LI's Bob McKillop enjoys making his home at mid-major Davidson
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Every 10 feet or so on the stunned, lonely walk back to the locker room from his news conference, Davidson coach Bob McKillop was met by someone trying to make him feel better. Even the chaplain for Marquette, the team that had administered the excruciating loss, offered encouragement.
McKillop's team had just lost an NCAA Tournament game Thursday that it had all but sewn up with 20 seconds left. His season suddenly was done, and he and his players were sad and shocked.
At one point, he was asked by a familiar face from his days as a top Long Island high school coach how things are in general. Without pausing, he said, "Life is still great."
"It's a great bunch of kids, a great school," he said after the (literally) last-second 59-58 defeat. "As bad as this moment is, there are a lot of good moments."
That is the way it has been for McKillop for the past 24 years. That is why he has stayed at the small North Carolina college instead of looking for a higher-profile program. And it is why he is one of a number of college basketball coaches who are not always thinking of the next big job.
"I just think it has probably always been that way. People are just paying more attention to it," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "People are finding the coaching carousel to be more of a game than true-life stuff. I've been around coaches who have moved on, I've had good friends fired and I know this: It's very stressful when people move."
In Butler's case, Stevens stayed -- and moved the whole program up with him. The team made a national name for itself by reaching the NCAA championship game in 2010 and 2011 as a mid-major before upgrading to the Atlantic 10 and, next season, the new Big East. Shaka Smart did pretty much the same at VCU (Colonial to Atlantic 10).
Despite the new conferences, both Stevens and Smart remained, essentially, because they like being where they are. That is the way it is for McKillop, who has thrived after a rocky few years after he first left Long Island Lutheran. He lives across the street from campus. He and his wife have raised their three children there. He has set a Southern Conference record for wins. Even on an awful day, life is good.
"I just truly think he loves the place," said Jake Cohen, a senior who scored 20 points Thursday. "I can't think of another situation where he would be able to live across the street from campus, be able to interact with fans after every game, truly know and be able to experience everything about the program the way he is. For me, it looks like he's just the perfect fit for Davidson."
It is not unthinkable for a mid-major coach to eschew the bright lights, said Rick Pitino, coach of No. 1 overall seed Louisville. "The landscape has changed," Pitino said, adding that power conference schools often lose top players after one year while mid-majors get to hang on to players for four seasons.
Stevens, for instance, has coached senior center Andrew Smith's entire career at Butler.
"I always thought he was going to stay because I knew coach Stevens pretty well and he definitely enjoys being at Butler," Smith said. "Obviously, he has had opportunities to go elsewhere and he's passed on those. Butler has done a great job of being able to keep him. Yeah, he's a pretty special coach, and in my opinion the best coach in America. Hopefully we can keep him forever."