I saw Mike Brey speaking to a group of coaches once at the Final Four, and one of them asked him about his team rules. Brey laughed and said “We have a sign in the locker room at Notre Dame. It says ‘Take care of your schoolwork and the basketball, and we’ll get along just fine.’ That pretty much sums up our list of rules.” He went on to talk about how he builds trusts with his guys and sets a standard of expectations, and they all understand what the means, so they don’t really feel the need to have a lot of team rules.
Coach Brey’s gift, to me, was not ever taking himself too seriously in a business where that isn’t easy to avoid. He was the head basketball coach at Notre Dame, one of the most famous universities in the world. It would have been easy to build an impressive ego over the years, but he never did. He kept it simple, trusted his kids, treated them (and everyone else) with respect, and had a ton of success.
When Notre Dame was in the Big East I knew their staff pretty well, and I remember Rod Balanis telling me that when they traveled they were required to leave after classes during the week. They couldn’t leave early and miss class the day before they played. We played them one time on a Saturday at Noon, and he told me they landed in Providence at around 11 PM the night before the game. And they were flying commercial, always taking the last flight of the day out of Chicago so the kids could get to all of their classes that day. In an era when most coaches want to be in town at least 24 hours before tip off and have no issue practicing at 10 AM on campus before leaving, Notre Dame required that they do it a little differently, and Mike Brey took it all in stride. He was the head coach at Notre Dame, and that was just part of the deal.
Mike Brey was proof to me that you can be successful in this business at a high level and still keep things in perspective, without a huge ego or taking yourself too seriously. He’s always been one of the genuinely good people in the business.