Minnesota heads to Purdue for Keady’s farewell

Saturday is Purdue coach Gene Keady’s final game at Mackey Arena after 25 years.

Bob Wothe

Purdue men’s basketball coach Gene Keady has been around long enough to develop special relationships with every Big Ten school.

But Minnesota, in particular, holds a unique place in his heart.

Keady gushes, in his reserved way, about winning the Big Ten title at Williams Arena in 1984, and he’s called current Gophers coach Dan Monson “like a son.”

So perhaps it’s fitting the legendary coach of the Boilermakers, who is stepping down after 25 years in West Lafayette, Ind., will coach his last home game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday on Keady Court at Mackey Arena against Minnesota.

Keady has made it clear he is stepping aside to pave the way for assistant coach Matt Painter in hopes of getting “the pride back in Purdue basketball.”

But it’s not the first coach he has given a boost.

“When I was a high school coach and tried to get into college, he was one of the guys that I called, and he tried to help me get into college as a graduate assistant,” Monson said. “I don’t think I’d be in the Big Ten, or my career probably would have taken a different path without him.”

But while Monson has called Keady’s departure discouraging, he might want to stay quiet – the Gophers (18-9, 8-6 Big Ten) might have a better chance in the Big Ten without Keady around.

Not counting vacated games, Keady is 24-12 against the Gophers, including 15-2 at Mackey Arena.

In fact, before Monson won there in 2002, the only time the Gophers had defeated Keady in West Lafayette came 20 years earlier, by one point in 1982.

In sum, Keady has no plans to attend his postgame ceremony as a loser Saturday.

“I’m more interested in winning the game and getting up into a seed in the Big Ten Tournament where we can do something,” Keady said of the ceremony. “I don’t think any coach that has been some place 25 years isn’t going to have any sort of feelings about it. But we’re not going to talk about it.”

It’s that type of focus that has garnered Keady six national coach of the year awards, which ranks second all-time.

And although he has more than 500 wins as a Big Ten coach, 550 total Division I wins and an 879-377 overall record as a head coach, it’s widely speculated that he’ll take another job.

It’s hard to imagine most schools with openings not at least talking to a coach who has averaged 21.2 wins over the past 24 seasons and whose teams have finished in The Associated Press top 10 six times while winning six Big Ten championships.

For all the gaudy numbers, however, Keady’s lasting legacy will be hard work, the glaring scowl, the comb-over and, above all, class.

Monson said he’s tried to model his program around what Keady did at Purdue – “the right way” – and gave him a custom putter to honor his last visit to Williams Arena before handing the Boilermakers a 63-52 defeat Jan. 12.

Though Purdue (7-17, 3-10) has won just four of 12 games since then, Monson said the record books can be thrown out for Saturday’s game.

And no matter what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, and no matter how Keady will say it’s the only thing that matters, it will be a sad day for all involved the last time a legend graces his own court.

“We did things right, and we played hard,” Keady said of his time at Purdue. “Our kids graduated, and our fans enjoyed the competitiveness.

“We never complained about the things that got us beat or that we don’t have this and don’t have that. We just responded to the adversity – that’s what life is all about.”