After spending three years away from the game in a coaching role, former longtime Notre Dame assistant and Holy Cross head coach Sean Kearney has accepted a position with the University of Colorado as the “director of player development.” Kearney joins the Buffaloes who are coming off of back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances under head coach Tad Boyle.
A lifelong assistant who spent nine years under Mike Brey at Notre Dame, Kearney finally caught his break in the summer of 2009 when he was hired at Holy Cross to take over for longtime coach Ralph Willard. In his only season as head coach, Kearney led the Crusaders to a 9-22 mark (5-9 in the Patriot League) after being selected to win the league in the preseason poll. Then athletic director Dick Regan decided to fire Kearney after the disappointing season, explaining: “This is an affirmation of how important basketball is at Holy Cross.”
Very well-liked and respected in the coaching community, Regan took a lot of heat for pulling the trigger after just one sub-par season — even Kentucky gave Billy Gillispie two years, and Holy Cross is far from Kentucky. Kearney has remained relevant in the game serving as an analyst for ESPN, doing color commentary for Notre Dame radio, and has done officiating evaluations for the Big Ten Conference. According to TimesCall.com, Kearney has also visited professional and college teams to study different coaches and their practices methods, including the Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers, Purdue, Michigan State, Butler, Temple, Villanova, St. Joe’s, and Notre Dame.
While Kearney may not have been ready to lead a program of his own — not all assistants are meant to escalate their career to the role of a head coach — this is something that perhaps he recognized. Like all players and coaches, Kearney has worked at refining his craft during his time away from coaching. “It’s just been going around and watching other coaches and growing my game as a coach and learning from some different guys,” he said.
For the time being, Kearney will not have any recruiting responsibilities as he is not an assistant coach, but Boyle believes that his extensive rolodex will help Colorado on the recruiting trail.
As “director of player development,” it is not entirely clear what this role entails. Based upon Kearney’s explanation, his role with the program is open-ended:
“I’m so excited to get back on a staff with good people and good coaches that I really don’t care what my duties or responsibilities are. If you look at my background, I’m a Division III basketball player, and actually not a very good one. So I’ve played and coached at almost every level. I’m thrilled to be back on a wonderful staff in a program that continues to be on the upswing. Whatever responsibilities coach wants to give me, I’ll be happy to have.
Prior to Notre Dame, Kearney spent time at Delaware and Providence. It was at Providence in 1986-87 where his coaching career was jump-started after working alongside coaches like Rick Pitino, Jeff Van Gundy, and Herb Sendek, and helping to coach a young point guard named Billy Donovan all the way to the Final Four.
Nearly 30 years later, Kearney is back on the bench. Boyle believes that there may be an opportunity for Kearney to transition into an assistant coaching role in a season or two as current assistants Jean Prioleau and Mike Rohn are primed to become head coaches. Boyle explained, “That’s why I wanted someone with experience, so if that happens, the transition will be smooth.”
Kearney is excited to be on board, and why shouldn’t he be with a program that is on a serious upswing?
“I think I can help these guys. I have great respect for what they’ve done, but I think I will be able to help, too.”