But times changed. In the 1975-76 season, there were six such head coaches in the league. Ten years later, the list was down to four. Ten years after that, the roster was down to two: Fitch, then with the Clippers, and Carlesimo, with the Trail Blazers. (Fitzsimmons was an eight-game interim coach for Phoenix).
The history since then is pretty clear and unambiguous. The college guys have been abused. I do see Coach Cal’s hand up in the back of the room. Yes, John, you did make the playoffs in your second year. Three-game sweep, I believe. So Danny is trying to buck a three-decade run of coaching failure here. Danny is not stupid, I assure you. He had Brad Stevens targeted from the get-go. He doesn’t need to have the list of failed college coaches recited to him. He’s competed in one form or another against all of them. He just thinks Brad Stevens is the Chosen One.
He’s certainly not alone.
Jim Boeheim had this to say. “[Brad Stevens is] the best young coach I have seen in my time.” Consider that the Syracuse mentor is hardly unfamiliar with the NBA. He’s been an assistant with Team USA and its NBA stars and megastars through victorious world championships and Olympics.
Better yet, how about this from Mike Krzyzewski, the head coach of Team USA? “He’ll do great with the Celtics,” says the man who came this close to being coach of the Celtics in 1990 himself. “It’s a great hire by Danny Ainge.”
The age? No problem, says Coach K. “I think age is overrated,” he says. “You either get the job done or you don’t. You can do it or you can’t. He’s proven he can do the job.”
There is so much to learn. Stevens has never coached an offense with a 24-second clock. He has never concocted an offense to combat the NBA’s incredibly sophisticated defenses. He has never coached four games in five nights. He has never been in a circumstance where his last practice was a distant memory.
That’s before even discussing the personality aspect. He will be tested, starting with his best player, the inscrutable Rajon Rondo. This will all be interesting to watch.
What Stevens has that none of the other college guys had is the security of a six-year contract. That is an amazing commitment on the part of Ainge and his owners.
Just the fact that Stevens has taken this job means he’s not quite what we thought he was. He has spent his entire life in a Midwestern cocoon, which leads to the question as to whether he will make the adjustment to the hurly-burly of the East. But he may have been more curious and ambitious than we thought. Larry Bird remarked that it was known Stevens had put out NBA feelers from time to time. And he is getting out of a 12-year contract.
It’s a brilliant move for Brad Stevens, for sure. He pockets the money (more than $3 million per), no matter what. When the six years is up he either keeps going or picks the best available college job.
At that time he will be the same age Erik Spoelstra is now. Best of all, Tracy Stevens will still be smart.
“I Married Joan” ran for three years and 98 episodes. The race is on.
Bob Ryan's column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.