As I sit in the wake of yet another inexplicable loss by Notre Dame’s men’s basketball team this season, I reflect back on 45 years of fandom and my experiences both following and reporting on this program. That reflection leads me with only one sentence in response.
There’s no way.
There’s no way any Fighting Irish basketball fan of any stripe has watched this season with any degree of satisfaction. Especially coming as it does in the wake of three similar seasons where Notre Dame has cultivated an embarrassing losing streak against ranked teams and soon-to-be four years of no meaningful postseason presence at all. If you think it was difficult to get people to come out to Purcell Pavilion before the pandemic, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
There’s no way a reasonable person can look at this personnel and envision a miraculous turnaround next year. This is not a team of freshmen and sophomores trying to find a way to win, suffering horrible luck, but using this season as a learning experience springboard to later success. That’s what we were all told the 2017-18 season was. Instead, all the season since, including this one, have been more of the same. If Mike Brey is not reaching these kids after three years, there is zero reason to believe it’s magically going to happen next fall.
Speaking of whom, if he’s being honest with himself, there’s no way Mike Brey can be looking at this and see a successful way out. He’s gone from the mountaintop to the crater in less than five years. He had to fire an assistant for absolutely abhorrent behavior before the year began. He has players who obviously are tuning him out and have been for a couple seasons now. Back in March of 2016 in Philadelphia, faced with the prospect of replacing two key assistant coaches, Mike could have retired as the winningest coach in Notre Dame history and gone out on the highest of high notes. Instead, he took the path of least resistance, hiring inexperienced former players for those critical roles, and it’s been a downhill slide ever since that shows no signs of abating. He’s burned through the goodwill those two Elite Eight appearances got him, and he’s about to burn through what’s left if he hasn’t already.
There’s no way Notre Dame as a program can afford a “Mike Brey farewell tour” with next year’s seniors. If that nationally-ranked class had been followed up by similarly-regarded classes, that would be one thing. Instead, it was followed up with haphazard recruiting, resulting in some completely empty classes either due to no recruits in the first place or the departure of those recruits that did sign on, and there’s little recruiting buzz around the program now. Say what you want about MB’s predecessors, but they left him a solid roster and the commitment of a McDonald’s All-American on which he could build. Asking a potential successor to win ACC games with eligibility gaps, a hyperactive transfer portal, and scholarship players rated in the lower quartile of the conference is a fool’s errand, and no coach of any quality is going to expose his career to that.
There’s no way Jack Swarbrick can look at these performances and determine this is the way a Division One program should perform, no matter what he said last weekend in an interview. He can talk all he wants about “view[ing] last year a little bit differently than others”, but there’s no way anyone who knows anything about basketball would view it in any way other than being in a tailspin. MB may have “found a way to get his team to play really well” in previous years, but not only is that not happening this year, it’ll now be four years since it last happened. Jack’s going to have to do his job rather than whistle past the graveyard and once again give a Notre Dame coach an unnecessary extra year to cement even further the evidence that change must be made.
And if Jack actually does his job and makes the change, there’s no way that succession plan can be “call Newark, Delaware, and be done with it”. I liked Martin Ingelsby as a player and like him even more as a person, and there’s a school of thought he was the one who found the diamonds in the rough like Pat Connaughton and coached them up to success. But I know a lot of season ticket holders, and the general response to a potential Ingelsby candidacy at Notre Dame is, “great, more Brey”. If you’re looking to get butts in the Purcell Pavilion seats once the pandemic is over, hiring Moose, unfortunately, probably isn’t going to do it. The only way it works is for him to completely clean house, bring in fire-breathing assistants who can sell the proverbial snow to a Eskimo, and grab the attention of both the fans and the recruits to get the turnaround started. Even then, the chances of success are lower than anyone would like, and a 90’s-esque decade for Notre Dame basketball truly will kill the program.
As a 25-year season ticket holder and the person who literally wrote the book on this program, I’m here to tell everyone involved in this it’s time to turn the page. Mike should quietly resign after the season and move on to what I can imagine will be a very lucrative broadcasting career. Jack should actually put the effort into finding an experienced successor and be willing to open up the checkbook to create the staff that can succeed here. Because if they let this continue, Irish hoops fans will talk about Mike & Jack like they talk about Digger Phelps and Dick Rosenthal.
And there’s no way either of them want that.
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