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June 20, 2012
The game is on the line. The opposing fans are yapping about the head coach’s tie-less apparel. The momentum has shifted away from the visiting team. All looks just about lost.
But above the din comes a voice, straining to reach the ears of his players. Calming, soothing, confidence-giving, believing?
Mike Brey provides the voice his players can believe in.
“It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is because there are so many different dimensions to him,” said Irish sixth-year senior Scott Martin of Brey following Tuesday’s announcement that Brey’s contact had been extended through the 2021-22 season.
“First and foremost, he’s a confidence builder. He gets you to believe in yourself and believe in your teammates and believe that it’s a team goal and that everyone has their role and if you (play it), good things will happen.”
In some respects, Brey is the voice in the wilderness, particularly in a league where some veteran coaches have won and won big through derision, sarcasm and impatience. Brey’s approach focuses on a relationship of confidence building and trust.
“His personality is 10 times different than the guys you see out there,” said former Irish point guard Tory Jackson. “There are great coaches out there like Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, all those guys who have been in the league a long time. He separates himself totally from them.
“When you come in, you feel comfortable. You feel like you’re talking to a friend. You can tell him your personal business. He’s somebody you know will have the best interests for you. He’s going to bring the best out of you on the court. Off the court, he’s going to be that person you can always open up to.”
Brey said his background as a high school teacher/coach remains applicable nearly two decades into his college head-coaching career.
“I haven’t changed much from being a high school coach at DeMatha High School,” Brey said. “That helped me so much, being a classroom teacher. Those are experiences that I draw on and use every day. I think our guys are comfortable communicating with me. As I get older in the business, I never want to lose that.”
In a business driven by egos, Brey displays as little as possible.
“I haven’t seen it,” Jackson said. “I was here four years including the summers. I haven’t seen an ego at all. You would think a guy like that would have an ego. He’s been in the league forever. He’s on a winning track. He’s improving the team?why not have ego? But he doesn’t have it. He throws it away and he’s just himself every day.”
“There are things that matter and there are things that coach knows you can’t control,” said Chris Thomas, point guard of the early 2000s teams. “The things that you can control are what you need to invest your time and effort in. His demeanor is geared toward making sure the most important things are covered.”
Former Irish frontcourt standout Carleton Scott, who left Notre Dame with a year of eligibility remaining to pursue a professional career overseas, has a unique perspective of his former head coach, with whom he occasionally clashed early in his collegiate career.
“He’s a great guy to get along with,” Scott said. “He knows how to talk to his players. He knows how to get the most out of his players. In a head coach, that’s what you want. As a player and as a friend, he’s the best.
“Off the court, he’s the same as he is on the court. He’s always asking about how guys are doing and how your family is doing. He’s always checking up on guys, making sure everything’s in order.”
With Brey, what you see - and what you hear - is what you get.
“There are no drastic changes in mood and demeanor and the way he talks to us,” Martin said. “It’s always the same way, win or lose. It’s the same guidelines and principles every day. The message is always the same. He just keeps us going in the right direction all the time.
“Coach is a man of his word. Everything he has said happens. You start to believe in everything he says. You buy in real quick.”
Brey has earned a reputation amongst his players as the ultimate communicator.
“Some coaches don’t listen to their players and some players don’t listen to their coaches,” Thomas said. “You have to be 100 percent in touch with how your players as individuals can come together as a team.
“The relationship that I built with him is the same relationship that I have now with him. That’s what we knew we were working on when he made me the point guard on his team.”
Ultimately, it comes down to Brey’s ability to inspire confidence that good things are going to happen, no matter how dire the situation.
“It starts with coach’s attitude and the way he believes in all of us,” Martin said. “He gets us to believe in ourselves and we’ve had results.”
The end result is a bunch of victories, some missed post-season opportunities, and a few life lessons along the way.
“Since Day One, when I met him on campus, I had the utmost confidence in him and his program, just because of the honesty that he had with me,” Thomas said.
“It was honest, it was pure, it felt right?He’s been an integral part in my development as a player, as a father, as a son, as a brother, and as a friend.”
(Editor’s note: Look for Tim Prister’s Full Court Press on Mike Brey’s 10-year contract extension on Thursday, June 21.)
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