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  • Snow Globes

    by Mike Coffey

    Hailing from an old Irish family, I had no shortage of old Irish great-aunts growing up. And like so many old Irish great-aunts, mine were into snow globes.

    Every couple weeks when we’d pile into the station wagon and head over to Canaryville to “make the rounds”, I’d see dozens and dozens of them gathering dust on shelves. Some were ornate objects d’art made of wrought metal and glass, while others were kitschy reminders of such remote climes as Mackinac Island and Lake Geneva and Effingham.

    But to my 10-year-old self, they all had one thing in common: They bored the hell out of me. While they evoked grand memories for my aunts of people and places encountered while obtaining them, they evoked nothing from me but yawns … some stifled, some not. After all, I wasn’t even alive when the events they commemorated took place, so I was more interested in their here-and-now.

    Ah, but if you shook them? That was a horse of a different color. The dusty relics became exciting, vibrant swirls of activity. The older ones even used colorful bits for the snow, and the visions of Christmas still-lifes and other winter scenes came alive in the imagination.

    Desperate to make the trips more palatable to someone at my level of maturity, I always took it upon myself to shake as many of them as I could as often as I could. That is, until the day I dropped and broke Aunt Marge’s favorite globe that was older than my mother, and was unceremoniously forbidden from even breathing on the collection again. But the break, though regrettable, was worth it to me for the enjoyment the activity had provided.

    I was reminded of those globes this week as I was reflecting on the current state of ND men’s basketball. Kayo was taking me to task for attending so few games this season, and while I had a medical excuse for the out-of-conference season, I could give no reason for my absence other than ennui.

    And that’s when it occurred to me: ND hoops, right now, is like my aunts’ snow globes. I have fantastic memories of achievements gone by and the people who got those jobs done. But looking at it in the present, the program feels more like a tchotchke on a shelf, exciting fewer and fewer people by the day and starting to gather dust. And judging by Tom Noie’s recent article in the SBT, I’m not the only one moping and dragging.

    Men’s hoops at Notre Dame will always be fighting disadvantages. Blue and Gold just finished an excellent series detailing a lot of the reasons why, summed up in Ryan O’Leary’s article Saturday and Lou Somogyi’s Tuesday treatise.

    But that doesn’t mean the program should just throw up its hands and concede defeat. To the contrary, it should do whatever it can in the areas that are controllable and not antithetical to the school’s mission to increase the possibilities of success. And right now, the best course of action is to shake that snow globe up, because it’s the only way people are going to get excited about ND men’s basketball.

    The question then becomes: How?

    From my seat, the person in the best position to shake is Mike Brey. While those up the food chain from him bear just as much responsibility for the current situation, they also have other areas of concern. Men’s basketball is Brey’s baby right now, and perhaps action from him will spur the necessary reactions above.

    If he wants to give the program a good shake, he needs to set stronger expectations at every level of the program and make it very clear that failure is not an option. As the old saying goes, if you aim for excellent, at worst you’ll hit good. I’m not sure where we’re going to hit aiming for mediocre.

    To wit:

    • Make the NCAA tournament the goal and be disappointed if it’s not met. No reasonable person is expecting the Final Four every year, but it rankles to hear .500 conference records discussed as if they’re a fait accompli. A couple years ago, Brey put NCAA brackets all over the offices, saying that’s where we should be. I think that was a great idea, and just because it didn’t happen that season doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen going forward.
    • Get a handle on the talent pipeline. Recruiting the last couple of years has been a hodge-podge. It’s one thing to have a mediocre season knowing there’s a top-25 class coming in to give you a boost, it’s another when a lot of the guys coming in are unknowns. If the guys Brey has working the recruits aren’t closing the deals, he needs to replace them with people who do.
    • Goose the scheduling demands. The out-of-conference schedule the past couple years has been a joke. No one demands a constant murderer’s row, but more intriguing matchups should be the rule. Get teams like Dayton or SLU or Xavier into home-and-home deals. Get on the road before the conference schedule starts so we’re not blindsided by it. Get one or two interesting opponents in December at the Joyce Center to get people in the habit of going to games so they fill the seats in January and February. If the budget people react negatively, call them out publicly. Yes, it’s come to that.
    • Give equally on both ends of the floor. I know Brey feels he needs to focus on offense to win, but that just ain’t getting the job done. If he’s not willing or his staff’s not able to evoke the necessary defensive intensity, again, replace them with people who do.

    This program is in desperate need of an energy ratchet-up. The team seems listless and uninspired, and Brey seems tired and haggard. Perhaps it’s a reaction to losing his right-hand-man of 18 years in Sean Kearney, but it can’t be allowed to continue. There’s no buzz around the program, and that’s potentially a short- and long-term disaster.

    Maybe Brey needs to get back into the dorms the way he did when he first arrived. Maybe he needs more charisma on the coaching staff. Maybe he needs to get T’ed up at the next home game to get people’s attention. Regardless, the students and fans need to be grabbed by the sideburns and reminded there’s a reason to get out in the snow and cold to roar for these guys. I wish being good kids was enough, but in 21st Century America, it ain’t.

    Shake those globes, Mike. Because someone has to.

    16 Responses to “Snow Globes”

    1. We are what we are – perched precariously on the bubble year in and year out. Mike B. needs to do a sell job on the Admin. that he can do better with their help, whether that be admissions, facilities, scheduling or whatever (he knows better than me). From my 30,000 ft. view he could use a tough old assistant coach (a Dick Harter type) who knows how to coach defense and rebounding and is not afraid to hurt feelings.

    2. Nice article but the allocation of time to your central image (snow globes) was a bit much.

      In fact out of the 1106 total words in your article you spent 69% of the article on the men's basketball team, 26% on snow globes, and 5% on the transition between the two.

      Eerily similar to the 7-4-1 schedule (58%, 33%, and 8% respectively) you have spoken against before. . .

      :)

    3. Good points. The basketball program is stale. No better evidence exists in my mind than all the empty seats visible at Sunday's home game versus South Florida. When I was at ND in the early 80's the place was packed regardless of our's, or our opponent's, record. To see the lack of interest in South Bend now towards the basketball program is dismaying.

      More alarming to me though is I am starting to see the same apathy intrude into our football program; Mediocre seasons, moral victories substituting for high poll rankings, boring home schedules, no tough road games (except the bi-annual trip to USC of course). To paraphrase Oscar Wilde; ND's administration seems to know the revenue of everything and the value of nothing.

    4. Brey has been here 10 seasons. The program is headed in the wrong direction. Fans don't care, the students don't care, and some fans are actually defending Brey's poor record the last six seasons.

      Brey has only made the tourney two times the past 6 seasons. He has only won 1 game during that time frame. In 10 seasons he has never won 2 BET games in the same season. We are currently rated in the #220's in defensive efficiency(pomeroy ratings) which is a horrendous number.

      It has come to this: We can keep Brey and continue to make the tourney once every three years and continue to have disappointing defenses and craping out in March or we can make a change and actually have some hope for the future.

      Nobody is expecting the Irish to make Elite8's and Final Four's but we should definitely make the tourney 3-4 times each season and actually win games in March. Bring in the Siena coach, bring in the New Mexico coach, bring in the assistant from Wisconsin. The key thing is to bring in somebody!!

      Unless Brey can lead the Irish into the dance this season he should be replaced. Will it happen? Of course not but maybe Brey will resign after another failed season. I'm sure he knows next season will be rough and he might not want to be here for that.

    5. He has had his chance, embraced mediocrity. The w/l record speaks for itself.

    6. Stricly regarding the game day experience…

      Step 1) Decide whether the band is going to play or the DJ is going to spin some cool music during a stoppage in play. This music for 10 seconds/band for 30 seconds Frankenstein does nothing to pump fans up. Band, you rock for being there and cheering, but please come up with some fun basketball only songs that the fans can get into rather than traditional football ones. Maybe even set up a drum set, have a ton of saxes and horns and leave the flutes at home to study.

      Step 2) Get an announcer who will fire up the crowd like an NBA announcer does. No, he doesn't need to be annoying like the Cavaliers' guy. He can even be kind of cool like the Lakers' guy. Just give me someone that has some personality and has a feel for understanding how to carry a crowd through the game.

      Step 3) Have coach Brey get out on campus and develop a relationship with the students. Attend a dorm mass here and there. Eat lunch in one of the dining halls once a week. Do some things that endear you to the students who would more than likely begin turning out in larger numbers for the games.

      Step 4) Start organizing student activities during halftime. Three point contests, score on a professor or lineman from the football team (just go with me here) and other such things for books, pizzas, etc. would start bringing more students back (hardly saw any students save for the band at the USF game on a sunny Sunday afternoon).

      Step 5) If the bluehairs in the audience complain about the accompanying noise and commotion of steps 1 through 4 above(there are many of them if you have gone to a game recently) tell them that you are more than happy to have them turn in their tickets for a refund and sell them to people who want to come see all of the new and exciting things going on at the JACC/Purcell.

      Step 6) Fire the architect, or at least never let him near another project on campus, for not properly levelling the seats near the floor. The first 10+ rows of people on either side of the court are stuck looking at the back of the person's head in front of them due to a virtually non-existent change in elevation from one row to the next.

      Did I miss anything? If so, chime in here.

    7. The bottom line is Mike Brey must GO. How can the university stand for medicore basketball? We are ND it should be better than this.

    8. I played for Dick Harter and let me assure you that the last thing ND basketball needs is someone like him.

    9. Did your teams under Dick Harter play better defense than Notre Dame's teams under Mike Brey?

    10. The bottom line is that Brey must go. He's had ten seasons to show that he's the guy to take ND basketball to the next level, and he's failed miserably.

      Yes, ND basketball battles problems that are not of Brey's making. And in fact, there's still a residual hangover from continuing our independent status too long. But this program should — indeed, must — be better than it is now.

      I've said it before and I'll say it again here: being a child of the 70's, I grew up thinking that ND never lost in football, and rarely lost in mens' basketball. Can the basketball program get back to its level from the 70's? I'm not sure if it can on a consistent basis. And in any event, I certainly don't expect that to happen right away. But it certainly can be better than it is now, even right away.

      Like the football coach when I was a student, Gerry Faust, Brey is an admirable person. But as a coach, he's something less than that. Time to bring in some new blood.

      If you want to shake up the snow globes, that's the best way to go.

    11. I would concede that Harter might improve the defensive intensity for ND, especially since there doesn't seem to be any on this or recent ND teams. Harter was not a team-oriented guy and he was more muscle than defensive strategy. He wanted to beat people up in games and so that is what we did to each other in practice every day. It did not translate into many extra wins and certainly was no fun. My old team mates still have nightmares about those practices……

      Maybe Harter has mellowed in his old age. I have spoken with him just a few times in the last 25 years, but I can't believe he would help ND.

    12. Mike Brey is such weak sauce. I realize Notre Dame will never be a hoops school, but Digger demonstrated that the school can be nationally relevant. It's no longer part of the discussion. Time to change the channel. Charlie Weis is histo … now it's Brey turn to go. Two words – Bryce Drew.

    13. Hey Jerome,

      I'm sure playing for Harter was not much fun. My point, and I probably could have pick a better candidate, is that ND's defense is so soft that I believe a tougher, more old school coach, would be beneficial. You must watch these games and think the same thing I do after some plays – "My old coach would have physically yanked me off the floor if I played D like that."

    14. As for possible coaching candidates, Dick Harter is definitely way too old. Bryce Drew, OTOH, is too inexperienced. I want somebody who has previous Division I coaching experience. I might be tempted by Bryce's older brother, Scott Drew, at Baylor, although some of my friends who follow Big XII basketball counsel to stay away from him.

    15. Another thing that irks me is the notion that we can never win in basketball because "we're a football school." To that, I say in rebuttal: Florida. LSU. Michigan. Ohio State. Oklahoma. Texas. Football schools, all, right? Yet each of these "football schools" has made the Final Four at least once since 1993, all save Michigan have made the Final Four at least once since 2002. And Florida has been the only school to win back-to-back national titles since the close of Wooden's glory days.

      Nobody is expecting the kind of run of sustained NCAA tournament success that a school like Duke or North Carolina routinely puts together. But I would like to see us get back to where we were in the 1970's, i.e., annual NCAA tournament appearance all but a foregone conclusion; contender for the Sweet 16 every year; contender for the Final Four once-twice per decade. Tennessee and Texas are illustrative programs in that regard: both "football schools," and both with less overall basketball tradition than ND, yet they've managed to pass ND in basketball stature in recent years. This should be a cause of embarrassment for the administration.

    16. judgeirish says:

      Mike Brey is one of the finest human beings, mentors of young men and coaches at du lac. He should be an icon and not the oject of any villification.

      When it comes to being just a plain simple good guy and honorable man, look no further than he and his wife hosting the roster at their home on nights when, because of their schedule, they are on campus when their fellow students have left for break or when it is a holiday (New Year's Day, etc.) when a youngster could get caught doing somewthing he would later wish he hadn't.

      As far as helping his charges reach maturity, all one has to do, as recent examples, is look to Kyle McAlarney or Carlton Scott. Both these two fellows were on the precipice of taking the wrong turn after having acted out, not atypically, like a teenager. Coach Brey literally steered them both back on track. Most of us would be proud to have saved one person in our lives. The Coach has more than doubled that.

      Additionally, I suggest that it has been a rare, rare occasion when one of his charges had academic trouble. This is truly an accomplishment. Our hard court team has a rigorous away schedule during the second semester, and, yet, when is the last time one can remeber a kid having an issue with his grades. That is not a magic coincidence. That is Coach Brey.

      As far as his coaching acumen, although there are many, many similar examples from the past decade, let us not forget what he has recently done with three recruits that were hardly top 100 blue chippers out of high school. He has taken a big 6' 8" lug from Merrillville, IN and helped him become one of the best college basketball players in the country. He took a 5'11" (?) kid from Detroit and helped him become a true floor general and team leader in both energy and basketball IQ. He has helped a skinny 6'8" kid from Connecticut find his game and become the most improved player in the nation. Furthermore, within the last two weeks, following an unfortunate injury to 'Gody, he has remolded a team given up for lost into one helluva an impressive unit. Lastly, forget not that within the last handful of seasons he was twice selected by his peers as Big East "Coach of the Year."

      Coach Brey, like all of us is, however, certainly not perfect. I think there are two constructive criticisms. The first is that, of late, his recruiting ability does seem to be waning, but I contend that this has not become the rule and that one or two talented bodies will quickly solve this issue.

      I believe the most legitimate "complaint" about Mike Brey is that when he is coaching a star, (i.e. Chris Thomas, Kyle McAlarney, Luke Harangody, etc.) he tends to rely too much, particularly offensively, on that player. As he has shown of late, he obviously has a wonderful ability to teach true team basketball, and when he has a top athlete he should better integrate him into a team scheme and not vice versa.

      Nevertheless, to reiterate my comments above, I am enormously proud that Mike Brey is associated with my alma mater, and I sincerely hope he continues to be so for his entire career.

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