He sits there stoic in his mock turtleneck, hardly ever showing any emotion other than encouragement. He has paced the sideline for the Irish now for over 12 years, and is now tied(Lou Carnesecca) for 4th in all time wins in the Big East, and is the 3rd longest tenured coach in Notre Dame basketball history(Phelps, Keogan). The man we speak of is Irish basketball coach Mike Brey. A graduate of George Washington University, Brey started his college coaching career in 1987 as an assistant under legendary Duke coach, Mike Krzyzewski. He stayed with the Duke program as an assistant until 1995, before being hired as the head coach of the Delaware Blue Hen. Under Brey, the Blue Hen flourished, going 99-52 in 6 years, while reaching the NCAA tournament twice.
The Irish program at that time, was enjoying a resurgence of their own under new coach Matt Doherty. Doherty had come in and given new life to a program that was mired in mediocrity with coach John McCloud at the helm. The North Carolina Alum was a fiery young coach who held players accountable and understood how to recruit for the Irish program. In Coach Doherty’s first year as the Irish coach, he took a squad that went 14-16 in the prior year and finished 22-15, losing in the finals of the NIT. Irish fans were excited about basketball again in South Bend, until they learned of the news that their first year head coach, who had brought an energy back into the Joyce ACC, was leaving to pursue his life-long dream of being head coach at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina.
Coach Brey was hired in 2000 to replace Doherty, and accepted the job without much fanfare and plenty of skepticism from media and fans alike. He would soon force Irish fans to take notice, as he guided his squad in his first year to a 20-10 record and an NCAA berth, Notre Dame’s first appearance in over a decade. Although the Irish would eventually lose in the 2nd round to Duke 84-77, Brey had done enough for Irish fans to be intrigued, and were anxious to see what he could with their program. Over coach Brey’s 12 years at Notre Dame he has compiled an overall record of 280-138 and 128-77 in Big East play. He has taken the Irish to the post season every single year he has been there, and has never had a losing record.
Even though Brey has won consistently at Notre Dame, and is considered by his peers as one of the best coaches in the game, Irish fans have struggled to fully embrace him. They are quick to point out his record when he does reach the NCCA tournament, and his teams seemingly always early exit in the Big East tournament. Brey has also struggled with his late game coaching tactics, under-utilization of his bench, and an inability to fill his roster out with athletic firepower. Some would describe his offense as boring, and even archaic and predictable. While Irish fans appreciate the consistency, they grow tired of the lack of post-season success, and some feel it may even be time for a change at the head coach position.
The University of Notre Dame is widely considered a football school first, who also happens to have a basketball program, but Brey has won there despite that fact. He genuinely understands the limitations of his roster and adjusts his game-plan accordingly, and he recruits the right kind of guys that will fit his system. No matter what one’s opinion is of coach Brey, most would agree that he cares for the kids on his team, and has a true love for the fans and the school itself. He is charismatic with the media, and is always offering his free time for good cause on campus and within the community itself, and yet Irish fans still flock to radio shows and online forums to express their frustration with his coaching decisions and ability, or lack thereof.
The questions for Irish fans are simple ones, but may not have a simple answer. What is it that they want and expect from their basketball head coach and for their program. Do they feel there is another coach that could step into Brey’s shoes and take Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen consistently, and have the Irish in true contention for a conference championship every year? Is there really a coach that is willing to come South Bend, that would be able to string together together top 10 recruiting classes year after year, and on a yearly basis grab at least one McDonalds All-American? We are not suggesting that coach Brey has been perfect over his 12 year run, or that there isn’t another coach out there that wouldn’t be better suited for position. What we are simply suggesting is this – Irish fans need to truly look at Brey and his complete body of work, and ask themselves if there really is a better alternative, and realistically, who would that be?