NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Gene Keady looks the same as he did when he stood in front of Purdue’s bench for a quarter-century. His looks are the same as well — his scowl still scares and his smile is still contagious.
The difference is Keady is now sitting on the bench at St. John’s.
It’s the Big East rather than the Big Ten. His title is special assistant/adviser, not head coach. Instead of giving young coaches their first break, he is being paid back by one of those he helped.
Keady is well into his first season on the staff of Steve Lavin, whom he hired as a graduate assistant in 1988.
Lavin went on to coach at UCLA for seven seasons and when he was fired from there he spent seven years working as an analyst for ESPN. When Lavin decided to get back into coaching he asked Keady to join him.
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“I wanted that grandfather presence with our team,” Lavin said. “Coach Keady has the energy, vitality and a great deal to offer us. He was the most influential person in developing my coaching philosophy. The timing and the fit just seemed right for us here.”
It took some recruiting for Lavin to close the deal but the promise of a nice salary, an upscale hotel room and transportation around New York had Keady agreeing to change his lifestyle and conference.
“It’s surprisingly a lot like the Big Ten, physical, really good coaches, great crowds, they play hard and they love their basketball,” Keady said, standing courtside at Madison Square Garden. “I thought it was more pressing and fast break and throw up bad shots, but it’s not that at all. There are some really great teams.”
Keady is not a coach, rather an adviser. He is allowed to watch practice and sit on the bench but he cannot do active coaching of the players. He can’t recruit. He works with the staff, evaluating practices and studying tape.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t had time to forge relationships with the players who he gets to spend time with on the road.
“Coach Keady has been a tremendous voice through the coaching staff. His knowledge and leadership has helped us through some of the tough situations we’ve come across this season,” senior forward Justin Burrell said before dropping a bombshell that many college officials will find hard to believe. “He’s a very funny guy with a great sense of humor, and has brought perspective to our team. He is great to have around.”
Keady said there is no chance his sitting on the bench with a clipboard will lead to a chance of him returning to the head position.
“I’m happy. I want to help Steve win. I want to help he and his staff get to the NCAA (tournament),” he said. “I want these kids to go out winners.”
He said he still lets officials know his opinion of their calls or lack of them.
“I do,” he said laughing. “I don’t want to get a technical because I don’t want to hurt Steve.”
Keady helped Lavin two weeks ago when the Red Storm (15-9, 7-5) played at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. Lavin was distracted as he left locker room before the game with so many people saying hello and welcoming him back to where he coached for seven seasons that he headed for the wrong bench.
“Luckily, Coach K reminded me we’re at the opposite end,” Lavin said.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.