When the game is on the line, some coaches tense up. They scream, they yell. But Mike Brey remains calm, having instilled confidence in his players and having built a system in which they have great freedom. Fueled with a competitive streak that belies his fun and easygoing demeanor, Brey has turned Notre Dame into a national contender. When he took over Notre Dame, the school had not reached the NCAA Tournament in a decade. Under Brey the Fighting Irish have qualified for the Big Dance 12 times in 17 seasons, reaching the Elite Eight in 2015 and 2016. And in 2018 he passed the legendary Digger Phelps to become the winningest coach in program history. In this autobiography Brey, the son of educators and athletes, depicts the culture he has created at Notre Dame while profiling his amazing basketball path, having learned from coaching legends Morgan Wootten and Mike Krzyzewski. From the whirlwind turn of events during Matt Doherty’s departure that led to his hiring, to recruiting battles, to changing conference affiliations, to epic NCAA Tournament games against Kentucky and Wisconsin, to defeating Tobacco Road powers en route to winning in the ACC, Brey reflects on his remarkable life and career in Keeping It Loose. That includes growing up in the Beltway, teaching at DeMatha Catholic High School, coaching under Krzyzewski, and guiding Delaware into the NCAA Tournament. Brey shares insider stories and memories of Fighting Irish stars Troy Murphy, Luke Harangody, Jerian Grant, Bonzie Colson, and many more. You’ll learn why the man described as the “loosest coach in America” is also one of its finest.
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About the Author
Mike Brey has coached men's basketball at Notre Dame since 2000 and is the winningest head coach in program history. John Heisler has spent 40 years as a member of the University of Notre Dame athletics staff. He has written or edited several other books on Notre Dame athletics. A former Duke assistant with Mike Brey, Jay Bilas has been an announcer and college basketball analyst for ESPN since 1995.
Read an Excerpt
From the Mock Turtle to the Open Collar
I wore a tie the whole time I was on the Duke staff and my first two years as head coach at Delaware. Then, of course, when I got out to Notre Dame, everybody thought the mock turtleneck was some sort of fashion statement. If you really do your homework on me, I'm not really a fashion statement guy. It was all for comfort reasons. When I was coaching at Delaware, it was in the America East Conference and it was a bus league. A lot of times those bus rides were six hours to Boston University and Northeastern, and it was just a more comfortable way to travel.
In my third year at Delaware when we won our first league championship, we started playing really well. And, man, I'm superstitious, so I decided to keep wearing the mock turtleneck. Then we won it again my fourth year and in my fifth year we got to the championship game. So I figured, I'm riding this out, man. This is the look, and it's comfortable. Even for a home game, you could go out to dinner afterward and you were comfortable.
It's really like the quarter zip that guys wear to press conferences now. And, gosh, it was comfortable. So I stayed with it. When I came to Notre Dame, I heard an awful lot about it. People said: "You are not going to be able to do that at Notre Dame, you cannot do that at Notre Dame."
I did have a tie on at my introductory press conference. I'm not a real style guy and I didn't know much about suits. So David Haugh, the Chicago Tribune columnist, said I dressed like a high school history teacher. It was a great comment. It was kind of a dig, but it's also a little bit of what you see is what you get.
But when the games started, I went back to the mock turtleneck. There was a little pushback from the old guard on that. What was really cool is athletic director Kevin White defended me to some people. I don't think it was this crazy powerful push, and he never said anything to me. But I would get letters — some scathing stuff, saying things like, "That is not a good look. That's not the Notre Dame way. A Notre Dame coach wears a tie." I got a bunch of that. People even sent me ties in the mail.
Then in his first year at our basketball banquet, Jack Swarbrick, White's successor, pulled off his shirt and coat and he had a mock on. It was almost like he was saying it was okay, and he was endorsing me.
I have to admit, I look back at some of the colors I chose back then — like a maroon one and an orange one. My taste, oh my God. I look at some pictures that circulate every now and then and I go, What were you thinking? We played Maryland in the BB&T Classic one year, and I was into wearing a black suit with a black mock. I'm in all black. The Maryland fans on the baseline are going, "What is this? A Night at the Roxbury?" That was the funny movie based off the Saturday Night Live skit where two nerdy guys played by Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan try to dress up in suits and T-shirts to pick up women.
One of the great mock stories was at Boston College, and we were in a dog fight. Al Skinner was the Boston College coach, Matt Carroll was on our team, and the game went to overtime. The BC student section was right at the edge of our bench just like it is now at Conte Forum. It's the only time I have ever reacted to a student section. They were on my butt, yelling: "Wear a tie, Brey. You've got to wear a tie, you no-class such and such." They were all over me.
We had it won with about seven seconds left. We were up six and we were shooting a free throw. So I kind of slowly walked down to the end of the bench, and they were still on me a little bit. And I turned and I said, "How do you like my tie now?" And there were some BC football guys trying to jump the rail. They were coming at me until security got them. I quickly scurried back and sat down. And assistant Sean Kearney gave me this look and said, "What did you say down there?" And I told him, "I shouldn't have said that. I was really stupid, but I had to retaliate one time."
It was definitely not a fashion statement. It was about comfort. What was really great about it, though, is I would go in to buy some clothing in the mall or at Men's Wearhouse, and salespeople would say to me, "Coach, we're selling a lot of mocks. A lot of guys really like your look." And they were serious. I would think, Holy crap. It's not that cool.
Wives came up to me and said, "Coach, I want you to know my husband is really going with your look. It's comfortable; he really likes it." I'm thinking, You have got to be kidding me. Am I starting some kind of movement in town? But it was a thing.
Finally, about four or five years ago, my daughter, Callie, came up to me before the first game of the season. "Dad, the mock is done," she said. "Dad, can I just talk to you honestly?" It was an intervention. She said, "Look, man, I love you. I root for your team. I never comment much on stuff. I've got your back, but you've got to change it up, man. You've got to go to an open-collar dress shirt. You don't have to wear a tie. I'm not telling you to wear a tie, but go open collar."
So I started wearing open-collar shirts with a sport coat. And she kept on me and so did my son, Kyle.
Our marketing staff in 2017 — 18 decided to go for a throwback mock night. Well, I had given all of mine to Salvation Army. They are gone. I have none. So I went out to the mall and I walked in a store, and the guy said, "Coach, what are you doing here?"
I said, "Do you have any mock turtlenecks?"
He said, "Oh, I don't know. If we have any, they'd be back there in the corner on that bottom shelf."
I said, "Thanks." And I was trying to hide. I had my hat on. I walked back, found an XL and a large — one in gray and one in black. I wore the gray one with a black suit on the throw-back night. Of course, they are still hanging in my closet.
Now when someone wears the mock to coach, everybody else says, "Oh, you've got the Mike Brey look." We played Niagara here in South Bend when Joe Mihalich, who is a former DeMatha assistant and a good friend, broke out the mock in the game. He came right over and said, "What do you think?"
Jerry Wainwright from DePaul came over once, too. He wore a mock turtleneck. Leonard Hamilton, the Florida State coach, still wears them.
I even got some comments when we did the throwback mock night in 2017. Some people in town said, "Maybe you should go back to that."
And I said, "Stop, just stop."CHAPTER 2
The Notre Dame Way
What we really try to sell at Notre Dame — and it's been very successful — is a free-flowing offensive style of play, where a player can read and react and not be put in the box and be robotic. And we recruit guys with a high basketball IQ. You can't have a wide-open kind of react offense without guys who have some innate basketball feel and who can catch and pass. That's why we recruit big guys who are good with the ball. So that has been a real selling point. We are able to flow. We shoot it. We let it rip. Guys play with a free mind. They play confidently and fearlessly.
What we've really sold — and I think the senior class in 2017 — 18 was yet another example — is that guys get better here. If you invest with us, you are going to be here four or five years. We're not doing the one-and-dones. It's not always going to be easy, but if you hang with us, you're going to get better. What I have loved is we've had guys who have had great senior years the old-fashioned way.
When prospects are on campus visiting, I have video clips of our guards flowing, free-wheeling, shooting it with confidence from the perimeter. It's our offensive style of play. I have edits of our big guys who touch the ball all over the floor. We don't just put you on the block. You get to touch and catch it. You may even bring it up after a rebound. You may not throw an outlet; you may be able to bring it up.
We have an NBA-like screen-and-roll game. We actually have a quote that I use on the highlight tape for guards, and it's a scout saying, "Brey ball is really NBA ball." We throw that up on the TV before we show the video. We have great archives on our offensive style of play. It's free flowing and it's a system you get better in because you are allowed to do things outside of the box. The sexiness of our offensive style of play has been a big selling point.
There's no question we look for guys who can make a shot and stretch the floor. We want guys who can shoot it and score. We want big guys who can open up the floor. Our biggest thing is spacing. You can't have good spacing unless you have shooting threats on the floor. They won't be respected because the defense will play in the lane. But if you have four threats on the floor at one time, man, your spacing is good. Then, if you do throw it in the post, they can't help. You have driving opportunities because defenses are hugging shooters on the other side.
So I feel like we really have established an identity, and that's great. When I go on the road recruiting now, I will be sitting at a game, and we'll be watching somebody play. And other coaches will come up to me and say, "Well, there must be a great shooter playing in the next game if you're here."
Phil Martelli, the longtime St. Joseph's coach, said to me at a recruiting event, "Hey, I just saw a guy that's definitely a Notre Dame guy. He's just going to Notre Dame. Can you just get it over with?"
I was sitting, watching Robby Carmody in the summer of 2017. Brad Brownell, the Clemson head coach, was there watching him play when he made a bunch of shots and he turned to me and said, "Carmody is out there playing and he looks a lot like Steve Vasturia. So you're telling me I've got to deal with another Vasturia?"
We beat some very strong programs for Class of 2018 power forward Nate Laszewski. He chose us in part because we play stretch fours. I can show footage of guy after guy who was a stretch forward for us and how Bonzie Colson developed into that. Our style of play won out on that.
I'm fortunate that now I've been at Notre Dame for a while and I have finally started to have guys who played for me who are now ready to be assistant coaches. I was anxiously awaiting the time to be able to put the staff together like we have it now.
Ryan Ayers and Ryan Humphrey were warming up in the bullpen for me, and then one day a couple of years ago, I had two guys — Anthony Solomon to Georgetown and Martin Ingelsby to Delaware — leave for other coaching jobs. It was an unbelievable perfect storm of getting your guys back.
I had Sean Kearney and Gene Cross before that. We've always had a really good staff here. But it's really neat now that I am able to pick from a pool of my former players. And so when a Rod Balanis leaves to be a head coach, we've got an Eric Atkins there being trained, and you've got some other guys out there who will reach out and may want to come back.
I tried to hire Chris Quinn, but he is on the NBA track. He's going to be an NBA head coach someday, and we're really proud of him. But it's so powerful right now to watch Harold Swanagan, Humphrey, Ayers, and Atkins interact with our current guys, knowing they all have been through all the same things at Notre Dame.
Sometimes they can do some things that I can't. They can have some one-on-one conversations that accomplish some things I can't get done by myself. In 2017 — 18 the T.J. Gibbs-Atkins relationship was really cool. These guys have been through it all, and it's really a powerful setting to watch. These guys know. They get it. They believe in the program. They're loyal. Certainly one of the biggest strengths is they all played for me and can translate. If a guy's struggling with his role or maybe doesn't understand something I'm trying to communicate to them, my assistants can translate because they have been through it all. For this era of players at Notre Dame, I often tell them, "You don't know how lucky you are to have these four former guys around."
And we're lucky to have such great connections to the past. A legend named Franny Collins served as a great D.C.-to-Notre Dame connection for me. He was in the DeMatha gym a lot. I never really knew him when I was playing at DeMatha, even though he was around then. But when I was coaching with Morgan Wootten, he was always there. He was bird-dogging the whole area like he always did.
He went to Georgetown, and he and former Notre Dame coach Johnny Dee were old Army buddies. So he started bird-dogging for Dee, even though Collins didn't go to Notre Dame. And then Digger picked it up and nurtured the relationship. And Collins wanted to help. He was empowered.
Coach Wootten had introduced him to me and told me his background. Collins would come to a practice or a game, and I'd see him afterward, so I had a relationship with him. After practice one day at DeMatha, he came up to me. I was just 24. He was always dressed really well and he opened his coat and pulled out a big pen. He said, "Do you know Austin Carr, Adrian Dantley, Sid Catlett?" He was going through all these Notre Dame players from the D.C. area. "They all signed with Notre Dame with this pen."
I said, "Wow, Mr. Collins, that's unbelievable. All those guys?"
He said, "I was there for every one of them."
I said, "Man, you're good."
So it was so neat that I got the Notre Dame job, and his best advice to me was, "Don't change. Don't ever change. Just please keep being yourself."
We would get him great seats behind the bench when we played at Georgetown during Big East play. Even in the waning years when his eyesight wasn't good, he would come with former Notre Dame forward Collis Jones, and Collis would tell him what was going on.
It meant so much to me. The D.C. pipeline guy — whom I knew when I was the young JV coach and history teacher — was now sitting behind the bench, and I was the head coach at Notre Dame. I always felt so proud, and we won at Georgetown a bunch back in the day. I always felt so good when we could win for our D.C. fans. Certainly, that meant a lot to me, but even more because Collins was there for it, and then he would send me an email about the game.
I felt really close to all those guys. Former Irish forward Tracy Jackson and I were the same year in school. We played against each other when he was at Paint Branch High School. The pressure I felt was that I wanted the D.C. pipeline guys to be proud. Those guys were like, "All right, Mike, get it done for us. Get us going again." So when a guy like Collis emails you and he says that he's proud of the group, that makes me excited about what we're doing.
It was really neat my first summer after getting the Notre Dame job. I went back to the High Point Summer League — back when you could still watch high school stuff — in Adelphi, Maryland. I called up Collis and Bob Whitmore, and they got Adrian Dantley, so I walked into the gym with those three guys. Never have I been more proud. The gym was buzzing. I came in with three of our big-time D.C. guys, and we watched the game. It was really, really powerful.
I certainly knew those guys and I've gotten to know them even better now. We all went to Dantley's Basketball Hall of Fame induction, and I think it meant a lot to him. Dantley's always had a special spot because we're both DeMatha guys. So he's always been supportive.
I can't say enough about John Paxson, the Chicago Bulls' executive vice president; he has been really supportive and communicates a lot. It means a lot coming from him based on who he is and what he's done in basketball. He'll text me and check in after a tough loss. It just feels good that he's proud of our program. So many of those guys have been great. Kelly Tripucka had our NCAA games on radio in Brooklyn a couple years ago.
I get really proud when that old guard of guys who were really good here say, "Man, it's awesome to watch our program again." That's the ultimate endorsement. When those guys reach out and are proud, that makes me feel really good; that's what it's all about. The '90s were tough. Not a lot of those guys probably were talking much about having played at Notre Dame.
But I think we've really gotten some guys back on the bandwagon. You get to know them informally through the reunions. And some of their kids have come to school here now at Notre Dame. We'd see Bill Hanzlik and Rich Branning because they were back on campus. All those guys have been so supportive, and that's the key. When the former players before me are talking us up, man, that's powerful. That means a lot to me. I always felt some pressure because I want them to be proud of what we're doing here, so they can wear their Notre Dame stuff into work after a big win and say, "Hey, man, ACC champions," or, "Hey, we beat Syracuse last night."
I feel we've gotten that back, I really do. And that's as gratifying as anything out there because I really respect the guys who came through here before me. I idolized and watched all of them play as a young guy and I imitated them out on the playground. So it's been really cool to see those guys.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Keeping It Loose"
Copyright © 2018 Mike Brey and John Heisler.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Jay Bilas 11
Chapter 1 From the Mock Turtle to the Open Collar 21
Chapter 2 The Notre Dame Way 27
Chapter 3 The Chase to 400 37
Chapter 4 Growing Up on the Beltway 47
Chapter 5 Working for DeMatha's Master Mentor 61
Chapter 6 The Duke Years 69
Chapter 7 The Delaware Years 87
Chapter 8 Coming to Notre Dame, Finally 103
Chapter 9 The Early Years 121
Chapter 10 Players from the Early Years 143
Chapter 11 Feeling the Burn 169
Chapter 12 Prom the Big East to the ACC 183
Chapter 13 Triumph in the ACC 193
Chapter 14 From Harangody to Grant 209
Chapter 15 Connaughton, Colson, and Co 231
Chapter 16 Coaches vs. Cancer and the NABC 263
Afterword Morgan Wootten 269
Appendix I Mike Brey's Wins Against Ranked Opponents 275
Appendix II Coaching Record 281
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