Ah, at last, a real college basketball coaching candidate! I think?
Mike Brey, who has won 300 games in 14 seasons at Notre Dame, is on the shortlist of coaching candidates with whom Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour would like to speak, according to a report in the South Bend Tribune.
Brey, 55, is coming off a 15-17 season, including 6-12 in Notre Dame's inaugural season in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He won coach of the year honors three times in the Big East.
For those wanting to learn more about his coaching style, this article seems apropos.
You won't see Notre Dame players looking toward Brey in fear after a mistake — they're too busy eyeing their next shot. While many coaches micro-manage every possession, Brey worries how pulling too many strings might make his players tightly wound.
"He's a guy who definitely trusts us and in return that helps us to trust him,'' guard-forward Tim Abromaitis said.
Brey's loose approach helped Notre Dame lead the Big East in 3-point shooting (39 percent) and finish second in scoring (76.0). Bulls executive vice president John Paxson, a Notre Dame star from 1979-83, compared the way Brey corrects players to the way Phil Jackson used to wait until practices to make his strongest points.
"One thing I've noticed with Mike is when a kid makes a mistake on the floor, he lets it go,'' Paxson said. "He'll address it during a timeout or substitution. That leads to kids playing with great confidence. They believe in themselves and you see that in his teams.''
You see a big-time college basketball coach taking the same common-sense, plain-spoken approach he took as a history teacher at DeMatha High School 25 years ago. You see the rare guy in his business whose sense of humor exceeds his sense of importance. You see a coach secure enough in himself to realize sometimes, to reach kids, less is more.
"I do think we're in an era sometimes of over-coaching our game (and) what we've tried to do with our system is teach,'' Brey said. "I think you want to create an atmosphere of, 'Don't let me down.' And we're letting each other down if we're selfish or we take a bad shot.''
This could be good or bad depending on how you look at it.
Positives: He took a football school and made them immediately competitive in the best college basketball conference out there. After missing the Dance for an entire decade, Notre Dame went to the NCAA Tournament in nine of his first 13 seasons (with four NIT appearances to boot). They won the conference his first season and had top four finishes in half of his 14 seasons, which isn't so bad considering that they had to compete against the likes of UConn, Syracuse, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, West Virginia, Villanova...you get my drift. He's played against the best and beaten them.
There's also a realistic shot that Sandy Barbour might have some actual sway here, given the Notre Dame ties. Unlike some of the big fish on our list, we might be able to reel this one in if she can play her cards right.
Negatives: Brey's transition to the ACC did not go smoothly. Notre Dame went 15-17 last season and finished 12th in conference play. Moreover, Brey's final few season of Notre Dame in the Big East had as many good seasons as bad. After finishing in the top three of the Big East his first three seasons, Brey went 7th, 6th, T-11th. An uptick of 4th and T-2nd place finishes was followed by a tie for 9th and a tie for 7th. Good seasons always seem to be followed by bad ones. There's also a real question as to how well Brey would fit in California.
Impediments: But the biggest question is that Notre Dame contract, which I have to imagine is pretty sweet at the moment. Brey is currently tied up with the Irish until 2022. Unless Notre Dame wants to let him go, it's hard to see how this could work up. This would have to be one of those scenarios where the Irish want to change things up. Otherwise it might just be a leverage scenario.
Mike Brey MAY be a candidate at Cal but seems more likely a rumor created by Brey or his people to make it appear he's in demand.— George Dohrmann (@georgedohrmann) April 4, 2014
Conclusions: If you want Mike Montgomery 2.0, Brey makes perfect sense. He's from an academic school and has found a way to produce excellent teams in an elite basketball conference. There's no reason to think he can't replicate those results in Berkeley by finding tough-minded players and molding them into a difficult team to face week-in, week-out.
But it all depends on whether Brey is really interested. And at this point, I'm not sure if he is or not.