The Notre Dame coach owes his job to Roy Williams.
Mike Brey, whose Fighting Irish play host to Carolina at 6 p.m. Saturday, is in his eighteenth season at Notre Dame and recently broke Digger Phelps’ record for career wins there. In a very real sense, he owes a large debt of gratitude to UNC’s coach.
In the spring of 1999, Brey had just finished his fifth season as head coach at Delaware and interviewed for the job at Notre Dame, which had fired John McLeod with an eight-year losing record. Brey was not hired, and the Irish chose Kansas assistant and former Tar Heel player Matt Doherty. But Brey must have made a good impression on then Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White, who now holds the same position at Duke.
Following the 2000 season, Doherty’s first at Notre Dame, Bill Guthridge retired three years after succeeding Dean Smith. The basketball world thought Roy Williams would leave Kansas after 12 years to return to his alma mater. Williams shocked that world by deciding to stay with the Jayhawks, seemingly for the rest of his career although it did not turn out that way.
UNC went scrambling in the face of ol’ Roy’s summer surprise and wound up turning to Doherty, whose one season at Notre Dame had resulted in a 22-15 record and NIT appearance. White then asked Brey to interview again in South Bend. This time Brey got the job and has been there ever since. Recently, he won his 394th game and surpassed Phelps’ career mark.
Brey has put Notre Dame basketball back on the map and made the Irish a power in the old Big East and recently in the ACC. His teams are always prepared, play hard and will be a tough test for Carolina even without injured starters Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell. When Brey shakes hands with Roy before the game, it will be more than the perfunctory greeting.
Had Williams taken the Carolina job in 2000, Doherty would have stayed at Notre Dame and who knows if Brey ever would have had the chance to coach the Irish. He got it because Williams turned UNC down the first time, and all the dominoes fell in place for Brey to become the best coach Notre Dame ever had.
Williams has a long coaching tree of assistants and players from Kansas and UNC whom he helps advance their careers each year. But in a circuitous way, he helped Brey get his dream job by saying no to the Tar Heels before he, too, got a second chance.