Sudden breakups are never easy. They usually aren’t particularly fair. Unfortunately they happen all too often in college basketball. Unfortunately Butler has frequently been involved. LaVall Jordan is now the 7th head coach of the Bulldogs since the turn of the century.
Sometimes these breakups are amicable. That's usually the case at Butler. The fans don't like losing successful coaches, but they understand it's business. You won't find a Bulldog supporter with anything negative to say about former Butler coach Brad Stevens. It's safe to say the number of Celtics fan in Indianapolis is up significantly these days.
It doesn't appear Chris Holtmann will be getting that same love. Despite everything he’s done for Butler, which includes revitalizing a program that was on the brink of spiraling out of control, Holtmann won’t carry the fans blessing over to Ohio State. It doesn't take much time browsing the message boards to see the fans aren't pleased. Not only did Coach Holtmann bolt for the Buckeyes, but he took with him the entire assistant coaching staff and the highest ranked recruit ever to commit to Butler.
None of that is unusual though. Coaches leave all the time. They frequently take some assistants with them. Holtmann isn’t the first to bring his best recruit with him, and he certainly won’t be the last. Gregg Doyel even wrote an entire article about how that’s ok. And he’s absolutely right.
But it’s not about what Holtmann did. It’s how he did it. Few fans blame him for leaving Butler, a school whose basketball infrastructure is still catching up to life as a high major school, to join one of the richest athletic departments in the country. But you also won’t find many fans who aren’t a little bitter about this tweet he sent out just a few days prior, appearing to be an announcement he was remaining at Butler and was set on taking the Bulldogs to their 4th straight NCAA tournament:
It’s not that Holtmann took a pay increase to jump to Ohio State. If someone gives me a multimillion dollar raise I’d bolt my current job too. It’s the leak from Holtmann’s agent that he was making in the low $1 million range. This created a false narrative that the coach will nearly triple his salary, a bad look for a Butler program still trying to shed it’s mid-major reputation. Holtmann signed a new deal with Butler this spring that multiple sources say escalated his salary to around $2 million, or about double what was reported.
And it’s not that Holtmann took Kyle Young with him. Many people saw that coming. It’s that he told the Indy Star just days prior that it was important to him that Butler maintain their roster and keep their historic recruiting class. Apparently it wasn’t that important. The negative recruiting tactics used against other potential Butler targets immediately after leaving certainly didn’t sit well either.
Other fans and media outlets around the country have criticized Butler nation for the way Holtmann has been treated on his way out the door. Some of that criticism is warranted. As I said, breakups usually aren’t fair, and the ire of Bulldog fans is certainly more extreme than Hotlmann deserves. Coach loved Butler. No one has ever questioned that. This is probably just a classic case of Hanlon’s razor. Emotions can get in the way of reason sometimes.
Those outside fans and media don’t understand how real the “Butler Way” is though. It’s not just some generic phrase that you see at other schools. It’s a set of principles that have become very deeply ingrained in the culture at Butler. Integrity means everything here. In a murky world of college sports where other programs are offering fake classes or buying hookers for recruits, it might seem petty for Butler fans to get up in arms over a few hypocritical statements made by a now former coach. But that’s life in the Butler bubble.
Maybe this anger will pass over time. It will probably lessen at least. New coach LaVall Jordan is a rising star in the coaching world, and sooner or later he’s going to take Butler to heights Chris Holtmann couldn’t. That will ease some of this pain. It will bring closure for many. Hopefully then Butler fans can look back at the Holtmann era with respect and appreciation. After everything he’s brought this program, he deserves at least that.