A 21-12 record for Matt Brady’s third JMU basketball team in 2010-2011 gave the coach a tiny space for breathing room.
It was Brady’s second 20-plus-win season, sure, but neither of those teams qualified for NCAA or NIT postseason play. And at James Madison, where the Lou Campanelli/Lefty Driesell years are maybe a fading memory, but a memory nontheless, being in position to play into March is still something that the alums want to think that they can expect.
Six losses in seven games have turned what had been a decent 7-4 start to the 2011-2012 campaign into a 10-16 nightmare. And it’s soon going to be decision time for Madison athletics director Jeff Bourne, who four years ago faced a similar decision with Dean Keener.
Keener’s fourth team also started with promise – and a 7-1 record at the outset seemed to foretell a signature season for the Dukes in the increasingly rugged CAA. Injuries doomed Keener as JMU stumbled to a 13-17 finish that finished the coach and ushered in the Brady era.
The stakes are much, much higher for Brady than they were four years ago for Keener, or were even for Driesell or Campanelli. George Mason (2006) and VCU (2011) have made Final Four runs from the CAA, and the conference is stacked with programs top almost to bottom that have taken the challenge of trying to compete and made themselves appreciably better in the process.
JMU under Brady, meanwhile, seems to be regressing – and that’s significant with Brady because as a fourth-year coach, he really has no one else to blame for his troubles at this point. Brady as chef has been to the grocery store three times now; the meal that he’s serving is his and his alone.
Bourne as AD runs the restaurant, so it’s now up to him to make the next call. If he keeps Brady on for a fifth year, he runs the risk of conceding JMU basketball to irrelevance, and I don’t read Bourne as being willing to concede anything with his otherwise immensely successful sports program. This is a school, you have to remember, with a football team that has won a national championship and kicks off every September thinking it will add to the trophy case, a women’s basketball team that is a consistent NCAA contender and a baseball team that also goes out every spring assuming that it will be in the mix for NCAA consideration in June.
That all in mind, I think we’re witnessing the final flickers of the Brady era at JMU, and soon to be gearing up for the arrival of the next guy whose task will be to return Dukes basketball to a prominence that an entire generation of JMU fans can’t even say that they remember.