Notre Dame's search for men's basketball head coach Micah Shrewsberry was nice and neat
Nothing was finalized to the point where it was official — that would happen soon enough — but everything about the Notre Dame men’s basketball program had changed.
Thursday dawned damp and foggy and otherwise ugly around these parts, but the dark clouds of discontent that had smothered the Irish program the previous nine weeks seemingly lifted.
Notre Dame has a new head coach — Indiana native Micah Shrewsberry — and with it, a new disposition. A new direction. A new everything. It was if the festering fog lifted, the sun peeked out and the birds started singing. It is indeed spring, a time of new beginnings, especially for this program.
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News broke early Wednesday evening that the 46-year-old Shrewsberry, who spent the last two seasons pumping new basketball life into Penn State, was finalizing a deal to become the 18th head coach in Notre Dame program history. He will succeed Mike Brey, the winningest coach in program history who decided in January to walk away after 23 seasons.
January marked the end of the Irish line for Brey and the beginning of the search for his successor. In the coming weeks, Shrewsberry would steer Penn State on a late-season push that included its first Big Ten tournament championship game appearance. It went to the NCAA tournament and won a first-round game. Neither had happened for the Nittany Lions since 2011.
Shrewsberry was one of the hottest coaching names in the game. Long before he became a name, he was THE name for Notre Dame.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick and his in-house advisory staff didn’t suddenly decide Monday — two days after Penn State lost its second-round game to Texas — to pursue Shrewsberry. Hey, that guy might be a good idea. No. The hiring table was set for Shrewsberry soon after Brey announced that this season was it for him. The start to finish process was extensive, but it could be when there were still so many weeks remaining in the regular season. It likely also was exhaustive with Swarbrick and his staff talking with these agents and those industry sources and finalizing a target list of about 15 realistic candidates.
In the end, it all looked and felt and seemed so easy. Seamless. Clean.
Coaching searches this high-profile/high-stakes rarely run as smoothly as this one. Look at the search for the next offensive coordinator on the football side for evidence. That took some turns. That got messy. From the fans’ perspective, ugly.
There was none of that. There was no search firm pushing its own agenda. Just Swarbrick and trusted confidants doing due diligence. Need a coach, go find a coach. Notre Dame vetted its extensive list of candidates over the previous nine weeks. Shrewsberry might not have been the slam-dunk hire in the hours after Brey’s decision, but he never strayed far from anyone's thoughts.
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Getting emails and direct messages and other correspondence this week, there still seemed a building anxiety/angst about the fan base. Penn State’s season had ended 24 hours earlier. Then 48 hours. Then 72. And still, nothing. What was Notre Dame doing?
There was no reason to wonder, and even less reason to worry. Nobody at Notre Dame gave us media dopes any real breadcrumbs about where this search would ultimately lead, but that didn’t matter. All you had to do was pay attention. Listen. Watch. Understand.
The belief that Notre Dame would get its guy never wavered. There wasn’t so much a cockiness about the search/process/outcome as there was a supreme confidence. Swarbrick and his staff knew who the next coach would be. They knew they could get him. They knew they would get him.
A Plan B never seemed needed. It probably was there, tucked inside Swarbrick’s desk drawer in color-coded tab form, but that’s likely where it remained. This search, as long as it stretched, never got off the rails. Never went sideways. Always stayed the course. Stayed on target.
Notre Dame had to let the process be the process. Shrewsberry and his Penn State players/program arrived back in State College early Sunday morning. By midweek, two jumped into the transfer portal. Another, Seth Lundy, declared for the NBA draft. Head coaches who care about their guys first have to take care of those guys before taking care of themselves.
Shrewsberry wasn’t going to lose Saturday and declare Sunday that he was skipping off for South Bend.
Only after he had helped the Nittany Lions work through everything coaches and players work through at a season’s end did Shrewsberry think of himself. Once they were good, he was good. There likely were negotiations between Shrewsberry and Penn State. Between Shrewsberry and Notre Dame. There likely was some inner reflection. Maybe a little doubt. In the end, he believed it was his time to do this job.
Last time Notre Dame needed a basketball coach, it turned to Brey and gave him a seven-year contract. His base salary that first year was $504,000. Shrewsberry also will sign for seven years, but will make a whole lot more. How much more? Let’s just say it’s greater than $3 million but less than $4 million. Pick a dollar figure.
On March 1, some 30 former Notre Dame players gathered in the Monogram Room in advance of Brey’s final home game. They were there to have a few adult drinks, share some laughs and say goodbye to their old boss.
They also were back to gauge where the coaching search was headed. Who would Notre Dame get? Who could Notre Dame get? What would it mean in the coming years for a program whose culture had been bedrock solid for the better part of two decades?
There was a concern that Notre Dame basketball as everyone had come to know it had ended.
Text messages exchanged with a handful of former players when Wednesday’s news broke showed those concerns had ceased with the Shrewsberry news.
“He’s a winner. Really like the way his kids play hard."
Former Irish power forward Jordan Cornette, the unofficial president of the former Irish players contingent, said it best.
“Everyone,” Cornette texted, “is ecstatic.”
How this program moves forward will be equally fascinating and refreshing. There will be a new head coach, a new staff, which reportedly will include an additional support position, and new players. There will be new stories to tell, a new energy, a new direction. New ways to practice and new ways to play. New ways to win. Win.
It's going to take a lot of work to get good and stay good, but Shrewsberry’s probably not all that worried about doing work. This is his program. He’ll take that and run with it and make it work.
Let’s see where it all leads.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.