Mike Brey needed only one season to turn Notre Dame from a forgotten program into an NCAA Tournament team.
He spent the next 22 seasons chasing the school’s second Final Four appearance, and this season will be his last chance.
On Thursday, school officials announced Brey would be stepping down at the end of this season after winning a school-record 481 games and leading the program for a school-record 23 years. But Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick issued a statement that indicated Brey would remain on staff in an as-yet undefined capacity.
“It has been a great run for me and our program over the past two decades, but it is time for a new voice to lead this group into the future,” Brey said in a statement released by the athletic department. “I want to thank our student-athletes, assistant coaches and support staff who have played such a key role in the culture we have created.”
Notre Dame has scheduled a news conference for Friday.
Brey left Delaware in July 2000 after taking the Blue Hens to two NCAA Tournaments in three seasons – something that seemed little more than an afterthought in South Bend, considering that in the nine seasons following Digger Phelps’ retirement in 1991, Notre Dame’s once blue-chip program had been shut out of the NCAA tourney and had earned only three NIT bids.
But the man who served as an assistant under America’s best-known prep coach – Morgan Wootten at Maryland’s DeMatha High School – and under Division I’s winningest college coach, Mike Krzyzewski, helped Notre Dame return to its more glorious days.
Notre Dame snapped a 10-year tourney drought in 2001 and made 13 total tourney appearances under the 63-year-old Brey. He won 15 tourney games, tying the school record, and Notre Dame became the nation’s only program to reach back-to-back Elite Eights in 2015 and 2016.
“That Mike is the winningest coach in the 119-year history of Notre Dame men’s basketball speaks to his skill as a teacher of the game,” Swarbrick said. “His even greater legacy, however, lies in his achievements as an educator and mentor of the young men who played for him. In that sense, he represents this university as well as any coach I have worked with during my time at Notre Dame.”
Brey was more than a basketball coach.
He emerged as a widely respected member in the community where his children attended school and became a popular campus figure despite being overshadowed by the school’s more prominent football program and occasionally the powerhouse women’s basketball and baseball teams, too.
But Brey excelled on the court, turning the Irish into title contenders in two different conferences.
Three times, he was named Big East coach of the year and won 146 conference games, which still ranks fifth all-time in the league. In 2011, Brey was named The Associated Press coach of the year after leading the Irish to a 27-7 mark and a perfect 17-0 home record.
Notre Dame moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013 and two years later, Brey won the conference tourney title by defeating Miami, Duke and North Carolina during a 32-6 campaign. The Irish returned to the ACC tourney semifinals in 2016 and the ACC championship game in 2017 and seven of Brey’s players were NBA draft picks.
But lately, it’s been more challenging for Brey and the Irish. After going 24-11 and ending a five-year tourney drought last season, the Irish are 9-10 off to a 1-7 start in ACC play. Chants of “Fire Brey” could be he heard during games in the last year, something Brey occasionally said was warranted based on the team’s poor performances.
“Mike and I have talked often in recent years about a future transition in the program’s leadership,” Swarbrick said. “During our most recent conversation we reached the mutual conclusion that the end of this season represented the right time.”
Brey is 580-321 overall and ranks 50th on the Division I career wins list. He is 481-269 with Notre Dame, a victory total that ranks sixth among active coaches at their current schools. Brey played college basketball at Northwestern State in Louisiana and George Washington.