CONNERSVILLE – The hometown hero was more than will to let the star of Saturday’s East Central Indiana small town parade have a pass.
After all, Matt Howard understood the circumstances surrounding the life of the Grand Marshall of the Connersville Bicentennial Parade.
“I tried to tell him you don’t have to be that nice,” said Howard-a native of the town-to his former coach Brad Stevens. “We understand completely.”
But the former Butler coach, who accepted a job with the Celtics on Wednesday and had his introductory news conference on Friday in Boston, still understood what it meant to keep a commitment. So on Saturday morning amid a steady rain, Stevens pulled into Connersville for the 11 A.M. parade, just as he planned months ago before the NBA came calling.
“Just like we’ve always talked about, its the people are what make it,” said Stevens of his reason for keeping his parade commitment. “Obviously anything with the Howards, whatever they need from us we’re happy to be here and happy to help. That family has meant so much to us. A big reason why any of us at Butler have had the opportunities that we’ve had.”
Indeed the road from Butler to the NBA for Stevens in many ways began in Connersville. Following his hiring as the Bulldogs head coach in 2007, Stevens immediately made a trip east to visit then Connersville High School standout Matt Howard to make sure that he would keep his commitment.
The forward stuck with Stevens and over the next four years would help to lead Butler on a program-changing run that saw the Bulldogs win 119 games while making it to a pair of national championship games.
“Certainly Matt Howard helped to lead that charge,” said Stevens-though it was the Celtics who facilitated the opportunity for the coach to fulfill his final obligation as Butler head coach.
When Stevens was in the process of accepting the job with the Celtics on Wednesday he mentioned to the Boston’ decision makers that he had the parade commitment three days later and was hoping to keep it. The organization was more than willing to help him keep it and cleared time to make his way back to Indiana
“They said ‘Hey, we love that,'” said Stevens when he asked the Celtics about attending the Connersville parade. “To be honest, that meant a lot to me from their standpoint that they would feel that way. That’s a place that values team, a place that values culture and they understand that.
“When you’ve got a person that you’ve done a ton of stuff with over time and a family that has been so great to you, if you’ve told them your going to do something you do it.”
For the Howard family, that commitment despite the circumstances was flattering and the community reflected that spirit during the parade. Sitting in a yellow Ford Mustang with an umbrella during steady rain, Stevens was greeted on the parade route with a number of claps, cheers, and occasional “Good Luck” greetings.
One fan even jogged towards the car and asked Stevens to stop for a photograph. Stevens obliged and then shook hands with the woman as the parade continued on. It’s scenes like that one that enticed Matt Howard’s father Stan-the parade’s organizer-to extend the invitation to Stevens and have faith he would keep it even after the Celtics hire.
“The side of me that knows most people says ‘Ah, he won’t come.’ But the side of me that knows Brad says ‘He’ll be here because he said he’ll be here,'” said Howard of the parade, which was in the works for three years. “That’s the kinda guy he is.”
From Boston to Connersville-even with a new job in between.