Notre Dame’s ‘Energized’ Mike Brey Isn’t Going Anywhere
In an exclusive interview with BlueandGold.com, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey discussed a variety of topics, including the ups and downs this past season provided, the disappointment of having the coronavirus outbreak cut short his ACC Tournament and other postseason aspirations, and what the Irish will look like next season with the losses of senior captains John Mooney, T.J. Gibbs and Rex Pflueger.
We’ll get to each of those topics up the line, but let’s first address Brey’s future with the program.
He’s already the winningest coach in Irish men’s basketball history, and when he takes the sidelines for the 2020-21 season, his 21 years on the job will also make him the longest tenured head coach in program history, passing both George Keogan (1923-43) and Digger Phelps (1971-91), each of whom lasted 20 years.
Brey, 61, signed a three-year contract extension in 2018 that could keep him on the Irish bench through the 2024-25 season, and for 25 years total.
“I have every intention of finishing this thing out and getting to 2025,” Brey said when asked what his future with the program holds. “And at that point, I’m not saying I wouldn’t coach again, but maybe you’re not coaching here anymore, maybe you’re not doing that.”
Brey has built up plenty of equity during his two decades at Notre Dame.
A one-time national and four-time conference coach of the year, Brey has led the Irish to 12 NCAA Tournament appearances, two Elite Eights and the 2015 ACC Tournament championship.
Presumably, Brey will leave Notre Dame on his own terms, even if his team hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2016-17 and has lost 21 straight games to top-25 teams.
“It is worth my while to finish out this contract on a lot of fronts,” Brey said. “One would be financially how this thing is set up. Another is to finish this race strong for when this thing ends in 2025. I want to lead this program to a Final Four before I’m outta here.”
Brey admitted that the slow start to this recent season — specifically, an inability to win close games during a 2-6 start to ACC play — weighed heavily on him, realizing that missed opportunities in December and January often lead to NIT bids in March.
But seeing his seniors stay engaged and lead this team to nine wins in their final 13 games, to a 10-10 league record, and to at least 20 wins for the 12th time in the last 14 seasons helped to reinvigorate the coach.
“The big-picture mission here always keeps you refreshed at the end of the day, especially when you take punches or your disappointed in wins and losses,” Brey said. “Five guys graduating from this group, getting their degrees. And watching them interact with each other, and play the right way, and hang in there and bounce back after taking big punches, that kind of energizes you as the leader and gives you something to be excited about and build on for next season.”
Back-to-back recruiting cycle hiccups for Brey in 2019 and 2020 on the heels of signing his celebrated 2018 class also brought some speculation that the coach might be losing energy and interest in pounding the pavement, a notion that Brey unequivocally dismissed.
“If I lose that passion, wanting to compete recruiting-wise, I’ll be the first one to get out because then that’s a sign it’s time to go,” Brey said. “We’ve ‘dog fighted’ a lot, battling to get players, and we’ve lost at the buzzer on a few just like we’ve lost games, but we’ll continue to do it as hard as we can.
“I know from looking around, when the energy in recruiting changes from the head guy, that’s usually the end of it.”
Brey said the unique recruiting challenges Notre Dame already routinely faces were magnified the last two cycles after bringing in six new players in 2018 who were going to gobble up minutes for seasons to come.
“It was hard for me to talk to [recruits] about a lot of playing time when we’re so heavily invested in those third-year guys,” Brey said. “And our recruiting is a little different, it gets a little bit surgical how we do it.
“Who’s a good fit for this place academically and the culture? The pool is always a little smaller to pick from.”
But with program momentum trending in the right direction and the roster opening up for prospective recruits, Brey said he’s going to keep fighting on the recruiting trail and keep “coaching like hell” on the sidelines.
“Sometimes here you got to get a little bit creative,” he said. “And I still have the energy to do it.”
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