Brey Lives to Play Another Day

Mike Brey is a really good guy, a throwback to a time when college basketball coaches and those who covered their teams cared as much for each other as circumstances would allow.

I can’t say that I ever got to know him well, but many of my sportswriting compadres in North Carolina did when Brey was Mike Krzyzewski’s assistant at Duke from 1987-1995.

Brey somewhere along the way learned the same lesson as Jim Grobe. Be a decent person and treat everybody well and nobody will ever have anything bad to say about you.

Nobody I know who covered Duke during those days has anything bad to say about Mike Brey. And I loved hearing the story recently how Bill Cole, with whom I worked for going on 40 years at the Winston-Salem Journal, caught up with Brey when Notre Dame visited North Carolina a couple of weeks back.

Cole and Barry Jacobs, another long-time pal who knew Brey well from his days at Duke, drifted down to the Notre Dame locker room after the game. And when Brey emerged, the three of them stood around and talked like old friends.

Brey wanted to know how everybody back along Tobacco Road was doing, and at no time seemed in a hurry to take off.

Mike Brey is a dying breed in this day when most interactions a sportswriter has with coaches are at the infernal “availabilities.’’ By the time I retired in August, I was long-past done with “availabilities.’’

I find myself these days rooting for the coaches who I know to be good guys, which is why I had so much invested in today’s under-card game between Brey’s Irish and hapless Pitt. So I was able to breathe a sigh of relief when Notre Dame pulled out an horrendous unsightly 67-64 victory in today’s first round of the ACC Tournament.

Bonzie Colson is also one of my favorite ACC players, which is all the more reason I regretted my stoopid mistake of yesterday’s blog by calling him Bonzie Coleman. Stoopid me. But going into the tournament, I thought it would be a great story if Colson’s return would help lift the Irish into the NCAA Tournament.

Maybe the Irish still have to beat Virginia Tech tomorrow night to get the bid. I don’t know. Nobody knows, and nobody will until Sunday’s Selection Show, if then.

I do know Colson and the Irish face a tall order against Virginia Tech, and I have to wonder how much Colson, after missing 15 games with a broken foot, will have left in his legs. The Hokies won’t play with the same snail’s pace as the Panthers, so there’s a chance they’ll run Notre Dame out of The Barkley Center.

But I’d love to see the Irish make the Dance, for reasons other than it should give the ACC one more representative.

Tim Brando and Mike Gminski were discussing the future of Pitt coach Kevin Stallings, who I never got to know. But I’ll never forget my first impressions of the man, dating to March 14, 2000. It was Stallings’ first season as head coach at Vanderbilt, and Dave Odom’s Wake Forest squad was sent to Nashville to play the Commodores in the first round of the NIT.

When we hit Nashville, the papers were full of the Commodores griping how they felt they should have been invited to the NCAA Tournament, and how they were screwed to be relegated to the NIT. It had to make me wonder about their state of mind going against a suddenly-hot Wake team that had won three of its last four games.

Well Vanderbilt gave the Deacons a real game in the first half. But once Wake got a leg up early in the second half, the Commodores were done.

What I saw that game was a team and a coach who gave up on each other. The benches at that old barn known as Memorial Coliseum were along the base line and I’ll never forget Stallings standing there, arms folded, a disgusted look on his face, steadfastly refusing to call to.

The season was over in his mind and he was not about to prolong it any further.

Given Stallings’ 35-37 record in his final four seasons at Vanderbilt, I was stunned to see him hired by Pitt after Jamie Dixon flew the coop back to his alma mater of TCU. And Stallings’ 4-32 record against the ACC hasn’t exactly made me rethink my position.

During halftime, I checked out the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to find what I expected. Stallings’ future at Pitt is a ripe topic of discussion in the Steel City. Heather Lyke, Pitt’s director of athletics, addressed it recently on a local radio show.

A potential snag is Stallings’ buyout, which, according to reports I’ve seen, is in the neighborhood of $10 million.

Stallings, after today’s loss, was asked whether he felt he had to sell the powers that be at Pitt on his vision for the program to get a third season as head coach.

“I doubt it,’’ Stallings responded. “And I think they know what my vision is. I think that’s already been communicated. I doubt if that is really something that plays into it.’’

What we do know is that Stallings is done for the season and Brey has lived to play another day. Good things happen to good people.

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