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Friday, April 14, 2006

Fiddling While Hoops Burns

posted by Mike Coffey
Those of you who follow my writing know I beat the improve-the-physical-plant drum loudly and often. Some of you regard it as some kind of excuse mechanism for Mike Brey, and no amount of explanation has proven able to dissuade you of that idea. So if you are of that camp, you may as well stop reading now because I'm not going to say anything you're going to want to hear.

Having said that, I may as well attempt the caveats again. No, the quality of facilities provided by Notre Dame to its basketball programs doesn't affect the day-to-day workings of those programs. It doesn't determine offensive and defensive philosophies chosen by Mike Brey or anyone on his staff. It doesn't help the players perform better on offense or defense. It doesn't add any points to ND's totals in a given game, nor does it subtract from an opponent's totals.

What it does is say to people outside the university how the program is valued. It says to the coaches and players in the program how much their contributions are worth to the community at large. It says to the fans of the program how much the university values their interest.

And it could be that in the near future, the opinions of all those groups will become very important to the not-so-near future of this program.

North Carolina State University is looking for a new basketball coach, and Mike Brey's name has come up associated with that search. I can't speak to the exact interest or lack thereof they'd have in Mike Brey (although I believe it is there), nor can I speak to the exact interest or lack thereof Mike Brey would have in them (although I believe it is there).

But if it were to come to pass that Mike Brey would leave Notre Dame to take that job in the next two weeks, I also strongly believe Kevin White or whomever was in charge of finding his replacement would find the going very rough if they targeted someone of recognized quality. And that is why even people who aren't enamored of Brey's performance at ND need to take notice.

ND would have a lot to explain to any potential candidate for an open head coaching position, such as why they talked about improving the facilities for more than six years and have done nothing. Why in the wake of three straight NCAA appearances and the first Sweet 16 for the program in almost 20 years, no improvements to basketball's practice or playing arenas were even hinted at, while the football program, in the wake of a decade of underachievement and embarassments both on the field and off, got their stadium improved and expanded and their second state-of-the-art practice facility since 1986. Why they demand championship-level performance on the court while making the coach's job difficult off the court.

In short, why they should expect any candidate to take them seriously.

Sure, they could promise the moon in an effort to entice someone. But even if they decided today to move forward with the facilities improvement, it would be at least one year before the first shovelful of earth was moved, and most likely two or three years before any coach or players would have something tangible to use. In the meantime, it would all be promises, and thanks to the lack of movement on those facilities in Brey's tenure, it's logical to believe a coaching prospect of the desired quality would look at those promises with a jaundiced eye. Nothing validates a promise like a bulldozer in action, and that's not going to be available in the near future no matter what the next two weeks bring. And as North Carolina State's search has shown so far, not all coaches are motivated by money.

There are probably coaches who would take the position anyway, given that it would represent such a large step up from where they currently are. But are those candidates of the measured quality you would want at Notre Dame? I think Billy Taylor, for example, is an excellent person and a good coach, and if he moves on to the Penn job in the next couple of days, it'll be a very worthy step up for him. But there is no way he's ready to take the reins at Notre Dame. He doesn't have the game experience, he doesn't have the recruiting experience, and he doesn't have the level-of-competition experience. If Billy Taylor or Scott Drew or any other coach from that level of experience is at Notre Dame as head coach in the next 18 months, the situation for the Fighting Irish will be very very precarious, and after the Decade of Duty Dereliction in the 1990s, such a situation could be very very bad for this program.

Whether or not Mike Brey ends up at NCState, this is an illustration of the problems the Notre Dame basketball program could face in the near future. The school's inaction on the facilities front these last six years have left them with very badly damaged credibility in the eyes of the coaching fraternity, particularly if Brey departs of his own volition.

The time to correct that is now, because whether Mike Brey is enticing recruits with visions of those new underway facilities or they're being used to entice his replacement, they're going to be very needed. And whether that's this time next year or whenever, ND can't afford to be caught without a chair when the music stops.

If it happens now, it may already be too late to correct.

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