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Eric Peterson, Published March 25 2011

MSUM coach Walthall once had a chance to coach at Butler

Not even Thad Matta and Brad Stevens could help sway Chad Walthall into taking an assistant coaching job at Butler about a decade ago.

Matta, the head men’s basketball coach at Ohio State, and Stevens, the head coach at Butler, both have their teams in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division I tournament.

Butler played Wisconsin on Thursday. Ohio State is slated to play Kentucky tonight.

Walthall, the Minnesota State Moorhead head coach, had a chance to become an assistant at Butler in the early 2000s after Todd Lickliter took over the Bulldogs program from Matta.

Matta was the head coach at Butler one season and then took the head job at Xavier.

“Todd was trying to talk me into it,” Walthall said. “So Todd had Thad Matta call me to try to convince me to come to Butler, but the timing wasn’t right.”

In 2000, Walthall took the head job at Division III Loras (Iowa) College. That was a year before Lickliter started his first season as head coach at Butler.

“He offered me the job as his top assistant,” Walthall said. “I didn’t think it was the right timing for my family or for Loras, so I politely turned him down at that point.”

When considering the Butler job, Walthall said he toured the school, which is located in Indianapolis.

“Brad was the one that toured me around and showed me how all their computer recruiting technology worked,” Walthall said of Stevens, who was just getting his start in coaching at the time.

“I thought he was really talented then. I told Todd … ‘Man, Brad, he is very intelligent.’ He was mature beyond his years and you can tell that now.”

Stevens would take over for Lickliter at Butler. Lickliter took the head job at Iowa, where Walthall joined his staff.

Walthall said he doesn’t look back and wonder what might have been had he become an assistant at Butler. Could Walthall have been the next head coach at the successful mid-major program?

“That’s assuming I would have stayed there all six years as top assistant,” Walthall said. “So you just don’t know. A lot of that is all hypothetical. I guess you can look at it that way, but I never really have.”

Walthall said Stevens’ ascension to head coach is a great story. When he first came to Butler in the summer of 2000, he started in a volunteer role in Butler’s basketball office.

“That story right there is a one-in-a-million,” Walthall said. “Brad paid his dues. He is young, but he paid his dues working up through the ranks. … He’s had great fortune, but the other side of that coin is he is really, really good. You mix those two together and that is what can happen.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com