500 and Counting for Carey
When a coach reaches the monumental milestone of 500 victories like Mike Carey just did, it can mean a lot of things – not all of them obvious.
In addition to longevity and success, 500 victories can also mean a lot of fast food, a lot of mileage on the old company van and a lot of late nights at the office. Carey says all three apply.
“I can remember at Salem mopping the floor because we didn’t have a cleaner. I was doing this as AD and head basketball coach,” Carey said Wednesday afternoon after his team’s blowout victory over Bucknell. “I’d mop the floor, help pull out the bleachers and then after the game help clean up the garbage.
“There were times over Christmas break when the manager didn’t show up and we would have to wash the clothes and drive the vans. In the WVIAC, you drive vans and you get home at 2, 3 in the morning. Vans would break down. It was just crazy, but it was a lot of fun.”
You can say a lot of things about Mike Carey, but ducking tough jobs is not one of them. From starting out teaching grade school physical education to coaching three different sports during the same year to taking over morbid programs with very little support – all of that has been a part of Carey’s journey over the last 25-odd years.
“My first job was actually teaching grade school kids PE, and then my second job was behavioral disorders – and, let me tell you, I fit right in with that,” he joked. “That’s why I got that job. But I had to go right up the ladder that way.”
From tiny Flemington High in Taylor County to much bigger Liberty High in Clarksburg and then on to Salem College, the jobs were never easy, the dues always paid in full.
“Those were the only jobs I could get,” Carey laughed. “Once you get out of college you’ve got to take any job. My buddy, Greg Zimmerman, who coaches at Alderson-Broaddus right now, came to me and asked me if I would like to be the assistant boy’s coach at Flemington. I said, ‘Yeah I’ll do that.’”
The only catch, according to Carey, was that he also had to be the head girl’s basketball coach, too. That was the only way he could get the job.
“I said, oh, alright,” Carey chuckled.
Then he thought he hit the big time when he got the Salem job in 1989. He was now coaching college basketball. But it didn't take him long to realize that he had to somehow figure out a way to trick good players into going there.
“I always said if I can recruit at Salem I can recruit anywhere,” Carey recalled. “In Salem, there wasn’t even a red light in the town. I can remember bringing recruits at night, not through town, but over the hill and they would ask where the town was and I would tell them, uh, don’t worry about it because it’s dark and you’re not going to be able to see it anyway.”
That he couldn’t always land the big-name prospects didn’t really matter to him. What Carey was really after were the tough kids who were willing to get their kneecaps and elbows bloodied – just the way he did when he played.
“I’ll take a player who plays hard and dives on the floor over a player who doesn’t – and may have better skills,” he explained. “Even at Salem starting out, we didn’t have the talent some of these other teams had but our teams played hard, and then we started getting talent.”
And then they started winning - big.
“Several times we were one or two in the country, went to Elite Eights and Final Fours and that type of stuff because we got better players,” Carey said.
Then in 2002, Carey decided to make the biggest jump of his career by coming to West Virginia University to coach a women’s program that had seen much better days. The Mountaineers then were frequently winning just five or six games a year and were always near the bottom of the Big East Conference standings.
The one coach everyone thought was going to turn the program around, Susan Walvius, didn’t even stick around long enough to change the license plates on the Jaguar she was driving.
But once again, Carey took the same approach he used at all those other places: roll up your sleeves, find tough players who want to be coached hard and then plow right into things. Right away five wins grew to 14, and three years later, he had the Mountaineers back into the NCAA tournament.
Now 11 years into it, Carey has made postseason trips the expectation around here.
“Coaching is coaching to me,” Carey explained. “These ladies play hard for you and they are good people. I never worry about them when I go home at night. I never worry about their grades. We’ve just been fortunate enough to get good people in here.”
Whether it’s high school, small college or now Division I basketball, Carey’s core philosophies have never changed.
“My philosophy on basketball is play defense, rebound and shot selection,” he said. “If I can get kids to do that then I think you can win a lot of games. Then, the better players you can get you can win a lot more.”
Carey is certainly not planning on stopping at 500. With a young and improving Mountaineer team this year he believes even better things are just on the horizon. However, what is most important to him is the fact that he’s been able to accomplish everything that he has been able to accomplish right here in his home state.
“I didn’t have to leave the state to get 500 wins,” he admitted. “A lot of coaches have to move around to do it, but I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to do it right here in West Virginia.”
Asya Bussie, West Virginia’s outstanding junior center, was one of the first players to congratulate Carey after today’s victory – a less-than-competitive 72-30 blowout over Bucknell.
Bussie, one of the team’s top scorers this year, managed just 9 points and four rebounds in the win. She admitted to her coach afterward that she really didn’t contribute much to this victory.
“I said, ‘Asya, you know, you’ve contributed to a lot of them, but you’re right – not this one!’”
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