Last Time Around for Legendary Gene Keady -

Last Time Around for a Legend


by Andy Force
Senior Writer,
January 24, 2005


Gene Keady is having a rough swan song with the Purdue Boilermakers. The lone Big Ten team winless in conference play, PU struggled out of the gate, too, with a 4-6 pre-conference record.

Accolades abound for the coaching legend. In a quarter century of leadership, Keady has received seven Big Ten Coach of the Year awards, six National Coach of the Year awards, fourteen 20-win seasons, and above all graduated an admirable 89 percent of his players.

Countless times this year Keady's postgame monologues have been characterized by a somber, defeated tone. He questions whether or not he has stayed on too long.

Last season the Boilers were at least average (17-14, 7-9 Big Ten). This squad will be hard pressed to get seven total wins let alone seven Big Ten victories. What has changed since last year's 17-14 group?

A normal turnover from year to year in college basketball is perhaps 3-4 players. Of the 15 roster players from a year ago, five who saw any time at all are currently dressing for Purdue. Four graduated, including two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Kenneth Lowe. Starting center Ivan Kartelo is in the process of acquiring his degree. Former junior college player Chris Booker is no longer with Purdue--his absence is attributed to academic shortcomings. Melvin Buckley transferred to South Florida with dreams of becoming an offensive focal point.

Entering this season's campaign, Keady had himself an unproven bunch lacking size and depth. Two games into their schedule, Ije Nwanko announced he was leaving the Boilermakers. Prior to Nwanko's departure, Keady stated "Ije has a world of promise…once the fire goes on inside of him, his game will improve dramatically." Unfortunately for PU, Nwanko never realized his potential with the Boilers. Hardworking Matt Carroll and JC transfer Bryant Dillon are both injured and out indefinitely further limiting Coach Keady's substitution versatility.

Recruiting has never been the strength of Keady's program. Name one star to play for Purdue in the last 25 years, aside from Glenn Robinson. Even Robinson, the first Prop 48 player ever, should be noted with an asterisk. Keady's teams constantly entered battle with inferior skills, but left the court victorious on the shoulders of relentless defense.

Midway through December, a befuddled Keady acknowledged that this team lacks typical Purdue intensity. Obviously, this perennially-relied-upon intensity spawned vigorous defense and wins. Outside observers, and at times Keady himself, speculate that he has lost touch with this most recent generation of players. The belief is that the new "me-first" mentality of current players does not jive with Keady's team concepts.

Surely there is some merit to this argument. But honestly, Keady is 68. He has been the age of recruits' grandparents for ten years now. The coach figured his way around that barricade long ago. If you win consistently, as he has, then you get players' attention. The last time Purdue finished the year in the Top 25 AP Poll was five years ago--a sad fact, considering Gene Keady has coached the Boilermakers to six separate Big Ten Championships.

Lately, the only excitement around West Lafayette has been the occasional role of Spoilermaker. Growing up an Illini fan, Keady was easy for us to cheer against with his fiery on-court demeanor--the prototypical hothead who willed numerous underachievers to unimagined success. His face alternated between a scowl that would make a grown man cry and a smile that warmed Purdue players' hearts in the frigid Indiana winters. Regardless of the pain he has periodically caused, Keady will be missed across the Midwest. He is the last of the Big Ten monarchs. An era when Jud Heathcoate, Bobby Knight, Lou Henson, and Tom Davis roamed the central plains concludes with Gene Keady's departure. For college basketball's sake, as well as for Keady's sanity, I for one hope the Boilers can turn things around in the second half of the conference season.