Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 4 of 55 APRIL 2021 5 N otre Dame men's bas- ketball coach Mike Brey sent a Twitter message the morning of March 3 to let his 37,500-plus followers know that for the first time this sea- son, a select number of fans would be allowed into Pur- cell Pavilion to attend an Irish home game in person. "Our guys are juiced to have the students back," Brey tweeted in anticipation of his ACC matchup with North Car- olina State. "See you tonight!" In hindsight, Brey probably wishes the COVID-19 kept his arena empty for one more game. As the clock ticked down that night on Notre Dame's embar- rassing and indifferent 80-69 loss to the Wolfpack, about half a dozen of the 497 fans in atten- dance made a stronger statement inside Purcell Pavilion than any Irish player did, sending the home team to its locker room with a serenade of boos and "Fire Brey" chants. "That was well warranted by our students," Brey candidly admitted afterward. "That was a poor perfor- mance; they should've been on me." The jeers — that were amplified inside a thinly populated 9,000-seat echo chamber — were delivered by a small but noisy group who weren't yet born or still in diapers when Brey took the Irish job in 2000 and immedi- ately ended a 10-year NCAA Tourna- ment absence in his first season, then provided some of the best basketball in program history for years to come. To the credit of Brey and his team, the Irish rebounded three days after the miserable loss to the Wolfpack and beat No. 11 Florida State to finish the regular season on a high note and end an unthinkable 28-game losing streak to ranked teams that dated back to November 2017. But one win does not a season make. And the lackluster loss to North Carolina State, and the frustrated Irish fans' reaction to it, came in response to the most difficult four-year stretch in Brey's 21 years here and a belief that his program has slipped and stagnated since becoming the best one in the country from 2006-07 to 2016-17 when measured by both on-court and in-classroom success. In those 11 seasons, Brey's Irish won 20 or more games 10 times, ap- peared in the NCAA Tournament nine times, went to two Elite Eights, won the 2015 ACC Tournament championship and graduated nearly 100 percent of its players. Brey's formula for turning fresh- man projects into future profession- als was simple: work hard, wait your turn, develop, get your chance, take ownership, win games, make memo- ries, rinse, repeat. "Go to class, don't turn the ball over, and we'll get along fine," Brey routinely offered. Tough guys such as Bonzie Colson, Pat Connaughton, Jerian Grant, Luke Harangody, Jack Cooley, John Mooney, Demetrius Jackson, Zach Auguste, Matt Farrell, Kyle McAlarney and countless others thrived under Brey's player-friendly coaching approach. Times were good, and so were Brey's teams. Brey released a book — fittingly titled, Mike Brey, Keeping It Loose — at about the same time he landed what Rivals rated as the No. 9 recruiting class nationally in 2018. And that's when momentum flipped. Because of injuries, transfers, incon- sistency and arrested development, that former five-man recruiting class hasn't fulfilled its hype through three seasons. After two years of lumps and losses, and following a strong 9-4 finish last year as sophomores before COVID-19 prematurely shut down the season, Brey was so confident in his returning juniors, the coach built and boasted about a schedule that included six games through November and December against Associated Press preseason top-25 teams. Brey's ambitious scheduling backfired. His team started 3-8 — and 0-5 to begin ACC play, essentially squashing any le- git NCAA Tournament hopes before February arrived, and sparking inquiry on the pres- ent and the future of the Irish program and Brey's place in it. Through the disappointing losses, head-scratching meltdowns and sometimes indifferent efforts this sea- son, Brey continually insisted that he was fully committed to and energized enough to turn things around, but … "I'm also realistic about the big pic- ture of things; you want to be effec- tive here," Brey said. "I don't need to be told if I'm not being effective. I'm a pretty good judge of that." Over two decades, I've written previous Mike Brey eulogies. He's lifted his program and proven these reports to be premature every time. As the longest-tenured coach and the one with the most wins in Notre Dame program history, Brey deserves the chance to at least guide his 2018 re- cruiting class through its senior season in 2021-22. He told The Athletic's Seth Davis, "Absolutely not. No way," when asked if he would step down now. Whether Brey's coaching clock runs out after next season, or if that day doesn't come until 2025 when his contract is up, all that remains to jeer and boo about is when this great university ambassador, teacher and coach clears out his office. ✦ Mike Brey Merits Celebration, Not Consternation UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at In the 11 seasons from 2006-07 to 2016-17, Brey's Irish teams won 20 or more games 10 times, qualified for nine NCAA Tournaments, reached two Elite Eights, won the 2015 ACC Tournament and gradu- ated nearly 100 percent of its players. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - April 2021