Kyle Brey won't forget family roots as he takes on new coaching challenge
In the whirlwind that enveloped Kyle Brey’s career breakthrough moment on Wednesday, he still had the presence of mind to concoct a sales pitch to make his wife love the move as much as he did.
“All I had to do, when I was down at the job interview, was tell her what the temperature was,” said the 30-year-old, brand new head football coach at Ardrey Kell High School in Charlotte, N.C.
It was a little more difficult to figure out how the Penn High grad was going to tell his father, Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Mike Brey, that Mike’s 1½-year old granddaughter, Olivia, would be relocating some 700 miles away.
“He’s his own man,” a proud Mike Brey said of Kyle, who leaves his current post as Notre Dame’s event manager and Olympic facility program director, less than two months on the job.
And Olivia is one reason his coaching journey has taken him to back to the state Kyle was born and spent the first eight years of his life, when Mike was an assistant basketball coach at Duke.
Kyle had apprenticed in the college ranks for Turner Gill, Charlie Weis, Bo Pelini and, most recently, Urban Meyer last spring at Ohio State since his playing career as a tight end/fullback at the University at Buffalo transitioned into coaching.
Most of the positions came with maximum hours and minimum pay grade. Relocation was so frequent, there wasn’t ever occasion to get attached to the neighbors.
“One night I came home late during spring ball,” Kyle related, “and my wife, Shea, kind of turned and looked at me and said, ‘Hey, when do you think it’s going to slow down?’
“I didn’t have a very good answer. That was my moment to kind of realize that I need to find a way to have some balance in my life with family and football.”
The younger Brey talked over those feelings with Meyer before resigning and coming back to the South Bend area to recalibrate his goals. He eventually shared with his dad that his intention was to wait for the next cycle of high school jobs to come around and then pounce on a good one.
“I was lucky enough to find one in Charlotte,” Kyle said. “It’s a beautiful school. Great people. It just seemed to really click. They’ve got some players down there.”
Three of Ardrey Kell’s most recent football stars ended up playing at Notre Dame — former outside linebacker Prince Shembo and former defensive end Romeo Okwara, the latter a revelation as a rookie for the New York Giants this past season.
Current ND freshman defensive end Julian Okwara, Romeo’s younger brother, is the most recent gridiron standout to find his way to South Bend.
Kyle Brey hasn’t had the chance to research whether there are any more Okwara or Shembo brothers in the pipeline (there are not), but he does know Charlotte well, having had that part of his recruiting area when he was an assistant coach under Pelini at Youngstown State.
At Ardrey Kelly, Brey succeeds Joe Evans, who resigned last month after two years on the job and a 13-12 record. Kyle will teach social studies once he relocates to North Carolina around March 1, then transfer to the physical education department next fall.
“I have (ESPN analyst) Jay Bilas and (former ND player) Matt Carroll on retainer to look out for him,” Mike Brey quipped of the two Carolina residents.
Not that Kyle Brey ever needed watching over.
But he did take pieces from all the college coaches he worked for to shape who he’ll be running the show for the first time.
• On Gill, his college coach and first one to give him a coaching job: “He wasn’t interested in making you the best football player. He was somebody who was much more attuned with where you were spiritually and where that journey was during your college career. It was a very unique perspective.
“And then him giving me my first job in college and kind of showing me the ropes and how it kind of works behind the curtain, and how to be professional and how to bridge the gap between being a coach and a player and being the same age of some of those guys.”
• On Weis: “He taught me how to work hard. He pushed me to the limit. He has an NFL mindset, and it was — in early and out late. And he opened my eyes to what the price is to be great.”
• On Pelini: “Bo does an unbelievable job of getting his players to love him. They buy into him 100 percent.
“You see him screaming on the sidelines all the time, and that’s the way everybody thinks it is, but I’ll tell you what, every time he stood in front of the room, everybody knew he had their back and they had his.”
• On Meyer: “Being with Urban Meyer through the spring was a crash course on how to be a head football coach. He is absolutely unbelievable in how he runs his program.
“There’s an incredible amount of clarity to everything you do every day. It is so well organized, and it is a great experience. That was like going to grad school for being a head coach.”
The most profound influence, though, is a man who coaches a different sport, and who used to sit across the dinner table from him on those occasions when the family actually was able to eat together at home.
“Me and him have talks all the time,” Kyle said of Mike. “And the beautiful thing about our relationship is that when he talks about basketball, he’s the expert. When I talk about football, I’m the expert.
“So then we just end up talking about coaching. And building a staff and building a culture.”
Kyle Brey comes from a family — mother, grandparents, too — whose lifestyles nudged him toward athletics. But it was the process of how his father built and sustained success that made him fall in love with coaching.
“It’s so complicated and it’s so taxing,” Kyle said. “But when you get it right, I think it’s one of the most rewarding jobs you can have.”
Why it turned out to be football and not basketball for Kyle had to do with Penn’s rich football tradition, Kyle said, and the family’s Lithuanian genes kicking in to Kyle’s physiology, when he was in high school playing both sports, according to his father.
“I’ll never forget (former Penn hoops coach) Dean Foster,” Mike Brey related. “He called me when Kyle said he was giving up basketball, because he wanted to concentrate on football. I think Dean thought I was going to intervene and tell him to play basketball.
“I said, ‘Dean I really can’t get involved with this. And to be honest with you, his future’s in football. He fouls way too much in basketball anyway. He was always in foul trouble. I think he needs to put a helmet on.’
“It was refreshing for our family, because he had his own world. I think it was really healthy that it went that way and he was away from the basketball scene. I certainly couldn’t screw him up in football, because I certainly didn’t know much about it.
“But I’m learning from him and I think I’m really going to enjoy it.”