Recently, after a tight contest against Georgia Tech, Mike Brey secured his 300th win as Notre Dame’s head coach. And for that he deserves legit props and kudos.
You don’t win that many games at one school without doing something right. You just don’t just roll out the rock and sit idly by on the bench while racking up that kind of number. It simply can’t be done. In that circumstance, the coach must be given his just due.
No fair-minded observer would minimize the good things that Brey has accomplished. At a school where the academics are unarguably some of the most stringent, where the student-athlete requirements scare off most of the country’s elite prep talent, Brey has more than held his own. Ten times his teams have won 20 or more games. And there have been a few special years, fueled by standout regular seasons, when the hoopsters from South Bend ran off 27 victories, and twice won 25. Notable achievements without a doubt.
What’s more, Brey’s a first-rate guy who epitomizes doing it the right way. As far as playing by the rules and representing both his school and himself in a classy mannner, few are Brey’s equal.
And to his players, he can be many admirable things including mentor, father figure, counselor, friend, advocate, and booster.
But far from being a pushover, Brey can also be a taskmaster, capable of cracking the whip and being demanding when necessary. If you shirk your duties and don’t put out at both ends, he’ll have your butt plantly firmly on the bench.
But first and foremost, he considers himself to be a teacher and he derives his biggest kick from seeing young men blossom and grow under his watchful eye. And his loyalty is unquestioned. Whenever one of his players runs into some kind of issue, be it academic or something else, Brey is there to lend support and guide his charge through the difficulty. He doesn’t bail or abandon just because a youngster has misstepped or demonstrated faulty judgment. If contrition is expressed, responsibility taken and redemption sought, no one will back you like Brey. Some coaches claim they’ll be there for you. Brey lives and breathes that promise.
Brey is one of those guys you can’t help but root for. Personable, articulate and great with the press, it always makes for a good story whenever he succeeds. Which he’s done a fair amount of the time.
But when making an honest analysis of Brey’s career at ND, one must come to an inescapable conclusion. Despite the numerous pluses, it has to be acknowledged the longtime Irish coach is clearly missing something significant. He’s incomplete. And when weighed against the positive side of the ledger, a worthwhile case can be made that Brey hasn’t really gotten the job done, certainly not in an all-encompassing way. There are just too many holes in the resume, too many examples of underachievement, disappointment and flat out chokes.
When taking a critical look at Brey’s overall record, one of the first things that strikes you is that in his 14-year tenure at South Bend, the Irish have missed out on the NCAA Tournament five times. Sorry, but that ratio is unacceptable and inferior. Come up with any excuse you want and that number still looks bad. No matter the inherent challenges of coaching at ND, the Irish should be a virtual lock to make the Big Dance, year in and year out. Yes, there may be the unforeseen season when injuries and other events conspire to derail you. But missing out on the Dance should be that rare exception, not an occurrence that happens more than 33 percent of the time, as it has with Brey. When it comes to making the Tournament with regularity, Brey has come up noticeably short.
But that deficiency pales in comparison when measured against Brey’s damning efforts in the Big Dance, and to a lesser degree, Big East Conference Tournaments. In other words, his postseason slate smells like a well-worn sneaker. To be blunt, the record there is desultory and poor. Brey’s failures in March simply can’t be overlooked, downplayed or explained away.
And because of this, Brey’s legacy carries with it a troubling and ever expanding stain. The 54-year-old’s inability to gain any sort of traction in the postseason is what tarnishes his standing and prevents him from being considered anything more than a solid and serviceable coach. No one thinks of him as being great. Few would label him special or even exceptionally good.
And that goes right to the nub and the heart of the matter. In his lengthy stint as the Irish coach, Brey has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen just once. Ouch. That stings. Not only is that a dismal showing, it’s cause for genuine blushing.
And it’s not like Brey has entered the Tournament unarmed. On the contrary, he’s gone to battle with some skilled, capable and dangerous teams. To be sure, he’s had his share of squads that could have ignited in March. But instead, too often they never left the launching pad. One-and-dones and premature departures are now synonymous with Brey. Struggling in the postseason has become a Brey calling card. Sadly, a number of Brey’s clubs have perfected the quick and unceremonious exit. Gee Irish, we hardly knew yee. What’s the rush to get out of Dodge?
Why the regular season success that he’s experienced hasn’t translated beyond that has Brey baffled and perplexed. In the aftermath of another dispiriting and early Big Dance setback to Iowa State last year, Brey came across as beaten down, discouraged and at a loss. To all the world, he seemed a man way over his head and totally incapable of solving the riddle he’s been trying to crack for almost a decade and a half. The test of the postseason had him thoroughly stumped, again.
There will be no NCAA Tournament for Brey in 2014. A forgettable season of losing his best player to academic laxity, a tsunami of injuries and illness, and having to force feed up-and-down freshman, did in the Domers.
But that won’t change the narrative. When it comes to postseason success, of which he’s had painfully little, Mike Brey has been a small fry. It’s the cavernous void that taints his career. It’s the huge something that he’s desperately missing. It’s the 400-pound gorilla that dominates the room.
At this advanced stage, one must seriously wonder if Brey will ever make an extended postseason run. Because when it comes to making it happen in March, the confounded Irish coach just doesn’t seem to get it.
Source: sports-reference.com/cbb-Mike Brey.