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Notre Dame’s Brey says ‘we lost momentum,’ time is right

Northeastern v Notre Dame

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 19: Head coach Mike Brey of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looks on in the first half against the Northeastern Huskies during the second round of the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Consol Energy Center on March 19, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Mike Brey said he began thinking it was time to step down as Notre Dame coach on the plane ride home in March following the Irish’s NCAA Tournament run.

By Christmas, those thoughts turned serious, and come last week he was certain.

“From 2000 to 2017, we went to 12 NCAA Tournaments,” Brey said at a news conference Friday. “Since 2018 we’ve been to one. That’s how you’re measured, man. I felt we lost momentum. It was awesome to get us back last year, and that was an amazing experience to go and win two games in the NCAA Tournament, so as I looked at the big picture moving forward, I just think a new voice is needed.”

Notre Dame announced Thursday the 63-year-old would step down at the end of the season after winning a school-record 481 games and leading the program for a school-record 23 years.

The team is 9-10 overall and 1-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference - one of the worst seasons in the program’s history ahead of a home game Saturday against Boston College. That’s why Brey thought it was necessary to announce now that this is his last season.

“I think it can be a distraction - speculation, and what’s going on, is he coming back, do they want him to?” Brey said. “I want our guys to focus and play, and my thought was, Why don’t we give some clarification to this thing right now and see if it helps our group and, quite frankly, help Notre Dame, that they can get into the process of getting advance notice on a search.”

Brey didn’t rule out coaching again but said he plans to take at least one year off. He said he also would help athletic director Jack Swarbrick in the search, calling it a “a big responsibility for me to help hire the next right coach here.”

Brey was a finalist for the Notre Dame job in 1999 but the Irish hired Matt Doherty instead. Doherty left for his alma mater, North Carolina, after one season, and Brey was hired away from Delaware after taking the Blue Hens to two NCAA Tournaments in three seasons.

Notre Dame snapped a 10-year NCAA drought in 2001 and made 13 total tournament appearances under Brey. He won 15 tourney games, tying the school record, and Notre Dame reached back-to-back Elite Eights in 2015 and 2016.

Brey was Big East coach of the year three times and won 146 conference games, which still ranks fifth all-time in the league. Notre Dame moved to the ACC 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.

Brey said it might have made sense to leave after last season, when the Irish went 24-11 and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after being a First Four entry. But he said he wanted to see through the six graduate students on his roster.

He also noted the new challenges that come along with name, image and likeness and the transfer portal, saying that a coach has to be “really energized to manage that and attack that.”