from New Castle running the point are the ones that turned Smeathers into a Butler fan in the first place.
Miller returned to the program as an assistant coach during Stevens’ first season (2007-08) before serving the same role at Ohio State from 2008-11. Stevens brought Miller back to his alma mater as an assistant in April, so a level of familiarity already existed between coach and players.
“I knew coach Miller’s history. When he was brought back to Butler he was my position coach. I loved it,” Smeathers said. “He brought a different mindset to our individual workouts. He will still get up into us, and he will challenge us.”
The bridge of uncertainty between Stevens’ departure and Miller being named his successor lasted only three days. Still plenty of time for Butler players to wonder and hope.
Collier’s July 6 announcement that Miller would be promoted to head coach was a popular one.
“I’m totally on board. My teammates and myself, that’s who we were all pulling for,” Smeathers said. “I think it says a lot about him and about us as a program that we’re all still here. We didn’t lose any players. It’s awesome we were able to go through such a dramatic change and not lose anybody.”