The ACC is a conference steeped in success on the hardwood, featuring some of the best active coaches to ever coach the game. Coaches like Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, North Carolina's Roy Williams, Syracuse's Jim Boehiem and Louisville's Rick Pitino typically headline the bill, but that's not to understate the guys like Virginia's Tony Bennet, Miami's Jim Larranaga, and Virginia Tech's Buzz Williams, all great coaches that have achieved some form of success in their careers. With such a list to contend with in the ACC, the quest for coaching accolades in the conference and recognition nationally can be just as competitive as the action on the court.
So, how does Notre Dame coach Mike Brey set himself apart? For one, Coach Brey brought with him plenty of success as head coach of Notre Dame basketball when the Irish joined the ACC. He's only continued that tradition in the three seasons since. Coach Brey's recognition while in the Big East been includes having been named NCAA Coach of the Year by the AP, CBS Sports, and Sports Illustrated, and he is a three-time Big East coach of the year. The Irish have made the NCAA tournament 11 times in 16 seasons coming out of the Big East and the ACC under Brey's guidance, with three Sweet Sixteen appearances and two consecutive trips to the Elite Eight. In the 2014-2015 season, the Irish even went on down to Greensboro and won the ACC tournament.
The recent breakthrough in postseason success can be attributed to a steady improvement in so many important facets of the Notre Dame basketball program over the 16 seasons with Coach Brey at the helm. Much of that improvement is made possible by the presence of one important thing: stability. In a recent ESPN Insider piece by Jeff Goodman, Brey was recognized as the most stable coach in the ACC.
Here’s a question for ACC hoops fans: Who is the most stable to remain at current school longest? Here’s my pick: https://t.co/UFMYn3L3Uy— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) July 11, 2016
Stability in college sports can be an underrated thing, with coaches sticking around at smaller schools or even less successful schools in larger conferences until they taste a little success, and then moving on up the ladder to a larger school. The larger school the moved to? Well, that school fired their coach after three seasons for a lack of marked improvement. At least in college basketball, most of the historically great basketball programs that are still incredibly successful today - the likes of Kansas, Michigan State, the aforementioned ACC teams, just to name a few - have the opposite in common. Coaches with long tenures.
Some of those great coaches inherited already-great teams and just kept the ball rolling; Bill Self took over for Roy Williams who took over for Larry Brown at Kansas, for example. Others have been at their posts for what feels like forever; certain age demographics don't remember a time before guys like Jim Boehiem and Tom Izzo prowled the sidelines at Syracuse and Michigan State, respectively. Other guys took over historically great programs and had some turnaround work to do. In many of those situations that were successful - Roy Williams at UNC, John Calipari at Kentucky - those coaches were given resources and patience.
Notre Dame administration gave Mike Brey patience, and then eventually resources, and the university and its fans have been rewarded, especially as of late. The methods in building, rebuilding or maintaining a successful program are unique to coach and school for myriad reasons - geography, size, history and tradition, conference affiliation, etcetera. Mike Brey took that one constant, stability, and found the right the balance of all other things. He's built a program that produces nationally relevant and successful teams year in and year out.
Coach Brey having been recognized by a national media outlet as the most stable coach in a conference with some of the all time greats is a feat in itself, but I think it's also justification for a newfound confidence and optimism in the future for the program. If you look at the history of the program and the current trajectory, you see a team that was, save for the sole year of Matt Doherty's leadership, a sub-500 team under John MacLeod. Again, save for the 1999-2000 season, you have to go back to 1988 under Digger Phelps to find a 20-win season.
Looking at solely record is not an end-all be-all indicator, and for what its worth, stats like the Simple Rating System are pretty consistent since Brey took over. Another place to look would be the talent that comes in and out of the program on a regular basis. Sure, Coach Brey had his share of talent to work with early on, with guys like Chris Thomas, Torin Francis, Matt Carrol, and so on. However, even when the team was perceivably not as talented, Brey would still find a way to achieve success, win 20+ games, contend for a conference title and make the tournament. These underachieving teams were just as important as the highly-talented teams, and that even level of success mirrors the stability Brey has achieved. Constantly reaching that level of national relevance, despite a lack of postseason success, did its part in turning the heads of more and more talented high school players, and Brey and staff took advantage (the move to the ACC helped, not to mention facility upgrades). Look where we are today. Three NBA draft picks in the past two years, and a few more signings of undrafted free agents currently participating in NBA summer league and plenty of recruiting success.
All of this made was made possible on a basic level by a stability at the coaching position. To echo ESPN's sentiments, I don't see the coach going anywhere until retirement. It will be his opportunity to build on the stability and success he's achieved. Can Coach Brey follow in his mentor Coach K's footsteps and become great? If he does, I think he'll do it as head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Not only should that instill confidence and optimism in fans, but also in current players, the staff, administrators, and recruits. Just a few of the many reasons stability is incredibly important in college sports.