Locking up Brey a good move for Irish
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or email@example.com June 19, 2012 9:16PM
Updated: July 21, 2012 6:28AM
I have one ridiculous thought about Mike Brey’s 10-year deal, which Notre Dame made official Tuesday: How could former athletic director Kevin White, in his most clouded, incapacitated moments, ever have given Charlie Weis a 10-year deal?
What a colossal waste of money and energy.
Already, the payout for Weis leaving just four years into his 10-year extension after the Irish stirred the college football world with a 5-2 start in 2005, is $8.7 million, according to IRS filings. Reports at the time of his extension estimated that ND was on the hook for a $20 million buyout if Weis was fired. The collateral damage is incalculable.
The commitment and cash spent on Brey — he earned $1.3 million in 2010 — is an investment that has already reaped an amazing return for the Irish basketball program. He is still undervalued, because it is not an easy job to be the head men’s basketball coach at Notre Dame. In many ways, Muffett McGraw, the women’s coach, has it easier than Brey.
That doesn’t mean I’m diminishing McGraw’s ability to coach and recruit. There are just fewer headaches and built-in stumbling blocks for women’s basketball coaches. The arms race for first-rate arenas and plush locker rooms isn’t nearly as intense, and the AAU influence — a huge part of recruiting in the men’s game — is nonexistent. Women’s basketball is the sport of choice at Notre Dame.
For Brey, or any men’s basketball coach at Notre Dame, that will never be an option. Football will always rule. The challenge for Brey 12 years ago when he rolled in from Delaware was complicated: How to make Notre Dame basketball relevant in a brutal conference under the backdrop of football, operating under restricted academic standards compared with schools such as Syracuse, Connecticut and Louisville.
It was deemed so complicated and difficult that, when Digger Phelps and then John McLeod got fired, the big-name guys were never interested. That included coaches like P.J. Carlesimo, Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo. All those coaches’ names were floated — Pitino and Izzo were outrageous rumors, perhaps — because it was still Notre Dame, and Phelps had regularly fielded top-10 teams. The problem with even mentioning someone like Carlesimo, who had taken Seton Hall to the NCAA title game, or Pitino or Izzo was that they wanted to win in a big way.
And they more or less deemed that impossible in South Bend.
So, Brey was the second-best choice of what alumni and media deemed the second tier of candidates.
The best second-rate selection —Matt Doherty — had fled for North Carolina after just one season as the ND coach. That turned out to be a fatal career mistake for Doherty, who was fired after three seasons at UNC, and six seasons at SMU. His career as a college basketball coach is effectively over.
When Brey arrived in South Bend, I can assure you of this: No one I knew was doing cartwheels about the new no-name coach who was funny and frank but way less of a presence than either Phelps or Doherty
Slowly, Brey has reversed those first impressions. He is still witty and approachable, but with this caveat: He’s the bedrock of the program. Brey’s success represents everything football hasn’t over the last 12 years. It is steady and consistent, full of quality players and big wins. He has 259 victories, 144 short of what Phelps finished with. If it goes well for Brey, he should break that record near the end of the deal.
In his own resourceful way, without the help of a five-year plan or flashy rings, Brey has built Notre Dame into a perennial contender in the Big East.
The Irish are very good in that conference, with players that aren’t as strong and fast as the kind that UConn, Pitt and Syracuse get.
Brey has gone from being an offensive-minded coach to a defensive-minded one when the talent fits. His teams will run or play slow if they have to.
They move the ball on offense better than any team in college basketball and they all represent the school well.
He is good at finding players that work for his style and system. Over the years, as his reputation for developing players and just being a good guy to play for has grown, Notre Dame has been able to go after better players.
Are there issues? Sure. He doesn’t coach well in the NCAA Tournament (only one Sweet 16 appearance) and I wish he used his bench more. His teams also don’t seem to play the same way in the postseason as they do during the regular season. Those are all problems that Brey has plenty of time to figure out, as athletic director Jack Swarbrick pointed out on Tuesday.
Notre Dame should consider itself extremely lucky to have Brey around for another decade at whatever price. Anybody else with the kind of track record that he has would have bolted for a more prestigious program that has a gigantic arena with plush couches and big screens in the locker room. They’d want to work at a place where the fans regularly fill up the house for a big game during the week. At ND, basketball is still sometimes an afterthought for the students.
Brey, though, just keeps chugging along, happy to be doing what he’s doing, stubbornly believing that someday he can get Notre Dame back to the Final Four.
We’ll see about the last part. At least, now, he has plenty of time to get there.