The latest in my attempt to become The Post’s JMU beat writer….
In Mike Deane’s first season as a Division I head coach, he arrived at Siena, which was led by a senior point guard named Matt Brady. The two men had, shall we say, a dynamic relationship.
“He called me every name in the book,” Brady said this week.
“I don’t know what names there are in the book,” Deane responded.
“There were times I didn’t understand him and some of the things he was asking me to do,” Brady said.
“I think I expected more from him than he had been used to giving on the offensive end, so he gave more resistance than some of the other guys,” Deane said. “Instead of a give-and-take, it was kind of a push-and-shove.”
But there was admiration, too, in that relationship, which culminated in a 17-12 record. Brady left Siena as the school’s all-time assists leader, and Deane would go on to a successful eight-year run, averaging nearly 21 wins.
“He was the first coach I had ever been around that wanted a person-to-PERSON relationship, not a coach-to-player relationship,” Brady said of Deane. “I certainly recognized right away that Mike was trying to humanize the coach’s relationship with his players, wasn’t trying to become a dictator.”
“I always knew he was a self-made player,” Deane said of Brady. “He outworked everybody, he was more cerebral than anyone else. I always knew he was going to be a very, very good coach.”
And so the men stayed in touch as Deane’s coaching career continued with stops at Marquette, Lamar and Wagner. They stayed in touch as Brady got into the profession, working under Tom Penders at Rhode Island, serving as a longtime assistant at St. Joseph’s and getting head coaching jobs at Marist and then James Madison.
And when Brady had an opening for an assistant entering the final season of his contract with JMU, he called his former head coach, who had been out of the game for two seasons. Deane hadn’t been an assistant coach since serving under Jud Heathcote at Michigan State in the mid-’80s. but he assured Brady that he was game.
“I explained to him in our first conversation that the role of the assistant and the role of the head coach come from different perspectives, and I thought I could complement him really well,” said Deane, 61. “I told him I could be a very good assistant, that I didn’t think any task would be too small.”
“I’d pick up after these guys – they’re all slobs anyway,” Deane explained. “I’d clean the locker room. Those kind of things never bothered me. Those are program image things that I think are important – I actually did those as a head coach, too.”
Brady was convinced. Deane officially joined the staff over the summer. Nine months later, they’re going to the NCAA tournament.
Monday’s win in the CAA title game clinched JMU’s first tournament berth since 1994. Deane – who previously took three different schools to the tournament — is involved in recruiting and strategy and other typical duties of an assistant; “the fact of the matter is Mike is a talented basketball coach,” Brady said.
But the head coach also said his new assistant helped change the program’s atmosphere.
“He’s got a personality that allows himself to represent our program — with players, with [boosters], with alumni — in a very gregarious way,” Brady said. “He can bust anybody’s chops. He can make fun of anybody. He’s got that quick wit about him that I actually envy and admire. That’s one of the things I knew would be helpful. I think it breaks tension. A self-deprecating sense of humor is a great thing that a lot of leaders have. I happen not to have it, but I envy people that do. I do think it creates better relationships. My program, quite frankly, has benefited by having the sense of humor that he has, and that I don’t.”
During his time away from basketball, Deane said, he “wrecked a lot of golf courses” and “got myself in pretty good physical condition, which in one season I managed to get out of.” He said his sense of humor is more easily deployed as an assistant, while admitting that “I tend to make people feel comfortable, and that helps get the message across.”
And he praised the job his former pupil did throughout a pressure-filled season that ended in triumph.
“Matt, with his back up against the wall, in the last year of his contract, showed tremendous poise throughout the year,” Deane said. “I’m very, very content with the situation that exists here. I would love to stay with him and be a part of this. In the twilight of this otherwise mediocre career, this is a very nice place for me to be.”