Commentary: Hope For Brady?
Posted: February 19, 2013
HARRISONBURG — A year ago at this time, James Madison was itching to fire men’s basketball coach Matt Brady. Now? Not so much.
True, a few weeks ago, I asked one official if Brady was a dead man walking. Affirmative, he said. But the second-place Dukes’ surge in the Colonial Athletic Association, fueled by freshmen, has caught the JMU administration’s attention.
Brady isn’t assured of an extension when his contract expires this year, not by a long shot, but his chances of getting one are finally better than single digits.
The troika that makes decisions on sports at JMU – president Jonathan Alger, vice president Charlie King and athletic director Jeff Bourne – will have plenty of data to assess before deciding Brady’s fate.
Not all will be in the fifth-year coach’s favor.
You could argue, for instance, that the CAA stinks this season. It does. You could argue that a 10-5 record in a conference rated 25th among Division I’s 32 leagues is less-than-sterling. You could argue that a No. 209 power rating among 347 teams nationwide, thanks in part to a weak schedule (No. 297), makes the Dukes suspect.
You could argue that Brady’s public-relations problems persist. You could argue that the dwindling crowds at the Convocation Center (in the last month, four of the six home games have drawn fewer than 3,000 people) indicate that fans already have cast their votes — and nothing dooms a coach like a half-empty arena. You could fret about the team’s academic progress rate, an NCAA dagger sharp enough to cripple a program, but I’m told it no longer is at the crisis stage.
Or you could be more optimistic.
You could point out that JMU’s average attendance of 3,262 this season at the 7,156-seat Convo still ranks third in the CAA, though it badly trails Old Dominion (6,661) and George Mason (5,449), the programs Madison should judge itself against. You could point out that Brady’s PR issues (from Marist to Crozet) would be moot if the Dukes won more consistently, and that maybe the stage is being set for such a scenario.
You could point out that Brady has given fans far more hope than Sherman Dillard and Dean Keener did during their dismal days in Harrisonburg. You could point out that Brady’s freshman class bodes well for the future, as apparently does the addition of gray-head coaching veteran Mike Deane to the staff.
As I said, lots of data.
In 2012, the data was less complete, and JMU chose not to fire Brady because of campus politics and a reasonable doubt about the Philadelphia-area native’s record.
Politically, it would have been awkward to buy out a coach’s $290,000 salary while cutting corners on academics. Brady, meanwhile, might have been correct in blaming injuries for the Dukes’ inconsistent records: alternating 21-win and 20-loss seasons, depending on the availability of healthy bodies.
Beyond that, the most salient question Madison administrators might ask is this: What makes them think they’ll get anybody better, especially for under $500,000? Again, the lack of concrete plans for a new arena makes the JMU job a probable dead-end, and at least Brady has begun to build a program.
Madison officials would be crazy to give Brady more than a three-year extension. They might even opt for two. Either way, that’s perhaps their best bet for restoring a once-formidable basketball presence, even if it elicits yawns from the university’s sleeping-giant fan base.
The Dukes are 16-12 heading into a date with CAA leader Northeastern in Boston on Wednesday. Then come two more toss-ups to end the season: Georgia State at home and William & Mary on the road.
Go 3-0 and you’re 19-12, needing just one win in the Colonial tournament to reach the magical No. 20. Go 0-3 and you’re 16-15, needing one victory in the CAA tourney merely to guarantee a winning season.
Big difference in perception.
Oh, yes, and one more thing: If Brady loses in the first round of a watered-down, seven-team Colonial tournament, his chances of being fired suddenly flirt with triple-digits. And the (cue the Clash) tease, tease, tease of should he stay or should he go will probably end with a search for a new coach this spring.