“Nursing’s a lot harder than coaching, I can tell you that,” Keady, 70, said from his Tippecanoe County home, not far from Purdue University where the basketball court in Mackey Arena bears his name.
After 25 years on the Purdue sidelines in a storied career that had almost everything except the storybook ending, Keady signed on last year as an assistant coach with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.
This year, Raptors management changed and his contract was not renewed. Just as well. Keady wouldn’t have been available.
In July, Pat, his wife of 26 years, underwent open-heart surgery that included five bypasses, followed by colon surgery.
Keady has thrown himself into her recovery with the same energy he brought to preparing for a game with Indiana University. He administers her medicines, supervises her three-times-a-week exercise sessions at a nearby hospital, and oversees her diet.
The couple is traveling a long, difficult road together, but the results have been encouraging. Pat has begun to regain some of her lost weight and energy. At the same time, Keady has taken stock of his own health. He’s changed his diet, trying to eat the right foods, and getting in regular workouts on the treadmill.
Other than occasional trips to Mackey Arena for chats with Purdue head coach, Matt Painter, and a round of golf when weather permits, Keady has stayed close to home and to Pat’s side.
On Dec. 16, however, he will be in Indianapolis. The annual John Wooden Tradition-featuring red-hot Butler University against Purdue and Greg Oden-led Ohio State University against the University of Cincinnati-will take place at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The games are preceded by the annual coaches’ dinner Friday night at the Westin Hotel. The beneficiary is one near to my heart, Special Olympics Indiana.
This dinner always has been a yearly highlight because it means the return of John Wooden-former Purdue all-American and UCLA coaching legend-to Indiana.
This year, however, Wooden won’t be able to make it. He’s 96, and no longer able to travel. That’s certainly understandable.
Wooden will appear by video, but the event still lacked a featured speaker. When a call was placed to Keady to ask if he would come in Wooden’s stead, he readily agreed.
It will be a chance for college basketball to reconnect with one of its icons.
“This is the first time I’ve been out of basketball since the seventh grade,” Keady said. “I miss the players, the coaches, the meetings, the camaraderie. I don’t miss all the other things and, as I look back, maybe I did too much, whether it was with alumni, the NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches, of which he was president) and USA Basketball.
“But I have no regrets, and life goes on.”
Life includes watching as much college hoops as he can, in particular Purdue.
“Matt’s doing a great job,” Keady said of his successor. “They’re playing smarter. They’re playing hard. They’re buying into his system. I’ve really been impressed.”
Keady stays in regular contact with his other coaching protÃ©gÃ©s, such as Bruce Weber at the University of Illinois and Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt University. Former players-including some he coached in high school years ago in Kansas-stay in touch.
I asked if he had taken time to take stock of his career.
“Oh, maybe a little bit,” he said. “I just hope what we accomplished meant something to somebody. Like I said, no regrets. I enjoyed the coaching and the teaching. I gave it my best shot.”
It’s been a difficult time for the Keadys. Gene’s coaching career ended in futility, rather than with a flourish. They endured the death of their daughter, Lisa, last year. And now Pat has had significant health issues.
Despite that, Gene Keady has remained upbeat. He never was one to coddle complaining, referees notwithstanding.
Now all that matters is helping his wife get well again. Turns out, it’s the most important coaching of Keady’s career.
Oh, and if you’re interested in purchasing a table or a couple of seats at the Wooden Tradition coaches’ dinner-which includes cool, sports-related silent auction items-call Leigh Ann Erickson at Special Olympics Indiana at 328-2000.
Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to [email protected] Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.