March 04, 2009

The Mike Brey Interview: 9-9 is good enough?

What does everyone think of this Mike Brey interview that seems to be getting the fans all riled up?? Are you upset?? Do you think it's a big deal?? Is it a lot of fuss over nothing?? Just trying to gauge the reaction.

There's some other good stuff in there, but probably the most inflammatory comment would be this one:

All of which had Brey examining his team's league gauntlet the day after Christmas, then turning to his wife, Tish, and saying this: 9-9.

"Where do I sign on Dec. 26?" Brey said. "I don't want to sell us short, but I've been through the cycle of the league nine years now. You thrive when you can, then when rotate up into that (difficult schedule), can you survive?"

Uh oh, when did Bob Davie start writing Brey's material?? And I'm saying that as someone who thinks Bob Davie may be the second best coach we've had at ND since Dan Devine. This quote reeks of a Bob Davie quote, and that's not really the guy you want to emulate if you want to keep ND fans in your corner. You would think Brey would know the ND fanbase after 9 years, so it was a poor decision to say something like that in the media. I don't really think what he is saying is all that big of a deal, but I can understand why people are upset about it. When your team is #7 in the country in the preseason, people don't want to hear you say after the fact that you would have been happy with 9-9 in conference play. People want answers, and they want the head coach to tell them that 9-9 is unacceptable and that changes are coming.

One of the things I've noticed about our fanbase through the years is that ND fans do not like it when coaches try to set the bar too low in the media. Willingham got crucified for some of those "few plays away" and "last time I checked, we've won four out of our last six" comments after games (and rightfully so). We tend to like our coaches to keep the hope alive (sort of a Cubs fan disease in some ways). Heck, I think one of the reasons Charlie Weis remains popular is that the guy talks such a good game (9-3 not good enough, we're going to pound it, etc). Weis subscribes to the "overpromise even if you underdeliver" philosophy whereas Brey seems to prefer to underpromise and play down expectations with the hope that he can exceed that lower bar. Personally, I prefer Brey's understated style over the Weis bravado, but I've seen enough of these firestorms erupt through the years to know that this quote will not endear Brey to the ND fanbase. ND fans would rather see a guy talk about going 15-3 and then go 8-10 than see a guy talk about going 8-10 and then actually go 8-10. To me, 8-10 is 8-10 no matter what you say to the media.

I view Brey's statement as a candid response, and candor isn't always the best thing when you are speaking to a fanbase that is frustrated and wants better answers than "we knew back in December that we would be lucky to get to 9-9." Brey looked at his team and our schedule and our lack of athleticism and shaky depth and lack of bulk inside and determined that we were going to be in trouble in the Big East this year. It turned out he was right.

Even though Brey was talking about 9-9 with his wife and his assistants, the guy is still coaching to go 18-0. I do think it's annoying that he has a bit of a mid-major attitude about this program, but I also think the administration doesn't help things by not really demanding any better.

While I know these comments are going to get a lot of attention, I'm more interested in what Brey does in the offseason and over the next few years to improve our standing in the conference and to raise expectations. If he really thought 9-9 was the best we could do this year, then he needs to figure out a new recruiting strategy to get better players here who can move us up higher in the Big East standings on a more consistent basis. Brey needs to shed the mid-major attitude toward this program and start thinking bigger. 9-9 should not have been the goal this year with all the returning players, but it turned out that our talent was really not all that great. That needs to change.

If Brey thought this team was 9-9 at best with Harangody and all these seniors, why didn't he do a better job recruiting the last two years?? We got very little contribution this year out of the 2007 recruiting class, and we didn't even have a 2008 recruiting class. That's really what I'm more concerned with. Brey let this roster go stale and has made some mediocre hires for his staff, and he should have been acting to fix that long before he realized in December that it was too late.

I can live with Brey's candid assessment of this team, but I can't live with it if he doesn't have a plan in place to be better than a 9-9 type program in the future.


Mike said...

Par for the course with Brey.

I'll file this one away with "maybe we can steal one of these next two games on the road" and "we can dream big dreams, like making the NCAA tournament." I'm admittedly paraphrasing, notwithstanding my use of quotation marks, but the larger point stands. Brey has never expressed any desire or intent to raise this program to the top of college basketball. He is content to set the bar low and thereby outperform expectations every few years (which, incidentally, is a great way to add Big East Coach of the Year hardware to his mantle).

Jimmy said...

I hadn't seen that interview and am a tad flabbergasted at it. Not that it came from the mouth of Brey, but that such an admission of defeat would come from ANY coach's mouth. Isn't it your job to figure out a way to win under any circumstance? A coach will always face adversity of some kind, be it a losing streak, a primadonna player, lack of chemistry, lack of size, etc. But isn't that understood between the lines that you figure out a way to succeed no matter what? You coach for situations and opportunities like that.

This sets the profession as a whole back. I completely understand why he thinks 9-9 will be an "accomplishment" with that tough schedule. But some coaches would look at it and say it's a great opportunity to find out how good a team they have, limitations be damned.

You're telling me West Virginia and Providence have more talent on their rosters than ND? Blasphemy. But I firmly believe Huggins and Keno expect and demand more out of their team every single night. Marquette and Villanova are winning without a conventional big man in their lineup. Thankfully, they're athletic as hell, but Buzz Williams and Jay Wright figured out a way to minimize the absence of a big man and adjust accordingly on both ends. If there's a will, there's a way. Frankly, I didn't see Brey trying to will his team to victories because they made the same mistakes in every loss. The most animated Brey looked all year was against Rutgers. Are you kidding me? The team needed Brey to energize them for a home game vs. Rutgers?

The team hasn't had the right mindset to compete this year in the BEast. That's established by the coach and spread like a virus through the players. I think the lack of any jolt to the lineup - new blood to spice things up - severely hampered them more than we could have envisioned. Things grew stale quickly and Brey didn't have the guts or wherewithal to know how to coax something else out of them.

Downgrading and setting the bar low isn't fair to the players. Holtz was notorious for always telling the media that Navy was really tough and we'd need to be on our best, but I guarantee in the locker room, Holtz knew and told the team that they would be winners. Brey lacks that motivation to not settle for anything less from his players for whatever reason. And it pisses me off.