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My love-hate relationship with Coach Brey

Bob Kessler | Friday, March 19, 2010

Four years ago a couple friends and I were sitting in a condo in Tucson on our first spring break of college, drinking the Amstel Light that my friend’s dad happened to have in the fridge that day when the NIT bracket was announced. Our Fighting Irish that season had solidified their spot in the NIT field with their 6-10 record in Big East play (which was a frustratingly impressive feat considering they outscored their league opponents by 37 points) and we were eager to find a way to support the team.

Once the field was set we did what we could by researching our first opponent on ESPN.com. After figuring out which players on the opposing team would create the most trouble for our guys, we sent an e-mail to Coach Brey letting him know that he should watch out for these players and wishing him and the team luck in the game. Most major college coaches probably wouldn’t respond to such an e-mail (in fact most major college coaches probably wouldn’t have their e-mail address so readily available to students), but Mike Brey isn’t most coaches.

Before I continue, however, I must mention one of the perils of print journalism. Because certain deadlines must be met, events oftentimes transpire between writing and publication that completely change the context through which pieces are read. This column was due to my editor before I knew the outcome of yesterday’s game; an outcome which will undoubtedly have Notre Dame basketball fans (the approximately 73 or us that exist) loving or loathing Coach Brey right about now.

These two outcomes, however, aren’t much different than how my feelings for Coach Brey have progressed over the course of the past five years. Sometimes I love him, and am convinced that he is the perfect coach to meet the expectations that Notre Dame students and alums have for our program, while other times I am completely flabbergasted by decisions he makes and things he says. In short: I have a love-hate relationship with Coach Brey.

I love Coach Brey for reasons that are exemplified by his response to our e-mail four years ago. Most coaches wouldn’t bother to respond to such an email, but Brey understands how much the fans care about the team and he makes sure they know that he appreciates it. He sends out personal e-mails to the Leprechaun Legion before home games to remind the students and to get them excited. These personal touches make Coach Brey endearing to me, and are reasons why I love him as our coach.

However, there are also many things that happen surrounding our basketball team that make me incredibly frustrated with his work as our coach. Before the aforementioned e-mail, I was convinced that Brey deserved to be fired for all the close losses the team endured during my freshmen year; and since then a variety of critics have called for him to be fired for all sorts of perceived coaching errors such as a lack of focus on defense (at least for the first 9.7 seasons of his career) and a depthless bench.

Personally, I always get frustrated with his refusal to play underclassmen for any significant amount of time. I don’t understand why players like Tim Abromitis and Carleton Scott couldn’t contribute to a team last year that failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Looking back over the past four years, I think we’re now lucky that Kyle McAlarney was suspended for most of a season as that was seemingly the only way Tory Jackson was able to gain valuable experience early in his career (the first time we can ever thank South Bend Police for anything).

The biggest problem that recurs for me with Coach Brey is how he is constantly making excuses for his teams underperforming, sometimes even before the teams underperform. He will go to events with students and say things like, “you can’t expect to win on the road in the Big East” and “our only goal is to get to New York” (back when teams had to qualify for the Big East Tournament). The excuses just don’t cut it for me.

Over the past month, however, all of the reasons that I loathe Coach Brey have dissipated. The team is playing defense, at least one underclassman has played a couple minutes in a game, and the close games have been turning in our favor. This has left us with a team that I believe in (probably too much if you saw my bracket) and a coach that I am once again loving for reasons both on and off the court.

That is, until something happens to make me hate him again.

Bob Kessler is a 2009 graduate living in China and can be contacted at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.