When Gene Keady first came to West Lafayette in the spring of 1980, no one could have anticipated him accomplishing so much during his tenure at Purdue. However, after 25 years of running up and down the sidelines and perfecting his famous scowl, Gene Keady's name has become synonymous with Boilermaker basketball. He forever will be known as one of the greatest to ever coach the game.
Many would say that coaching 25 years in NCAA Division I basketball is an accomplishment within itself. However, it often is overlooked that Keady spent 22 years making his way up the coaching ranks before coming to Purdue. He achieved success at all levels of the game, something that is rarely seen in coaching today.
"He has come up all levels: he coached high school, then junior college, then was a college assistant, and I think that is what our coaches really appreciate," said former coaching assistant to Keady and current Illinois head coach Bruce Weber. "He has done it with all levels of talent, and he hasn't stepped on anyone along the way. I appreciate coaches like him."
Keady began his coaching career at Beloit High School in Kansas in 1958 after a brief stint in the NFL playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After compiling a 102-47 record in six seasons as head coach of Beloit High, Keady made his way to Hutchinson (Kan.) Junior College, where he would prove himself ready to coach Division I basketball.
Under Keady, Hutchinson won six league titles and qualified for six national tournaments, including a second-place showing and 29-4 overall record in 1972-73. He was named junior college coach of the year in Region Six three consecutive times (1971, 1972, 1973), and is enshrined in the National Junior College Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and coach.
Keady left Hutchinson in 1974 for an assistant coaching position at Arkansas under a living legend, Eddie Sutton. As Sutton's assistant, Keady worked tirelessly recruiting nationally renowned prospects and contributed in molding one of the finest programs in the nation.
While becoming a prominent leader in two years at Western Kentucky, Keady caught the eye of onlookers at Purdue as he led the Hilltoppers to a 38-19 record, a share of the Ohio Valley Conference championship title in 1979, and a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Keady was named Purdue's 17th head coach on April 11, 1980, embarking on his illustrious career at the helm of Boilermaker basketball. His would be the second-longest men's basketball coaching tenure in school history, second only to Ward Lambert's 28 ½ seasons.
Keady came to Purdue during a period where coaches such as Bob Knight, Jud Heathcote, Lou Henson and Lute Olson led the Big Ten. He was left with big shoes to fill after previous head coach Lee Rose led the Boilermakers to a Big Ten title and a Final Four appearance in the two previous seasons.
Instantly becoming one of the Big Ten's most respected coaches, Keady led the Boilermakers to a Big Ten championship in his fourth season. Along with his first conference title, Keady was named Big Ten coach of the year and national coach of the year for the first time in his career.
Keady went on to win three Big Ten titles and appear in eight NCAA Tournaments in his first decade at Purdue. During that period, Keady would go on to be named Big Ten coach of the year three times and national coach of the year twice.
One of Keady's most memorable accomplishments at Purdue came in the mid-90s when the Boilermakers won three consecutive conference titles. From 1994 to 1996, the Boilermakers ruled the Big Ten and Keady was honored as the league's coach of the year each of those seasons. He also received national coach of the year honors all three seasons.
By the end of his career, Keady led the Boilermakers to 14 20-win seasons, including six seasons with 25 or more wins. He left Purdue as the school's all-time-winningest coach with a record of 512-270 (.655). His conference record of 265-169 (.611) ranks him second in wins in Big Ten history.
Keady was named Big Ten coach of the year a record seven times- tying Bob Knight- and national coach of the year six times, second only to Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.
With all these accolades and accomplishments under his belt, many would think that there was not much more Keady could have done as coach. However he did just as much for his players off the court as he coached them on it.
To Keady, basketball was more than just a game he coached; it was a tool he used to teach his players how to succeed in school as well as in life.
"Graduating, becoming a good person, and having the right morals were far more important to coach than any award or accolade," said former Boilermaker and current NBA player Brian Cardinal. "He constantly put our own personal life goals ahead of his athletic goals."
Nearly 90 percent of Keady's seniors who stayed at Purdue for four seasons graduated. During his tenure, Boilermakers were selected Academic All-Big Ten 35 times, and earned Academic All-American honors seven times.
Along with being a mentor to his players throughout his career, Keady also played a prominent role in United States Basketball.
As the head coach of various USA Basketball teams, Keady racked up a record of 22-2 in four different tournaments from 1979 to 1991. He led Team USA to two gold medals: one in 1979 at the National Sports Festival, and another in 1989 at the World University Games. Keady also grabbed the silver medal in 1985 at the R. Williams Jones Cup and the bronze at the 1991 Pan-American Games.
Throughout his prestigious career and still today, Keady continues to be a major player in the development of college basketball. He is a member and former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and remains one of the leading spokesmen on issues surrounding college basketball.
Keady is known to give back to the game of basketball whenever he gets the chance. He performs charity work, makes numerous speaking appearances every year, and is okay accommodating to fans and news media.
In his 25 years at Purdue, Keady did it all, from coaching champions to graduating students. The toughness he showed on the court and the way he continues to represent basketball today exemplifies what his profession is all about.