AU men’s basketball head coach Mike Brennan has agreed to a two-year extension and will now be under contract through 2022. This is Brennan’s first extension since 2014, which followed the Eagle’s last NCAA tournament appearance.
The decision is no doubt surprising, coming off the heels of a first-round upset at the hand of Navy. Brennan’s initial contract coincided with Sa’eed Nelson’s graduation, positioning the upcoming year as a championship-or-bust type of season. He’s now secured the opportunity to showcase whether the talent the program has been developing can mitigate the loss of one of the school’s all-time players.
Now, Brennan has the chance to build a new future with the whole program standing beside him. The extension signals a strong relationship between Athletic Director Billy Walker and the head coach.
It’s a good sign for the program to have the coach and director on the same page, and coaching as a lame duck can be an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to continue leading the AU men’s basketball program,” said Brennan in the Athletic Department’s press release. “I believe we have made significant strides in returning to having a championship-caliber program. I want to thank Dr. Walker and the AU community for the continued support, and I look forward to an exciting upcoming season.”
Two years isn’t a lot of time, but it should be enough to prove if his development of underclassman can translate to winning basketball. Across the roster, players have found ways to improve on both ends of the floor.
Stacy Beckton Jr. grew from an inconsistent rookie to a set-it and forget-it starter who shines on both ends of the floor. Jacob Boonyasith started the season with only spot minutes and ended the year with a Patriot League All-Freshman nod.
Many players on the roster have exceeded initial expectations, a testament not just to their work ethic, but the tutelage of Brennan and staff. But when you take a step back and look at the collective success of the team, the reasoning behind the extension becomes a bit murkier.
So, the question remains: is Brennan the right guy to man the ship? The one who can lead AU back to the tournament? That is much tougher to say. Brennan is 78-109 (.417 winning percentage) as a head coach across six seasons, his best season also being his first one, back in 2013.
It is odd timing to commit to extending a coach who is about to go into his most important season yet. It may be even more odd to come on the back of a disappointing end to last season. While the team improved drastically upon its 2017-18 season, there were still cracks in the team that Brennan must show he can figure out this year.
The offense didn’t appear to add many elements to its game throughout the year, which proved to be its downfall in the tournament loss to Navy. Here, the Eagles’ shooting deficiency and lack of creative offensive output stood out. Brennan must prove he can maximize a strategy that doesn’t require getting Nelson the ball, and two extra years of good faith will be null if the offense doesn’t improve this year.
If it isn’t this season, it’s tough to say when the next tournament berth will come. It is unlikely that their window is open for the two successive years. Unless someone takes a massive leap this year, Nelson’s senior season is the best shot the Eagles have for a while. Beckton or Boonyasith may develop into complementary stars. Maybe Josh Alexander will add a new element to the offense as a versatile big man. University of Minnesota transfer Jamir Harris may take the mantle as the next great Eagle guard. But the virtue in waiting is to see if the fruits of their labor come to bear.
It would be foolish to say that Brennan is a bad coach, or doesn’t deserve to coach college basketball. He may be the right coach for this team, and the Eagles should be one of the favorites to win the Patriot League under his leadership. The sum of the Eagles talent surely says so. If they don’t do it now though, AU may have put a cap on their ceiling.