HARRISONBURG —It’s become an annual question: Will Kenny Brooks stay at James Madison?
The 45-year-old Brooks has built JMU into one of the country’s top mid-major women’s basketball programs, and this year he coached what he called “absolutely” his best team to the school’s first NCAA tournament win since 1991.
Brooks said Thursday he’s not shopping for a new job, even though he has an agent for the first time in his 12-year tenure and could make more than his $225,340-a-year salary at a major-conference program.
“I still think that there’s a lot of things we can accomplish here,” Brooks said in his Convocation Center office. “I love the atmosphere here. I love the sense of community, the support that we get from everyone …
“Obviously, I’m not going to never say never. If the Lakers call tomorrow — I hear [coach Mike] D’Antoni’s not too favorable in Los Angeles. You never say never, but this is home for me. I don’t think there are many jobs out there that are better than my job. Some pay more, some may have a little bit more fan support, but what we have here is very, very special. So I’m not looking to leave.”
JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Brooks, a Waynesboro native, is 281-112 with a .715 winning percentage at Madison and is nearing former coach Shelia Moorman’s school record of 302 wins in 15 seasons (she had 134 losses and four conference titles). Brooks has won three Colonial Athletic Association championships and made four NCAA tournament appearances, part of a stretch that includes nine straight postseason berths and a run to the WNIT title game in 2012. He has had four CAA Players of the Year and one player drafted by the WNBA.
Brooks certainly has the résumé to move, and two years ago he turned overtures from Georgetown into a $20,000 raise and a one-year contract extension. His current deal runs through April 24, 2017.
What would it take to lure him away from his alma mater? Simple: The right situation and the right school, he said. As for what constitutes the right school?
“It’s hard because no one has openings,” Brooks said. “I think that you, as a professional, yourself included, if USA Today calls, that’s a no-brainer. If you can get to the point where it could better your situation and you have a chance to win a national championship, I think that’s always a lure. But still, for me, it will have to be the right decision because JMU’s a special place, and I’m not looking to leave. I love it here. My family’s from here. My kids have told me that if I did want to leave, they’re staying here.”
In women’s basketball, some mid-major jobs are better than some major-conference jobs, simply because of the degree of emphasis schools and fans place on the programs. JMU’s average attendance (3,072) was better than 10 of 15 ACC schools this season, and Brooks said he has rebuffed interest from ACC schools in the past.
But there’s still the agent, which Brooks said he hired last summer. He would not reveal the agent’s name – saying only that he’s based in Texas and also represented his cousin, former Virginia basketball player Cory Alexander, when he played in the NBA.
Brooks said he hasn’t signed with the agent, calling the arrangement a “gentleman’s agreement” and describing the relationship as advisory.
“If someone has an insight and they know a little bit more than you do, I think it helps you learn the business,” Brooks said. “I don’t know very many coaches who don’t [have an agent], for whatever reason. JMU doesn’t deal with agents. I understand that, so it’s not anything like I’m looking for them to help me negotiate anything here. It’s just like having somebody who understands the business, who knows a little bit more than you do about it, the ins and outs, and they just kind of alert you.”
Brooks also said he’s been too busy to worry about anything other than his JMU team, which lost to Texas A&M on Wednesday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“Right now, I have no idea what’s open, what’s about to be open, because we’ve been really engulfed,” Brooks said. “And I haven’t talked to the person who represents me at all because I’ve really been focused on this run. And I won’t even take calls about any of that stuff right now because I feel like I owe it to my kids, for them to have my undivided attention. It’s just the way I am.
“Maybe I’ll miss out on opportunities — I missed out on an opportunity at an SEC program a couple years ago. And not that I would have taken it, but I didn’t even give them an opportunity to talk, other than a phone interview, because I wouldn’t fly down there because it was still during my season. To me, that’s just showing your program or your kids a little bit of disrespect. Although it’s about me and my family, when it comes to my profession, the kids factor into it, too.”
JMU loses just two players off this year’s team — Kirby Burkholder (who spent Thursday agent-shopping with Brooks) and Nikki Newman — and Brooks said that’s another factor in his being content. He’s looking forward to 2014-15.
“We have the team next year that will have learned from this experience and could even better the situation,” Brooks said. “If we get to this point next year and our experience plays a factor, and we [could] win a game like [the A&M game]. I’m not one of those kind of people who thinks you have to move. If you’re happy in your quality of life and you love what you’re doing where you’re doing it, it’s one of those where I’m very comfortable where I’m at.”