Keady, Purdue are fine fit

Friday, December 4, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The scowl. That's what stands out. Gene Keady paces the sideline as his Purdue basketball team plays. His jaw juts out, his eyebrows furl and there is such intense rage on his face that you are concerned for the man's health.

The great irony: the Boilermakers coach is not that person off the court.

"I've answered that question so much it's old hat now," he said quietly. "I'm trying to win a game. I don't give a damn how I look."

When people find out Bruce Weber was Keady's assistant for 20 years -- two at Western Kentucky, 18 at Purdue -- before becoming coach at Southern Illinois, he knows exactly what inquiring minds want to know.

"He's not as bad as he looks," Weber tells the curious. "Off the court, when he's relaxed, he's totally opposite."

Keady brings his 14th-ranked Boilermakers (6-1) to the Crown on Saturday night to face No. 23 Xavier (7 p.m., ESPN2). He also brings 438 career coaching victories.

He is in his 19th season at Purdue, and the two have been a good match. Purdue is an agricultural school in a rural community. Keady is pure Midwest, raised in Larned, Kan., a town of about 4,000. His father was a florist at a greenhouse, the family disciplinarian. He does not take himself too seriously. His humor is often self-deprecating, and he can be humble to the point of insecurity.

He has coached Purdue to 400 victories, yet talks as if he's about to get fired any minute.

Gene Keady has been Purdue's coach since 1980-81. His career with the Boilermakers includes:
  • 400 victories
  • 215 Big Ten victories (third in league history)
  • .668 Big Ten winning percentage (third in league history)
  • 6 Big Ten titles
  • 14 NCAA Tournament appearances
  • 3 NIT appearances
  • 12 seasons with 20 victories or more
  • 6 Big Ten Coach of the Year Awards (1984, 1988, 1990, 1994, 1995, 1996)
  • 5 Times named national coach of the year by various organizations (1984, 1988, 1994, 1995, 1996).
  • Before speaking at a fund-raiser for Southern Illinois, Keady asked Weber what he should talk about. "Why would somebody want to hear me speak?" he wondered.

    "That's kind of him," Weber said. "He's never thought of himself as somebody special."

    Keady has won with different styles in different decades.

    At Western Kentucky, he didn't even use a basketball in early preseason practices. His Purdue teams used to walk the ball up the court, run motion offense and rely on big, strong centers. Passing the ball at least five times was mandatory. Weber recalls one possession at Iowa when the Boilermakers passed it 60 times.

    When Glenn Robinson became eligible in 1992-93, Keady adjusted. He didn't worry as much about shot selection and gave "Big Dog" free reign. He has been less rigid and more patient with the '90s type of players, all the while remaining a disciplinarian at heart.

    "I just think he's a good teacher of basketball," Weber said. "Even though he changes, he still sticks with the basics."

    UCLA coach Steve Lavin started his college coaching career as a Purdue graduate assistant in 1988. He was unpaid for his work, but highly rewarded. Lavin observed and absorbed Keady's methods.

    "He loves his players unconditionally," Lavin said. "It's a tough love, but his players will accept his teaching, his discipline, his toughness, his demanding, fiery nature because they know underneath all that he's got the heart of a teddy bear."

    Keady is noted mostly for getting his teams to overachieve. They fight and scrap until the final buzzer, taking on their coach's persona.

    If there is criticism, it's that he has never taken a team to the Final Four. Purdue has been to the Elite Eight once ('94) and the Sweet 16 twice ('88,'98) under Keady; 11 times they have been ousted in the first or second round of the NCAA Tournament.

    There was a time it gnawed at Keady. He takes losing personally. Getting to a Final Four remains a goal, he said, but not an obsession.

    "I just like to get my kids to play hard and do good things and try to have a great season," he said. "The Final Four is one of those things I'd like to do, but if I don't do it, I'm not going to fret over it. I'm not going to go into my retirement and be bitter.

    "I think I'm more understanding of why we don't go. We get our kids to play closer to their ability level than a lot of schools do . . . A lot of teams don't play up to their potential and they've got great talent, and they get to the NCAA and they turn it up a notch and they move on and everybody thinks the coach is great."

    He has mellowed a little. Except on a golf course.

    "I appreciate what I have," Keady said. "I'm lucky. I've kind of always cherished that I've been able to move up in the coaching world and not been derailed yet -- although I know that's possible."

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