It’s never easy to follow a prodigy.
Just ask every jazz artist who succeeded Miles Davis, John Coltrane or Thelonious Monk. Survey the handful of rappers who tried to fill the gaps left by Biggie Smalls and Tupac in the late 1990s, one of the worst eras for the genre. Or check on every teenager who thought he was the next LeBron James until he realized he wasn’t.
In sports, the challenge is magnified due to the nonstop attention that’s given to the person who is next in line for a prestigious position or role.
And that’s why I’m worried about Brandon Miller, Butler’s new head coach.
Butler did what Butler does when it hired Miller, who has coached at Ohio State and Illinois. He’s a former Butler player and assistant.
The school kept it in the family because this program believes in familiarity. Its past four coaches have been former assistants.
So Miller is not walking onto a foreign platform.
"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,” Butler athletic director Barry Collier said in the school’s Saturday press release that announced the hire. “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."
The Butler Way will provide a buffer from some of the pressure Miller will face as he guides the Bulldogs beginning in 2013-14. But it won’t alleviate the full brunt of the pending scrutiny.
He’s coming after a man who led a mid-major program to multiple national title game appearances and unrivaled prominence. Butler is in the new Big East because Brad Stevens carried the team to that league, that stage.
And he didn’t need five-star athletes to get there -- just tough players who bought into his basketball philosophy and a staff that embraced his obsession with advanced stats.
Now the world knows Butler. Stevens did that.
All by the time he was 36. That’s why the Boston Celtics hired him on Wednesday.
Miller is 34. That doesn’t help. Stevens, Shaka Smart, John Groce and other 30-something success stories are anomalies in this game.
Many young coaches struggle. That, however, won’t stop the comparisons.
Miller is young. Stevens was young when he accepted the job too. Stevens was in the Butler family when he was hired. Miller was too.
But Stevens revolutionized a program. His accomplishments can’t be Miller’s mirror.
Sure, the new coach inherits a basketball culture and climate that Stevens (and his forefathers) solidified. But he’s not Stevens.
It might take some time for Miller to put his mark on the Butler program. It might take a few seasons to convince quality kids that they can win in Indianapolis even though Stevens is gone. And it might take Miller a few months, or even years, to convince the masses that he’s the right guy for the job.
Let’s give him that time.
Yes, he has to win. That’s the standard for every coach. He doesn’t deserve a pass if he’s unable to win and help Butler remain relevant in the postseason.
But he ain’t Stevens.
Miller can’t turn water into wine. Stevens -- with the right analytics -- probably could.
At least it always seemed that way.