Mike Brey, winningest men’s coach in Notre Dame history, to step down after season

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Another one of college basketball’s recognizable faces on the sideline is preparing to say goodbye.

Mike Brey, the winningest head coach in Notre Dame history, is stepping away from the program at the conclusion of the season, the program announced Thursday. 

After 23 seasons in South Bend, the 63-year-old is ready for a new chapter in his life. For more than two decades, Brey has been the face of Notre Dame men’s basketball, and he should be remembered as the man who resurrected the program from a state of irrelevance and made it a regular in the NCAA Tournament. When Brey took over for Matt Doherty in 2000, the Irish were mired in an 11-year Big Dance drought that dated back to the Digger Phelps era in 1990.

Enter Brey, who led the Irish to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first three seasons, including a Sweet 16 trip in 2003. 

Brey won at least 20 games in 16 of his 23 seasons in South Bend. He was also Big East Coach of the Year three times and national coach of the year with a 27-win team in 2011.

His most memorable Irish runs came in 2015 and 2016, when Notre Dame went to back-to-back Elite Eights behind the likes of Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Demetrius Jackson, Zach Auguste, Bonzie Colson & Co. 

Before those two runs, the Irish had not advanced that far in the tournament since 1979.

In recent years, Brey’s program has taken a dip. While an epic win over Rutgers in the First Four, and an ensuing victory over Alabama, produced an appearance in the Round of 32 last season, it’s the only time Notre Dame has made a postseason appearance in the last five years.

The Irish entered this season with some promise and were picked sixth in the ACC Preseason Poll. An 8-3 start was encouraging, but Notre Dame is 1-7 in ACC play and has hit a significant decline once again.

An 82-74 loss to a lowly Florida State team on Thursday, a game in which the Irish fell behind 32-8 at home, may have marked the gut punch for Brey. Afterward, he went on a long rant about how he felt like he was not sure where to turn, and said he’s spoiled his players too much. 

“We’ll keep working hard, stay positive, and keep fighting. That’s all we can do,” Brey said after the loss. “We’ll talk more on Thursday, and figure out a plan moving forward.”

That plan is for Brey to step away from coaching, and he is the latest well-known coach to say goodbye to the stresses of college basketball in the ever-changing world of the transfer portal and NIL. 

Asking a couple of coaches across the country about Brey’s impact, here’s what they had to say: 

  • “He is a pro! A coach that gets it! He understands the student-athletes and understands the mission of college athletics. We don’t have many real ones. Mike Brey has been one of them.”
  • “A great coach so he never took himself too seriously in a profession that is really good at doing that. Had a unique perspective amongst college basketball coaches who are generally way too self-important. And he thrived because of it.”
  • “I once heard him speak to a bunch of coaches. They asked him about setting team rules. He said, “We have a sign in the locker room at Notre Dame that says ‘Take care of your schoolwork and the basketball, and we’ll get along just fine.”

Brey got his start in college coaching as an assistant under Mike Krzyzewski from 1987-95. Back in 2019, Krzyzewski said this of Brey: “Mike helped develop our program. He was an integral part of us winning consecutive national championships and going to seven Final Fours in nine years. Mike Brey, Tommy Amaker … Those guys were amazing.”

Brey got a head coaching job as a result, taking Delaware to a pair of NCAA Tournaments on three straight 20-win seasons from 1998-2000 before getting the Notre Dame job. 

As for where the Irish turn from here, it will be interesting to see what athletic director Jack Swarbrick does. This is the second major opening in college hoops next to Texas, but not at the same level as the Longhorns, who are currently ranked No. 7 in the AP Top 25. The Irish are somewhere in the neighborhood of a top-40 job. 

For now, it’s the end of an era that lasted nearly a quarter-century, with far more success than losses and the program’s winningest coach in Brey. 

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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