6:59 am, June 19, 2012
SOUTH BEND — He stood at the podium that hot July afternoon in 2000 dressed in a blue suit with a gold tie and talked of doing a good enough job so that it would be the last stop of his college basketball coaching career.
He sat Tuesday morning at a dais inside the Purcell Pavilion auditorium dressed in a sharp gray suit, open-collar blue dress shirt but no socks and discussed his final contract extension at the University of Notre Dame — a 10-year deal that begins July 1 and runs through June 30, 2022, at which point Mike Brey will have completed a school-record 22nd season.
Not long after he stepped through the back receiving door of the old Joyce Center as the program's third coach in as many years that Friday afternoon nearly 13 years ago, Brey insisted that if he handled everything the right way — and there was a whole lot to handle — there would be no reason to ever update his resume.
“It's looking more like we've handled it the right way,” said the three-time Big East coach of the year and the 2011 national coach of the year who has helped shoot a whole lot of life into a program so desperate for it when he arrived. “I'm honored and thrilled that this can be the last stop.”
Brey is 260-132 in 12 years at Notre Dame. Over the last six, the Irish are 100-7 at home and are the only Big East team to go undefeated (18-0, 17-0) at home over two consecutive seasons. Kansas is the only other school in the country besides Notre Dame perfect at home in three of the last six seasons.
Pre-Brey, Kansas and Notre Dame had no business being mentioned in the same basketball breath.
“The one thing that is really powerful to me is the basketball world, the basketball community, really respects our program and how we do business,” Brey said. “ I can confidently say that I don't think there's a program that's more respected than ours. That's something you're proud of.”
Notre Dame is on a current run of sustained Big East success that the program could have only dreamed of when former athletic director Kevin White picked Brey over P.J. Carlesimo to replace Matt Doherty, who left for North Carolina after one season.
Notre Dame has won at least 20 games each of the last six seasons, has won at least 10 games in the Big East each of the last three seasons with three consecutive trips and five of the last six to the NCAA tournaments. The Irish followed a school-record tying 14 league wins and 27 overall, the most in the modern era, in 2010-11 with 13 league victories last season. That included a school-best nine-game conference win streak.
With a highly-touted recruiting class set to join a starting lineup that features all five starters back in 2012-13, much is expected of a Notre Dame program that wandered through 11 seasons without an NCAA tournament trip prior to Brey's hiring. Once considered a Big East bottom-feeder, Notre Dame could be one of the preseason favorites this fall to win its first league championship.
As high as the expectations might be of the program on the outside, they are even higher inside the Irish basketball and administrative offices. As good as the last few years have been, greatness is expected.
“We're in the business to win NCAA Championships and if I didn't think Mike Brey could win an NCAA Championship in basketball, we wouldn't be sitting here today,” said university vice president and director of athletics Jack Swarbrick. “I believe he can. I believe this program can.”
The 53-year-old Brey also believes it. Neither coach nor athletic director would have shared such sentiment a half-dozen years ago when the Irish were scrambling to establish their place in the Big East. Three trips to the post-season National Invitation Tournament left many wondering if Brey was the long-term solution or the problem.
But the recent run of the 20-win seasons, a perfect graduation rate, the improved efforts in recruiting, the respect the program has inside the Big East and around the country, has everyone embracing and believing in Brey's motto of dreaming big dreams.
Notre Dame has appeared in one NCAA Sweet 16 during Brey's tenure (2003) and has not experienced a Final Four since its lone trip in 1978.
“The last six years and where we're at and how we're recruiting and how it's coming together and what our guys are talking about, that's something realistic,” said Brey, who thinks daily of how to play deeper each March. “That wasn't realistic my first five years.”
Swarbrick was an outsider for Brey's first eight years, but he knew plenty about him. In his dealings with the NCAA as an Indianapolis-based lawyer, Swarbrick heard from almost everybody about the Irish head coach.
“You always heard them talk in terms of he's the best guy in the business or his values are unbelievable,” Swarbrick said. “He is a guy that represents the best of college basketball and embraces the values of this place.
“What I didn't know was what a great coach he was.”
Swarbrick learned that soon after arriving in the summer of 2008. As the Irish men's basketball team prepared for a foreign tour of Ireland, Swarbrick occasionally dropped by practice. What he observed in Brey was someone who had strayed little from his roots as a former high school teacher. Everything done in practice was done with a purpose.
“There's not a lot of dramatics,” Swarbrick said. “It's not a lot of yelling, but it's really very clear instruction, very clear expectations.”
Swarbrick needed to watch only a handful of workouts that year to come to a conclusion.
“He's the right guy for here,” he said of Brey.
Like any athletic director, Swarbrick keeps a working mental list of potential coaches he might hire should he lose one in a given sport. Each time he tried to muster up one for men's basketball, he was left with unacceptable options. No one measured up to his current coach.
“That just said to me, I really need to make sure that this guy stays with our program,” Swarbrick said.
As for that coaching wish list for men's basketball?
“We,” Swarbrick said, “burned it.”
“I burned mine, too,” said Brey, who has never actively sought another job during his Notre Dame tenure.
The framework of the contract extension, even one that stretched double digits in length, was first discussed between Brey and Swarbrick last summer. But as basketball season arrived in October, both decided to table any further talks until after a season in which the Irish finished 22-12.
By season's end, it was only a matter of time before the extension was finalized. Terms were not disclosed.
Brey has never signed more than a two-year contract extension during his time at Notre Dame. But giving him so many more years never gave Swarbrick cause for concern.
“It is so hard to establish the culture of a successful collegiate program in any sport,” Swarbrick said. “When you get it and when you get it as right as this one is, you really want to embrace it. The hard stuff is building a foundation.
“Mike's done all the hard work. He just has to win six games in March now.”
With an opportunity to take the Notre Dame program to new heights, and maybe one day leave as the winningest coach in school history, Brey touched Tuesday on his legacy when he ultimately decides to retire his mock turtleneck.
“A teacher and a guy that's helped guys get better and somebody they can talk to and somebody they can have a beer with,” Brey said. “It's simple. It's not real complicated for me.”
Never has been, and likely never will be.