Gene Keady plays 'father' role in college basketball - Purdue Exponent: Basketball

Gene Keady plays 'father' role in college basketball

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Posted: Friday, June 17, 2011 10:00 am | Updated: 9:49 pm, Sun Jun 19, 2011.

Gene Keady sees Bob Knight occasionally, he says, but before he can say much more about his former rival he is interrupted by his dog's barking.

Keady stops mid-sentence and all his attention goes to Queenie, who has bows in her hair and could fit in his pocket.

"Queenie, don't be rude," he says. "Come on - come see Dad."

Queenie crawls up onto her owner's lap and Keady reassures his interviewer.

"She barks at everybody, but she's never bitten anybody," he says.

His dog, it seems, learned from her owner. Keady admits he was an ornery coach who was loud and passionate during his 40-year run on the sidelines, but he never, well, bit anyone.

"I have a reason for everything I did," he says. "I don't do it to downgrade anybody."

The coach who won more games at Purdue than any other - and is second behind only Knight in all-time Big Ten wins - is certainly still ornery. He says it's in his Irish blood, which means he'll stay that way until the end. During basketball season, Keady works as an adviser to St. John's coach Steve Lavin, who was an assistant under Keady at Purdue. When Keady reflects on his expansive coaching family, the guys who learned under Keady and are now head coaches, he's surprised the Irish in him didn't discourage his disciples from pursuing a career on the sidelines.

"I was pretty ornery and pretty mean," he says. "So for me not to destroy them wanting to be a coach is a compliment, I think. So I must have done something right."

Keady's home in West Lafayette is not the sports memorabilia mansion some might expect. It's relatively modest and has only two notable Boilermaker accessories. A mailbox sits outside his front door that has his Purdue coaching accomplishments painted on it, and a statue of a player wearing No. 10 stands in his front yard. Keady says that's his tribute to the Purdue basketball legend who wore the number - Rick Mount. He has a few St. John's baseball hats hanging on a rack, but he says he mostly wears his Yankees cap.

"But that's only because in the winter it keeps my head warm," he says as he scratches his famously covered bald spot.

Ever since longtime owner George Steinbrenner, a friend of Keady's who coached football at Purdue, died in 2010, he hasn't been as excited about his beloved Yankees. He still loves New York City, though, and he thrives in his adviser role.

"It's fun," he says. "I get blamed for nothing. No recruiting, no academics. It's beautiful - just beautiful."

He loves working with the players, who he says haven't changed much since he was coach at Purdue. It's the "helicopter" parents he can't stand. His raspy voice nearly turns into a yell when he considers the bad ones.

"The parents are a pain in the ass," he says. "They all think their kids are NBA players. What they need to be concerned about is the kids getting their degrees."

Education, for Keady, is the most important part of the student-athlete experience. Nothing makes him prouder than sitting in the stands at commencement ceremonies to watch his players get their degrees. Handing salaries to athletes who are already getting scholarships is beyond anything Keady would consider.

"The guys who are promoting that are agents and, what do you call them? Posses? They're always pushing the being paid stuff, and that's bullshit."

It was Keady's father who instilled in him a sense of what's bullshit and what's not. He was a boxer who sat in the bleachers when his son played sports and couldn't stand negative parents - the ones who thought their children should be seeing more playing time or shooting more.

"If he was up there in the stands and he heard some fan backbiting the coach that I was playing for - oh, he'd rip their ass," he says. "What are you doing? This is a team. We're all together."

When Keady recalls a former player of his at Purdue who was a "me first" shooting guard, he says it's a good thing his father never met the guy.

"He was not going to put up with any of that shit," he says and lets out a growling laugh that seems to use all his muscles that he says have turned to blubber.

He admits he should work out more often, but he looks pretty good for a man who just turned 75 in May. He'll spend much of his summer with a golf club in his hand, and early in the season he did what many golfers will never do in their lifetimes: hit a hole-in-one. The plaque from his triumphant Las Vegas outing hangs on his wall as proof, and as he points it out he says it was pure luck. More often, the game frustrates him and, occasionally, one of his golf clubs goes the way of Knight's famous chair.

"I've thrown a couple this summer but I always throw them away from people - not toward them," he says before scolding himself. "I shouldn't do that - that's bad sportsmanship."

Keady is preparing for his late wife's golf memorial outing on July 16. Pat Keady, who he was married to for nearly 28 years, died in April of 2009. He says it's lonely without his wife, the "good old Kentucky girl." She was good at keeping him out of trouble - when they went out together, she never drank and always drove home. When he talked too loudly, she told him to keep it down.

"She would always say, ‘What are you yelling about?' I taught phys. ed. so many years so I was always yelling," he says.

It's Queenie who keeps him company most often now. He has friends who visit, but none are closer to him than the little poodle with bows in her hair. He takes her on all his errands, and everyone who knows him knows her. He'll bring his dog with him to the cleaner shortly after his interview, and he's looking forward to paying West Lafayette prices. He shakes his head when thinks about how much money he paid to get his shirts ironed in New York City but won't divulge how much it cost him because it's too embarrassing.

Queenie is happy to follow her "Dad," who leaves her in West Lafayette when he goes to New York. He might even stop to get her favorite treat, Kentucky Fried Chicken without the skins. The "Queen B," gets what she wants, and when Dad leaves her home for too long she gets mad.

"She just scolds me for not being here," he says. "Typical woman - spoiled rotten."

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