Friedlander: Pat Kelsey is the perfect fit to be Mike Brey's successor at Notre Dame
Winning is a prerequisite for any successful coach. But it’s not the only requirement for longevity.
In order to remain at one place for an extended period of time, if not an entire career, a college coach must also have a personality and style compatible with those of the school at which he works.
Mike Brey and Notre Dame have maintained just such a relationship over the past 23 years.
A Catholic kid who doesn’t take himself too seriously, fancies himself as a teacher as much as a coach and boasts a basketball resume that includes an apprenticeship at the side of Mike Krzyzewski, Brey has stayed in South Bend long enough to earn 481 victories and become the winningest coach in school history.
He’s led the Irish to an ACC championship, 13 NCAA Tournament appearances and a pair of Elite 8s.
If anyone knows what it takes to coach at Notre Dame, he’s the man.
That’s exactly why athletic director Jack Swarbrick plans to seek his input now that the search has begun for his replacement. Brey announced last week that he plans to step down at the end of the season, saying he’s reached his “shelf life” with the program.
“The program needs a new voice,” he said Monday on the ACC’s weekly coaches video conference. “I’m going to finish with these guys and then help in the process of hiring the next coach here, as my athletic director would love me to do. And I’d be honored to do it.”
Brey hasn’t dropped any hints about the qualities he would like to see in his successor. Or if he prefers it to be someone with ties to the program.
His comments Monday and the conversations he’s had with the 3 recruits committed to the Irish for next season suggest that it will likely be someone in his own image.
“I made it very clear. I told them that this is about you and how I can help you move forward,” he said. “If Notre Dame is still something you want to consider and meet the new coach, let’s do it. I’ll be involved in the process and I’ll keep you posted on the candidates and stuff like that.”
There shouldn’t be any shortage of candidates lining up for the job.
Although the Notre Dame brand doesn’t hold as much weight in basketball as it does in football, it’s still a prime job in a big-time conference with the resources and tradition to contend for championships.
Unlike football, in which the successor to the school’s all-time wins leader Brian Kelly was hired from within, there is no Marcus Freeman on Brey’s staff.
Among the most frequently mentioned early candidates are former Notre Dame players, including Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams, Miami Heat assistant Chris Quinn and Delaware coach Martin Inglesby, along with others such as John Beilein, Micah Shrewsberry, Bobby Hurley, Porter Moser and even Rick Pitino.
All of those coaches have solid credentials and many are familiar with the school’s unique culture. But when it comes to finding a coach that’s just the right fit, 1 name stands out as the obvious choice.
As a Catholic school product who rooted for Notre Dame as a youngster and played college ball at Xavier, where he also began his coaching career under the highly-respected Skip Prosser, he’s well versed in what it means to represent Notre Dame.
His energetic personality, which he once said could “make coffee nervous,” has the potential to ignite a badly needed spark of energy into the Irish – just as it has at his current school, College of Charleston.
More than that, he has the coaching chops to get Notre Dame, which is 9-11 (1-8 ACC) heading into Tuesday’s game at NC State, back on the winning track in a hurry. Especially with a fertile transfer portal from which to draw.
In just his 2nd season in Charleston, following 9 successful years at Winthrop, the 47-year-old Ohio native has his team at 21-1 and ranked No. 18 in the nation – with their only loss coming at North Carolina in November.
His Cougars play an exciting, fast-paced style that averages 80 points and 30 3-point attempts per game. They also rank 6th nationally in offensive rebounds.
With a career record of 223-111, 6 20-win seasons to his credit and young enough to have a long shelf life wherever he goes, there’s a good chance Kelsey will have his pick of available high Division I gigs this offseason.
Not many of those potential destinations, however, would hold the allure as Notre Dame for someone with his background.
Just as it did for the coach he’d be replacing.