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NCAA WEST REGIONAL Notre Dame vs. Arizona, Today, 4:25
p.m. Duke vs. Kansas, Tonight, 6:55 p.m.

Brey Joins Big Fish at Pond

Notre Dame coach, in the same regional with Williams, Krzyzewski and Olson, doesn't feel like odd man out.

March 27, 2003|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

A review of the coaches for today's West Regional reveals:

Kansas' Roy Williams has 415 wins and the highest winning percentage among active Division I coaches and in April will be presented the John R. Wooden Legend of Coaching Award.

Mike Krzyzewski of Duke has 663 wins and, in 2001, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Arizona's Lute Olson has 690 victories and was enshrined in Springfield on Sept. 27.

Mike Brey is the basketball coach at Notre Dame.

As a quartet, Brey's name in this luminous lineup rolls off the tongue like John, Paul, George and Carrot Top, but this is not someone you want to underestimate.

"They put their shorts on just like I do," Brey, 44, said Wednesday of the legendary coaching cast he is up against.

You could say Notre Dame vs. Arizona and Kansas vs. Duke at the Arrowhead Pond involve three coaches and a coach.

In reality, what Brey has accomplished in three years at South Bend allows him to sit very comfortably at this table.

Basketball success is demanded at Kansas, Arizona and Duke -- at the expense of football -- while hoop success at Notre Dame is nice so long as it doesn't overshadow spring football.

The Irish had both programs going strong in the 1970s with Dan Devine in football and Digger Phelps in basketball, but keeping two sports prosperous at once is more often like a plate-spinning act.

Notre Dame went 11 years without an appearance in the NCAA men's tournament before Brey arrived in 2000. He has led the Irish to three consecutive bids and the school's first Sweet 16 appearance since 1979, but you have to keep this all in perspective.

In December, Notre Dame's basketball team defeated Maryland and Texas on consecutive days but hardly made a news dent because these fabulous feats were performed the weekend the final bowl championship series football standings were released.

"I don't think anybody knew what happened," Brey said. "That's not a bad thing sometimes."

In fact, Brey says playing basketball at a football school buys you a little time.

"If you're getting your butt beat in December, nobody's watching because they're watching your football team," he said.

Notre Dame actually has been serious about basketball for, oh, three or four years now.

In 1999, the school hotly pursued Utah Coach Rick Majerus, one of the game's best coaches and a year removed from his Final Four year. Majerus wanted the Notre Dame job badly and thought he was going to get it until the Irish backed off, partly because of some flip comments Majerus made about gambling in his autobiography.

The Irish then considered a bright young coach from Delaware -- his name was Brey -- but decided on Kansas assistant Matt Doherty.

Brey, who attended DeMatha High in Maryland and was raised Catholic, thought his dream job had passed him by.

"I was very happy at Delaware, but you just figure that one won't come around," he said of Notre Dame. "Then, all of a sudden, a year later...."

A year later, Bill Guthridge resigned at North Carolina, setting off a coaching chain reaction. Roy Williams agonized over taking the job before turning it down, and then North Carolina targeted ... Matt Doherty.

After one year at Notre Dame, Doherty took off.

Kevin White, the Irish's new athletic director, remembered the coach at Delaware.

Brey will never know what might have been had Williams taken the North Carolina job and Doherty not left South Bend.

"I might be coaching the Wizards," he joked.

As it turned out, Notre Dame hired a wizard.

Brey had for years been working minor miracles at Delaware and could not have invented better lineage.

At DeMatha, he played and then coached for the legendary Morgan Wootten.

"I was with him every day for five years," Brey said. "It's like getting your masters at Harvard."

Brey caught another break in the 1980s when Duke's Krzyzewski visited DeMatha to recruit Danny Ferry.

Krzyzewski also noticed a young coach on Wootten's staff -- Mike Brey.

"I went to a lot of practices," Krzyzewski recalled Wednesday. "I saw what a good coach he was ... and he was a really good guy."

When a spot opened on the Duke staff, Brey got the call.

"It was an easy decision even though he was an assistant coach in high school," Krzyzewski said.

Brey hit the apprenticeship daily double.

"I've stolen a lot from both of them," Brey said of Coach W and Coach K.

Brey spent eight years at Duke and was on staff for Blue Devil national titles in 1991 and 1992.

Krzyzewski, though, has never been in business of keeping assistants.

"One of the things he made very clear when he hired me back in '87 is that he didn't want anyone coming down there who did not want to be a head coach," Brey said. "And I'm thankful he let me get my hands on all facets of the Duke program."

It would eventually become Notre Dame's good fortune.

Brey took the head job at Delaware in 1995 and twice in five years led the Blue Hens to the NCAA tournament.

He was ready for his big shot at Notre Dame, even if it was delayed a year.

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