Indianapolis, Indiana – While much of the success of this year’s Butler University basketball team can be attributed to the man calling the plays, Brad Stevens, and the players executing his demands, there’s one person working behind the scenes that has more to do with the Bulldogs Final Four run than any other man associated with program. His name’s Barry Collier, former Butler head coach and current athletic director.
Collier grew up in Florida, and played basketball at Miami-Dade Junior College for two seasons before transferring to ButlerUniversity, a small liberal arts college located just minutes from downtown Indianapolis. He played for the Bulldogs from 1974-1976, and was named the team co-MVP after averaging 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds during his senior season. Upon graduation, Collier got a job working as an assistant coach at Rose Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. He then moved on to assistant coaching positions at Seattle Central Community College, the University of Idaho, the University of Oregon, and finally, Stanford University, where he spent three seasons under highly regarded head man Mike Montgomery.
After the Cardinal reached the NCAA Tournament in 1989, the 34-year old Collier began actively searching for a head coaching position, and when he learned his alma mater had an opening, he submitted a 45-page proposal on how to revive the Butler program to then university president Geoffrey Bannister. It worked, and the 34-year old Collier was put in charge of team that hadn’t made the NCAA tournament in nearly 30 years.
His first season didn’t offer much hope, as the Bulldogs struggled to a 6-22 record, but he won 18 games in 1990 and 21 games in 1991, earning NIT bids both years. Butler was improving, but after three straight years of playing mostly .500 basketball without making another postseason appearance, Collier took a dramatic step, scraping his up-tempo style for a more deliberately paced game that emphasized good shooting and strong defensive play. Though he didn’t know it at the time, it was the birth of what’s now become “The Butler Way,” and it paid immediate dividends.
Collier’s Bulldogs went 19-8 the very next season, and in 1997 finally earned an invitation to the NCAA Tournament after going 23-10. Though they lost badly to Cincinnati in the first round, Collier had put Butler basketball back on the map. The Bulldogs kept the momentum going the next season, again earning a bid to the Big Dance, and again losing badly in the first round. The next season they made a quarterfinal run through the NIT, and then in 2000, Collier’s last season at Butler, the Bulldogs won an impressive 23 games and came within a running, last second floater by Florida’s Mike Miller of winning their first tournament game in 38 years.
After the heartbreaking loss, Collier left the friendly confines of Hinkle Fieldhouse for a much more lucrative head coaching position at the University of Nebraska. He coached the Cornhuskers to an 89-91 record over six seasons, but when Butler president Dr. Bobby Fong came calling with an offer to return to Butler again, this time as the athletic director, Collier decided to replace his coaching sneakers with the dress shoes preferred by administrators. When coach Todd Lickliter left after the 2006 season, Collier’s knowledge and belief in “The Butler Way” was put into action.
In his first major move as the school’s athletic director, he decided to go out on what many considered a major limb, hiring a baby-faced 31-year old unknown assistant by the name of Brad Stevens. Turns out, like always, Collier knew exactly what he was doing. So while you’re loudly cheering on the Bulldogs in Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend, don’t forget to tip your cap to the man who made it all possible.