JMU is once again looking for a new coach for a marquee athletics program after firing basketball coach Matt Brady.
The kick in the arse that the school gave to Brady on his way out probably won’t help matters.
A story in the Daily News-Record this week noted that JMU officials took exception to Brady’s decision upon being hired eight year ago to buy a house in Crozet, 50 miles from Harrisonburg, so that he could send his children to Catholic school.
That, and his decision early in his tenure against holding summer children’s basketball camps, deciding to use that time instead on the summer recruiting trail, supposedly factored into flagging attendance at the Convocation Center, because Brady wasn’t bought in to the local community.
Brady, it should be noted, took over a program that had posted eight straight losing seasons prior to his arrival in 2008, going 77-155 in that span, and went 139-127 in his eight seasons, with five winning records, four 20-win campaigns and one NCAA Tournament appearance, in 2013.
To be sure, Brady wasn’t the second coming of Lou Campanelli (238-118, five NCAA Tournaments in 13 years at JMU) or Lefty Driesell (159-111, one NCAA, four NITs in nine seasons with the Dukes), but the ship is righted.
Madison was 21-11 in 2015-2016, and yes, the Dukes bowed out of the postseason early again, falling in the CAA Tournament quarterfinals for the seventh time in eight years.
Attendance was light again this past season, averaging 3,001 fans per game in the 6,426-seat Convo Center, down from 3,416 a game last season, 3,612 a game two years ago and a high of 3,732 a game in Brady’s second season, in 2009-2010.
It’s worth pointing out that men’s basketball isn’t alone at JMU in seeing declining per-game attendance. The perennial NCAA Tournament-contending women’s hoops team drew 2,652 fans a game this season, down from a recent high of 3,072 a game in 2013, and football averaged 19,498 fans a game in the 25,000-seat Bridgeforth Stadium in 2015, down from 25,002 a game in the first season after the stadium’s expansion in 2011.
The athletics department fired long-time football coach Mickey Matthews in 2013 in a bit of a shocking move, replacing him with Everett Withers, who led the Dukes to two playoff appearances before bolting for the relatively greener pastures of Texas State.
Another story in the DNR in the past few days threw shade at Withers for supposedly rubbing some Richmond-area high-school coaches the wrong way, which even if it is true, maybe JMU officials shouldn’t be offering comment on such things, if only to not appearing to be snarking at people on their way out.
Withers, for whatever faults you want to assign to him, got JMU a day in the sun on ESPN College GameDay this past fall. Say thanks for that and move on with him settled down in Texas now.
Brady, who wasn’t Campanelli, on the one hand, but was also not Dean Keener, on the other, doesn’t deserve the negativity being thrown his way, either.
And it’s not just being nice for being nice’s sake that should be the focus here. JMU is looking for the next Campanelli, in a manner of speaking, with feelers out across the country to land a top-quality coach who can get the Dukes winning again, get folks clamoring for tickets to the Convo, and get donors to open their checkbooks for the new $88 million basketball arena that is in the works at Madison.
The question you have to ask yourself is, do you want to uproot your family for a new job where the people in charge might get torqued in an interview with a newspaper reporter over something as trite where you buy a house?
Surely there will be plenty of good names for Bourne to consider over the next couple of weeks, because JMU is a good job, for a lot of reasons listed above. It can be hard to figure out where they’re getting the money, but they’re getting it, and they’re spending it, improving Bridgeforth, getting ready to build the next-generation Convo.
JMU is serious about winning, and that’s going to draw interest.
Maybe just do it with a little class.
– Column by Chris Graham