Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced a deal today to keep men's basketball coach Mike Brey with the Fighting Irish through the 2021-2022 basketball season.
Swarbrick and Brey made Monday's worst-kept secret official on Tuesday morning with a press conference that featured a lot of smiles, jokes, and handshakes but undertones of competitiveness, lofty expectations, and pressure that comes with the extension. The deal for the 53-year old Brey is essentially a commitment from both sides to keep him at Notre Dame for the remainder of his career.
"Mike Brey epitomizes all that a university like ours hopes for in a coach. He has built a winning program without ever compromising his values, and he develops players both on and off the court as well as anyone in the country.
Mike is a true coach-educator. The genuine and unique relationships that he has with his players, our community and his colleagues in college basketball have built a great foundation for the future of our basketball program. This new contract, and particularly its length, is a reflection of our commitment to Mike and his commitment to Notre Dame."
You can also check out a very candid four part interview with Brey here.
There is little doubt about Brey's ability to connect to and develop his players. He talks as much about being able to "get a beer with them" after they graduate as he does about getting them to defend the pick and roll or shoot free throws. Chris Thomas, Tory Jackson, and Martin Ingolsby ("All my point guards are here today.") were all in attendance at today's press conference as a testament to how strongly they feel about their former head coach. This is something that you just don't see across the country. But while nearly everyone recognizes his ability to teach and connect, Brey has not been able to silence all the doubters. Perhaps they forget where this program was 12 years ago.
When Brey was hired in 2000, he took over a Notre Dame basketball program that was at a low point in its history. The Irish had not made the NCAA tournament in the previous 10 years (go ahead and read that again). They had accumulated a pitiful 35-53 Big East record since joining the conference in 1995. They just had a coach in Matt Doherty that left his first head coaching gig for greener pastures after only one year on the job. The program needed a huge turnaround and was provided that under the leadership of Mike Brey, although he will be quick to tell you he's just glad he didn't screw it up.
Brey led the Irish to three straight tourney bids, including a Sweet Sixteen in 2003, achieving a level of success that seemed to be a pipe dream given the preceding decade. However, Notre Dame followed up those three years with three straight years back in the NIT, and both Brey and former athletic director Kevin White would be lying if they told you they weren't considering parting ways at this point.
Since then, however, Notre Dame basketball has, as Brey puts it, "kicked it into another gear." He's not lying. In those six seasons, the Irish have topped 20 wins every year, including a modern-era school record 27 wins in the 2010-2011 season. They have posted a .660 winning percentage in the toughest conference in the country, good for third in the conference. The Irish have amassed a truly absurd 100-7 home record in that time period, including a school record 45-game winning streak that included back-to-back seasons unbeaten at the Purcell Pavilion.
The success in the past six seasons have earned Mike Brey some personal accolades as well, including three Big East Coach of the Year awards as well as various National Coach of the Year awards in the past two seasons. He was also the first recipient of the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award given to a coach who exhibits high moral character in addition to success on the court. And this is really the point when it comes to Mike Brey.
He gets Notre Dame. It's become cliche at this point, but it's so crucial to being successful at a university that, quite frankly, is a tough place to coach. To quote Jack Swarbrick who quoted Dick Vitale, Mike Brey "fits ND like a glove." Despite all of his success, Mike hasn't brought the program where he or Swarbrick or any of us Irish fans want it to be. But he has laid the groundwork and given the program a national identity after years of being an also-ran. Brey has created one of the most well-respected programs in the country at one of the toughest places to do it, somehow competing on the court against other programs that simply aren't on a level playing field (if you catch my drift). He has built the program to stay on top academically while taking recruiting to a new level, signing national prospects every season. Brey has put this program on his back and built it to be more formidable than it has in decades despite taking over at a time when it had seldom been worse.
Mike Brey and his Irish basketball program still have huge strides to make to get to where we all expect Notre Dame to be, and that's competing at a championship level. Some question whether or not Brey has that next level in him, given the team's relative struggles in March as well as Mike's brutal honesty that hasn't exactly always screamed "championship mentality". But you are kidding yourself if you don't think Brey and Swarbrick are trying to get to that championship level with this program everyday.
In no uncertain terms, Swarbrick challenged Brey at today's press conference, saying, "he has done all the hard work. He just needs to win six games in March now. We need to go that last mile." Brey knows. And he's not intimidated by the challenge.
"Getting to Saturday night in the Garden, playing deep in the NCAA tournament, going back to the Final Four...those are our goals. Those big dreams you want to dream, they're worth dreaming about now."
Somehow, Mike Brey has us dreaming about Irish basketball glory again. Not bad for someone that stepped into a nightmare 12 years ago.