SOUTH BEND, IND. Of course they applauded in the right spots, smiled when they were supposed to, stood on cue. They are well-rehearsed. For the second time in two seasons, Notre Dame basketball players were asked to turn out at a press conference introducing a new coach.
Matt Doherty left the Irish on Tuesday to claim the top job at North Carolina, his alma mater.
And as they had last season, when Doherty arrived on campus, the players again exhibited the proper mix of cautious optimism and weary relief as the Irish announced Delaware coach Mike Brey had been chosen to lead the basketball program.
After spending eight years as an assistant on Mike Krzyzewski's staff at Duke, Brey, 41, became Delaware's coach in 1995. For the juniors on the team, Brey is their third coach in three years. They were recruited by and played for John MacLeod for one season, tasted the tip of success with a trip to the NIT final under Doherty last season and must try to reach the promised land of the NCAA tournament with Brey in the upcoming season.
Junior Troy Murphy, an All-American and current Big East player of the year, said he was relieved a new coach had been named.
"We have a great coach and he's going to be here a long time," Murphy said.
He will give Brey cooperation and respect, Murphy said, but affection is another matter.
"It might take a little while because we've been through it before," Murphy said. "You trust somebody, then get someone new. And you get used to playing for them and then you get someone new again. So it'll take a while, but we'll get there."
Brey understood the apprehension.
"After what they've been through, I'm going to have to earn that," he said, stressing he intended to stay with the Irish for the long haul.
Brey met with the team for the first time Friday afternoon, several hours before his public introduction. Junior guard David Graves was impressed.
"We didn't know what to expect, but people had always said he was a great guy," Graves said. "It's nice to see that he was."
While Graves joked about his familiarity with off-season press conferences "We might be here next year," he said he insisted the team would not only survive the leadership change, but flourish.
"It has made us stronger. It has made us more together as a group," he said. "We have the talent here. We're talking the Top 25."
Easing the transition will be Brey's stated intention not to institute wholesale changes. "They won't have to make a big transition," he said. "This is a good basketball team. It will be very similar to the style they already play and had some very good success."
Brey was a finalist for the job when it went to Doherty last year. His name also surfaced in connection with openings at Georgia and Vanderbilt. "I've been in love with two coaching jobs in my five years as head coach (at Delaware) that's Notre Dame twice," Brey said. "I'll be very clear Notre Dame twice and I'm happy I'm here."
He said he doesn't harbor aspirations of succeeding Krzyzewski at Duke. "I really want to find my niche," he said.
"It has been very important, that loyalty factor," Murphy said. "You can say a lot about loyalty, but you have to show it. You feel happy at first for coach Doherty. As time goes on you get bitter and you don't really understand."
Doherty said he tried to teach his players grace and class as well as basketball. On Friday those lessons paid off.