Analysis: Brey eyes former Irish to fill coaching vacancies

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Success comes with a proverbial price, and the only college basketball coach in the country to take his team to consecutive NCAA tournament Elite Eights the last two years was hit this week with a pretty big bill.

At a time of year when head coaches are afforded the opportunity to dial it back before the summer cycle starts, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey called a press conference Wednesday afternoon to offer a state of the program of sorts.

In a matter of four hours the previous day, two Irish assistant coaches became former Irish assistant coaches.

Former Irish point guard and team co-captain Martin Ingelsby was introduced Wednesday morning as the new head coach at the University of Delaware, the same school where Brey first cut his head coaching chops. Delaware officially announced Ingelsby’s hiring late Tuesday afternoon.

Not long after that, word arrived that Anthony Solomon, who spent 11 years through two stints as an Irish assistant, was leaving for a similar position at one-time Big East colleague Georgetown.

Like that, a coaching staff that had averaged 24 victories with six NCAA tournament trips in seven seasons together had been slashed in half. Seeing half the coaches’ offices sitting empty in late May might have been enough for the head coach to put in for an extended early vacation.

But Brey sees something else. The chance to again hit the reset button on his coaching career. He likened the moves Wednesday to when Notre Dame prepared to jump from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Nobody knew what awaited in the abyss of realignment, but Brey was excited to explore it.

Same goes for losing Solomon, who often played the bad cop to Brey’s good and Ingelsby, whom Brey considers like a son. He’d have been fine having them back for another run in 2016-17, but it was time. Time for Ingelsby to head out on his own and become a head coach; time for Solomon to get closer to his Virginia roots.

Time for change. And change, Brey believes, can and will be good for a staff that had been the same since 2009.

“I’m excited about what I can do with my staff,” he said. “This staff that we had, we maxed it out together. It was an unbelievable ride, but I think reinvention is great for me.”

Expect that reinvention and the new staff members with a fresh outlook and ideas and vision to carry a heavy Notre Dame influence.

For the last three years, Brey often talked about his staff’s future direction with Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. Several of Brey’s former players at Notre Dame had started their own coaching careers. Brey wished for and waited on the day he could potentially bring back one or two, but there was never any openings.

“I’ve thought about a lot of guys,” Brey said. “There’s a few of them out there that are really gifted.”

The staff search starts with a short list of five former Irish. Former captains. Former leaders. That list likely includes former guards Eric Atkins, Ryan Ayers, Ben Hansbrough and Chris Quinn and former power forward Ryan Humphrey.

Ayers is the only current full-time assistant. He’s preparing for his third season at Bucknell. Atkins spent last winter playing in the NBA Development League with the Erie (Pa.) Bayhawks. Hansbrough was coordinator of player development at Western Kentucky last season. Humphrey has been director of player development at Northwestern since 2014 when he replaced Quinn, now an assistant coach with the NBA’s Miami Heat.

Former Irish power forward Harold Swanagan, currently the coordinator of basketball operations, also will be considered to move up a few chairs on the bench.

Brey’s most pressing need is getting someone who can tutor his big men, a role Solomon undertook last season. That may slide Humphrey, a former first team All-Big East power forward, to the front of the line.

All the guys on the short list get Brey. Get the program. And get the place they may eventually return to. That key component may be more important than being able to close on a potential program-changing recruit or finding a hidden gem in the ever-present AAU minefield or getting guys to max out their college careers.

“I’m not looking for a certain personality,” said Brey, who stressed that he had no college recruiting experience when he was hired away from DeMatha (Md.) Catholic High School by Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. “This is a different place. You’ve got to really understand our mission here and how you’re working and our culture, which I love and believe in. Not everybody can work here.

“Having a feel for this place is a key.”

There’s also been no shortage of potential candidates who are not former Irish. Those outsiders with interest peppered Brey’s cell with calls and texts in recent days. Getting to consecutive Elite Eights makes these jobs attractive. So too does the chance to work with a program that has averaged 28 wins the last two seasons.

“There’s been a lot of response, and there should be,” Brey said. “A lot of people want to be part of this thing.”

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Twitter: @tnoieNDI