This article is sponsored by Delta Air Lines.
As the Head Coach of the men’s basketball program at Notre Dame, Mike Brey is used to being known as coach. That’s fine and all, but he prefers teacher.
As part of the Guiding Greatness series presented by Delta, Brey explains that he cares much more that his players learn from him more than anything else. And he’s not talking recondite defensive schemes, or arcane off-ball screens to free shooters: he’s talking life lessons.
“The greatest lesson I’ve learned is: be yourself,” said Brey. “When you become that leader you have to evolve into who you are and have your own style. I want to be the best teacher they ever had at Notre Dame. I want them to look back and be able say ‘God, I learned a lot from that guy.’ Forget basketball, forget jump shot. I feel a lot of pride, a lot of responsibility to be their best teacher.”
Brey has held his role at Notre Dame since 2000, when he took over a program that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in a decade. In each of his first three years on the job, he brought the Fighting Irish to the tournament, and has done so a total of 10 times in South Bend. He’s peaked in reaching the Elite Eight, a feat his team accomplished last season.
The Notre Dame stalwart got his first opportunity at the collegiate level under one of the greatest of all time: an assistant coaching gig under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke University in the late 1980s through the early 1990s. Brey feels forever grateful that Coach K would pluck an assistant high school basketball coach and bring him to Duke.
“I was a high school coach when Coach Mike Krzyzewski hired me,” said Brey. “I will always be indebted for the risk that he took. I think probably after about my fourth year there I felt, because of the experience he gave me at all facets at the program at Duke, I was ready to be a head coach.”
Brey doesn’t forget his initial beginnings that guided him to greatness, back to when he was a 15-year-old high school basketball player, where he learned a lot from his legendary coach Morgan Wootten– a five time national high school champion coach at DeMatha. Brey would later return as an assistant coach to Wootten before Coach K brought him to Duke.
“Coach Wooten used to talk about ‘be the kind of coach or teacher that you’d want your own son or daughter to play for,’” said Brey. “I think that’s something that I draw on every day.”