GORCHES: Why would Bryce Drew ever leave Valpo?
By Steve T. Gorches 314-3797 or firstname.lastname@example.org December 5, 2013 10:08PM
Updated: January 7, 2014 6:47AM
It’s a question that’s been asked of me several times so far this season in regards to the Valparaiso men’s basketball team.
Whether I’m covering a game at the Athletics-Recreation Center or out and about — someone actually recognized me in a grocery store and asked me — VU fans want to know if I think Bryce Drew will eventually leave the Crusaders to coach somewhere else.
Now those who’ve known me for a while know I can be a region rat, so my first inclination is to say, “No way, Jose.” But none of the fans who asked me were actually named Jose.
But let’s put aside Northwest Indiana allegiances for a second.
It’s been a pattern in recent years that mid-major coaches leave for bigger and better programs. John Groce left Ohio University two years ago to lead Illinois, and Brad Stevens — who some thought would never leave Butler, especially after the school switched conferences twice in the last three years — left Indianapolis to coach the Boston Celtics in the NBA.
So it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Drew would be looking for greener pastures after already having success as a young, energetic (next time you go to a game, see how long it takes for him to take off his suit jacket) head coach at a mid-major that has won back-to-back Horizon League regular-season titles and won the Horizon Tournament last spring.
But the bigger question is, what would constitute greener pastures and would Drew actually be looking for a different job?
Remember, Drew is legendary in Valparaiso, a basketball city like myriad other communities in the Hoosier state. And in most of those basketball towns, basketball heroes are lauded beyond belief.
Never mind that Bryce is following in the footsteps of his dad, Homer, who is well-known and respected for his years at the helm of the Crusaders (1988 to 2002, and 2003-11). Bryce was Indiana’s Mr. Basketball in 1994 for Valparaiso High School, leading the Vikings to the state final.
How do you think Mr. Basketballs such as Damon Bailey (1990 at Bedford North Lawrence), Steve Alford (1983 at New Castle) and Bobby Plump (1954 at Milan) are treated in their hometowns? There’s a motel named after Alford (the Steve Alford All-American Inn) in New Castle.
Now I know Valparaiso also had Roger Harden earn Mr. Basketball in 1982, but Harden isn’t Bryce Drew, whose fame repeats every March when CBS and ESPN replay “The Shot” from the 1998 NCAA Tournament.
“In life there are usually two different roads and it’s which way do you want to go,” he said. “For me, the last couple years there have been a lot more reasons to stay than to leave. My wife (Tara) and I are very, very happy here. We’re happy for lots of reasons. We like the community and love the location being close to Chicago. So for us, when we’re really happy like this, we don’t see a need to change. I’ve heard a lot of coaches say don’t mess with happy, and it’s more than just basketball that we’re very happy here.”
Unlike Bryce’s brother, Scott, who left in 2003 after one season as head coach of Valparaiso to take over and eventually turn around a beleaguered Baylor program, I just don’t think Bryce would leave for a supposedly better job at a big-time school. Not to mention Bryce is very loyal to Mom and Dad.
“Having my family here is another big reason to stay,” said Drew, who added that Homer and his mom, Janet, are doing well after both fighting and beating cancer in recent years. “And another factor is our administration. I have a great relationship with our athletic director and vice president and our president has been great with his progression of our campus and the vision for the university.”
Not saying Scott isn’t loyal to Mom and Dad, but he’s the one who left and Bryce is still here. Now the Crusaders are in a different situation than back in 2003 — the Horizon is a much better conference than the Mid-Con, so maybe that’s another factor why Bryce would stay.
Cynics say that money could lure anyone away from a seemingly comfortable mid-major job that seems like the perfect fit (i.e. Stevens at Butler), but why does Drew need to look for more money? Unlike most of those mid-major coaches who leave, Drew played six seasons in the NBA, earning more than $7 million in salary.
I’m betting the majority of that money hasn’t been spent — Bryce doesn’t come across as an extravagant spender — so it’s not a driving factor.
“My dad had some opportunities to leave (VU), and I remember we would talk and he said, ‘I’m not going to take it just because of money, I’m not going to take it just because of money,’” Drew said.
Others say he would leave for a better chance at tournament success, but nothing is guaranteed. Groce will find it very difficult to keep his job if he doesn’t lead Illinois deep into the tourney after he led Ohio to the Sweet 16.
And wouldn’t it be more appealing for Drew to take Valparaiso to the Sweet 16 (or further) as a coach after doing it as a player? Why couldn’t VU reach the Final Four under the right circumstances like Butler did twice? Why couldn’t Drew taste some of the same success as Stevens?
He’s already the hometown hero. If that happened, Mayor Jon Costas may give him the key to the city.