Who's in line to replace Mike Brey at Notre Dame? It might not be such a long list
College basketball’s biggest day (Sunday) was just another one for the Notre Dame men’s program. Same goes for the next three weeks, the best time of year in the game, which is met with a shrug across a sleepy campus currently on spring break.
When will all of it again matter? Might be a few years.
We can debate all day how and why the Irish got here and who’s responsible for this current tire-fire state, but that is so last year, and last year’s so over. It expired in early March when a season to forget (11-21 overall, 3-17 Atlantic Coast Conference) ended with a first-round loss in the league tournament. That game, that night, marked the end of Mike Brey’s 23-year run as head coach.
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The former head coach continues to clean out his Rolfs Hall office, the returning roster weighs its future/fate in the transfer portal (don’t look) and the program remains relatively rudderless 54 days after Brey announced that he was done.
How Notre Dame arrived here seven years after consecutive Elite Eights, six years after playing for an ACC tournament championship a second time and one year after winning a school record 15 league games is not important. It happened. It’s here. Own it. What is paramount is where/how everything goes with the new coach, with the new staff, with a new collection of players that basically needs to build back this program from nothing.
This isn’t a teardown. It's a complete start over. With a new foundation. With fresh paint. A fresh view. With a new foreman (head coach) in charge of everything that can restore what it was in 2015 and 2016 — and maybe something more one day way down the line.
How does Notre Dame get back there?
Continued conversations over the last six weeks with myriad sources — former college coaches, current college coaches, former Irish players, industry sources, others in the know of how this process and that place works — through text messages, emails, phone calls and special hand signals (kidding) have offered a rough outline of where athletic director Jack Swarbrick might turn, maybe as soon as early next week, for the program’s 18th head coach.
Getting concrete information on this process is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube (ask your parents) in the dark. That’s good. That means the process is locked down and working. Maybe.
A consensus of where it leads seems to point toward hiring a current mid-major head coach who won’t be put off by asking the administration for this and this and this but is allowed/offered only that. A mid-major coach who will accept/understand that parameters of the job. A mid-major coach who will work hard and (maybe) win. A mid-major coach who, like Brey long did, accepts/understands where Notre Dame men’s basketball sits in the athletics pecking order.
As of now, that next head coach group includes only Drake’s Darian DeVries or Matt Langel from Colgate. Penn State’s Micah Shrewsberry is intriguing and may be the clubhouse leader, but Notre Dame might not come anywhere close to matching the financial commitment Penn State is expected to make to Shrewsberry.
Is it really two guys? Or is it a smoke screen for somebody we don’t see coming? That list seems too easy. Too neat. Too simple. Too just there. Both coaches were early/natural possibilities the January day that Brey walked away. Does Swarbrick’s search — without aid of any outside counsel — really run only two, maybe three deep?
If it does, ask yourself, how good is this job?
Is there a mystery candidate out there?
Seeing/hearing only those three core names on repeat for weeks leads you to wonder if there might be a candidate or two that nobody sees coming. Like, this guy is taking that job? Swarbrick is expected to take a big swing at what likely is his final big hire before his contract expires at the end of the 2024-25 academic year.
DeVries and Langel are solid, aren’t necessarily the biggest of swings. More like ground-rule doubles or legged-out triples. But the biggest swing (Shrewsberry) may take one look under the program hood and decide that, yeah, I'm good.
On Jan. 20, Brey sat in the football interview room of Notre Dame Stadium and talked of how it was time for the program to have a new voice. A new direction. A new leader. In the room that Friday afternoon was Swarbrick, who through a spokesperson declined to take questions from the media. He’s chosen not to speak publicly about the job/process until a new basketball coach is in place — or how the football offensive coordinator hiring process suddenly went sideways and an email was needed (again, kidding).
Brey’s announcement allowed Notre Dame to get an early start on the process. Potential candidates were vetted over the final seven weeks of the regular season through agents or other intermediaries. Names that were tossed into the early pool of possibilities were quietly considered/eliminated along the way.
Last month, rumblings had it that Iowa’s Fran McCaffery (a former Irish assistant coach) and Oklahoma’s Porter Moser were really interested. Neither got off the search process ground. Charleston’s Pat Kelsey and Steve Pikiell from Rutgers, also early possibilities, subsequently signed contract extensions that eliminated them from consideration. Word is that Kelsey had already been scratched off by Notre Dame early in the process.
End of an era:Notre Dame gave all it could, but it wasn't enough to extend Brey's tenure
Former Irish players/assistant coaches Ryan Humphrey and Martin Ingelsby are not involved. Neither was former Irish associate head coach Anthony Solomon. Creighton’s Greg McDermott (or his representation) is said to have reached out. It really didn’t go any further.
Coaches currently in the NBA with varying degrees of Notre Dame ties — Dallas assistant coach Sean Sweeney, former Irish point guard and current Miami assistant Chris Quinn and Monty Williams from Phoenix — also are not serious options for varying reasons.
Who might be that stealth hire? Run down the current list of the 352 Division I head coaches. Outside of the four mentioned, no name jumps up and screams Hire me!
There have been whispers that Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann (no), who has done less with more but would be expected at Notre Dame to do more with less, might be interested. Same with — hold on — Kentucky’s John Calipari (seriously). He’s not getting a green light from the administration. Maybe Bobby Hurley has grown tired of all that sun out at Arizona State and is ready for a career reboot. Or Utah State’s Ryan Odom decides it’s time to make a move back to his ACC roots.
The coaching carousel is rolling with openings coming quickly at Georgetown and St. John’s, Texas Tech and Wichita State. There will be others. Notre Dame had a head start on everyone except for Texas. Going this long means Notre Dame is likely waiting for someone's season to end in the NCAA tournament. That could come as soon as Thursday.
The process and the time Notre Dame has had to work it has to pay off, right?
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.