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.
- 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.