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Keady enjoying final run, transition

11/11/2004

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- You leave Gene Keady's office laughing. It's hard not to when he's so equal opportunity with his zingers.

You watch practice and remember that this coaching world legend (and likely Hall of Famer) is a few months away from retiring.

And you wonder how could Purdue continue without Keady's presence.

But then you see his alter ego, associate head coach Matt Painter, bellowing out his own corrections, encouraging words and even a few verbal jabs, and you start to realize that this was the best way to send Keady out.

There's no guarantee Painter will come close to the level of success Keady has here, with 505 games in 24 seasons.

But there is a sense that he has at least a chance -- in large part because he's here at the end of Keady's career to transition into his own at his alma mater.

"My wife, Pat, said he's more like me than any other guy she's ever seen," Keady said. "I like his enthusiasm. He really gets loud, instructs guys and isn't mealymouthed about it."

Painter isn't Bruce Weber, that much we know. Weber, who was Keady's assistant for 19 years, was more of a reflective contrast to the bombastic Keady.

Weber went to Southern Illinois, where he prepped Painter for his job before Weber moved on to Illinois. A year ago, Painter, in his only season as head coach, was the Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year after leading the Salukis to a 25-5 record and a league title.

"Coach Keady and Bruce Weber made a great team," said Painter, slinking into the enveloping chairs that sit behind Keady's grandiose wood desk in an office that will become Painter's in a year. "They had the good cop, bad cop going. Coach is aggressive and gets on you while Bruce smooths it over. He's better at calming guys down. When people say 'are you more like Bruce or coach (Keady)?', it's not even close. I'm more like coach."

Keady wasn't going to stay at Purdue unless they hired a handpicked successor. Keady wanted it to be in his family tree. Since Weber was untouchable at Illinois, the next choice was Painter.

Once Painter agreed, Keady decided against going to San Francisco. That's right, he really did consider going to coach the Dons.

"I'm not going to lie, I thought he was gone," senior point guard Brandon McKnight said. "He told us he might leave."

"I thought he would leave too," said junior David Teague.

"I thought it was more of a tossup because I didn't think he would take a step down," junior Matt Kiefer said.

Kiefer was right. Keady said he would have likely only gone to USF for one season, because he likes the weather on the left coast and his wife loves the city by the Bay. Ultimately, he didn't think it was fair to USF athletic director Bill Hogan to come for one year.

All Keady wanted was for Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke to announce he was giving him a three-year deal, but then he would coach one so it wouldn't be a recruiting nightmare. But the reality is, this ended up being the better scenario. Painter spent the whole spring, summer and early fall recruiting and letting everyone know that he would be the next coach at Purdue.

Keady, 68, stayed back to coach, handle speaking engagements and sharpen up for a season that he is anticipating as much as any in the past quarter century.

"This transition is even better than I thought," Keady said. "He took all of the knowledge we gave him (when Painter was a player) and supplemented it."

The players say some of the terminology is different with a few of the phrases a little more updated. The style of play will be more uptempo but that could have occurred anyway since the Boilermakers are more athletic.

"I always wanted to play fast and when we had Glenn (Robinson) here, we did," Keady said. "Fans always think you can run with anybody. But you can't."

Painter clearly has the freedom to talk and teach during practice and likely will have it as well during games. While the players claim the assistants don't talk as much in practice and that Keady is the loudest and, at times, the lone voice, that clearly wasn't the case in a snapshot of the Boilermakers' practice last week. Painter, 34, was extremely vocal. Assistants Cuonzo Martin, 33, a holdover from a year ago and the 32-year old Paul Lusk, who came with Painter from SIU, were encouraged to speak, too.

"I've loved this, this has been great," Keady said. "There's kind of an ebb and flow with us (Keady and Painter). He knows when to shut up and I know when to let him chime in. If I thought the assistants were talking too much, I'd tell them to shut up. I've never had that problem."

Keady isn't thinking about his last game, or how he wants to exit this season. But don't dare give him a sendoff at every road stop.

"I don't want anything, just a 'thank you, great having you here' and let's play," Keady said.

Keady doesn't know where he'll live. He said his wife wants to keep the home in West Lafayette, but would rather be out of Indiana during the cold winter months. He would consider, with the right guy, being a Pete Carril-like assistant in the NBA. He really would like to be the USA Basketball national team coach after he assisted on the 2000 Olympic team.

But he knows that's a reach.

"They're not going to hire me because they think I'm too mean to the pros," Keady said. "But I'd love to do it, though. I'd do it for $500,000. They'd have to pay me real good."

Keady's office is already in transition, as is his mind. His framed Robinson jersey sits in a closet. He wants to give it to Robinson in an on-court ceremony.

"But he won't call us back anymore," Keady said. "We love the guy. We don't want anything. I'd like to see Glenn get straightened out. What's his deal?"

The non sequitors keep flowing.

The mega contracts given to former Boilermakers Brad Miller, a seven-year $68 million contract with the Sacramento Kings, and the six-year $39 million deal the Grizzlies gave former Boilermaker Brian Cardinal are symbols of Keady's legacy. Both players were lunch-pail types who wouldn't mind diving into the stands for Keady.

"I never talked about playing hard, we just played hard in practice," Keady said.

They still do, in large part, because Painter expects it as much as Keady. The players also don't want to let Keady down, especially now.

"He deserves to go off in a legendary fashion," Teague said.

"He doesn't want us to say it but we're playing for him," Kiefer said. "You don't want to send a legendary coach out on a low note."

Painter said the players, deep down, want to please Keady.

"They want to see him in a good mood and happy," Painter said.

So, far, he is pleased -- pleased with the transition, his team, and the way his career is winding down.

"I won't be bothering Matt," Keady said. "I'm out of here when it's over. I'm going to Maui when they do in '06 and then stay the following Saturday for a football game in Honolulu. That's it. I'm not thinking of hanging around here all the time."

He won't have to cast a shadow over the program. Painter lacks Keady's experience and the comb-over hair, but he's trying to mimic just about everything else.

Andy Katz's 3-pointer on Purdue
1. Expect Gary Ware to be an impact player: The players and the coaching staff are raving about the 6-9 JC transfer. He is long, active and trying to sponge up as much information as possible. Ware came in ready to contribute and will have to be a factor next to Kiefer inside.

2. The Boilermakers will let McKnight loose: The coaching staff seems like they're encouraging McKnight to look for the openings to the rim as much as possible. If McKnight has his man beat off the dribble, then he's off to the basket for a finish or a drive-and-dish assist. McKnight is one of the more maligned point guards in the league, but he has a chance to have an all-Big Ten-type season.

3. The Boilermakers must have Teague back for a critical stretch: Teague is out with a broken hand and the hope is that he will be back soon. The Boilermakers' chances for an NCAA berth could come down to a stretch of games when they play Cincinnati in Indianapolis (Nov. 27), at N.C. State on Nov. 29 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and then host Memphis (Dec. 3), Oklahoma (Dec. 8) and Colorado State (Dec. 11). Keady believes this team has NCAA potential but knows they can't let it all rest on the Big Ten.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.