Women’s Basketball: ‘Garry needed to be around basketball’
Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, October 24, 2015
The troubling moments began during the New Orleans Bowl trip last December.
The wife of UL women’s basketball coach Garry Brodhead, Andrea, was experiencing back pain.
Officially, she was in remission since first being diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2012, just one month after Brodhead got his dream job at UL.
But something wasn’t right. Her explanation of the pain gave Brodhead a sinking feeling.
Not quite two weeks later, he was accompanying his team to the Sun Belt opener at UALR on Dec. 30 when the bad news came.
The doctor’s report wasn’t good. His fears were realized.
The team stayed — got beat 67-41 — while Brodhead flew back home.
The next week, Brodhead missed the trip to Appalachian State — also a loss, 63-51.
After an 8-1 start, the Cajuns had lost three straight games. Brodhead requested a meeting with UL Athletic Director Scott Farmer on how to proceed.
It was obvious that he had a long road ahead of him as his wife’s primary caregiver and yet still had a basketball team to coach.
What should he do?
“I didn’t know what he would want me to do,” Brodhead said. “I kind of figured he’d ask me to take a leave of absence or something like that. If he wanted me to resign, I would have resigned.”
Farmer’s answer, though, was nothing like that. Instead, it was a positive, supportive reaction that still blows Brodhead’s mind and warms his heart to this day.
“Honestly, that thought (leave of absence or resigning) never crossed my mind,” Farmer said. “To me, it comes down to the philosophy and atmosphere that we want to create around our entire athletic department and that’s we’re all family.
“When your family is going through tough times, you support them.”
Brodhead was naturally concerned about his team. Farmer was concerned about Brodhead, but also knew deep down that the players would learn valuable lessons from the journey they were all about to endure.
“It was never about X’s and O’s or W’s and L’s — never,” Farmer said. “Garry needed to be around basketball and his team as much as he possibly could.
“And I’ve always thought that coaches are really teachers. Sure, we teach them X’s and O’s, but I knew those players would learn so much about life by going through that experience. This was a life lesson, something they’re all going to experience in some fashion at some point in their lives.”
Now as Brodhead and his 2015-16 Ragin’ Cajuns prepare for a new season still with heavy hearts since the death of Andrea Brodhead on Sept. 10, the coach will never view the university he’s loved his entire life the same.
“He (Farmer) made me feel like it (remaining the coach) was the right thing to do,” Brodhead said. “I didn’t expect that at all. It just shows you what we’re all about here at this university. And then to have Dr. (Joseph) Savoie support that decision was just incredible. That meant so much to me.
“I knew that people cared, but I got to experience it. It meant so much to me.”
In fact, Brodhead said the overwhelming support of the university has literally altered the way his thinks and views issues.
“I’m not as judgmental about people as I used to be now,” he said. “Now I want to know what’s really going on behind the scenes before I judge someone.”
Indeed, criticism is viewed very differently now.
“So many people don’t really know what this university is all about,” Brodhead said. “They want this or they want that, so they get mad. But they don’t know what’s really going on behind the scenes.
“To me, we’re not really the Ragin’ Cajuns. We’re really the Carin’ Cajuns. We care about people here. That’s what this university is all about.”
As it turned out, Brodhead missed three games while somehow successfully figuring out how to juggle the enormous responsibility of being his wife’s primary caregiver and being the head coach of a Division I basketball team.
He also missed “five at the most” practices.
But exactly how did he even concentrate when he was there?
“That was my safe haven,” Brodhead said. “I was able to disconnect when I was there.
“And dealing with so many big things, I think it helped me to handle the kids a little better at games or at practice.”
Senior forward Adrienne Prejean said the team supported Brodhead’s approach from the beginning.
“Sure, we missed him when he wasn’t there, but we all knew he was where he needed to be,” Prejean said. “We all just wanted to be there for him.
“We wanted him to be there for her. She needed him more than we did. We all loved her. She was like the team mom. We knew she loved the game and our team as much as us.”
Fortunately for Brodhead and the team, the assistant coaches were more than able to fill in when he was gone.
“I was never worried about the X’s and O’s,” Brodhead said. “The assistant coaches knew the X’s and O’s. They could take care of that part of it.”
Assistant Deacon Jones said Brodhead made sure of that.
“Sure, we wanted our coach there,” Jones said. “He is OUR coach in every sense of the word. But when he wasn’t there, we knew he was where he needed to be.
“He prepared us (staff) for that time. He made sure we were ready for it.”
Prejean said the assistant coaches ran the team “like Coach Brodhead would have wanted” when he was away.
Likewise, Jones made it easier for Brodhead to leave.
“He (Jones) helped me so much,” Brodhead said. “The toughest part was when I knew I needed to be here (with the team), but I couldn’t.
“He wouldn’t just tell me to go home, he would tell me why they had it under control — why it was OK for me to not be there. That really helped me.”
Like Farmer’s original goal, this college basketball team had indeed become a family.
Sure, Brodhead taught his players many life lessons during his family’s battle with cancer.
But the lessons weren’t one-sided.
“The kids did so much for me,” Brodhead said. “They were so worried about me. If you could see a letter in my desk from Brooklyn (Arceneaux), you wouldn’t believe it.”
For example, knowing Brodhead’s tradition of enjoying Buffalo Wild Wings on Tuesdays, there was his team in his office on the first Tuesday after her death, taking him there.
“They were there, saying, ‘Let’s go coach, we’re going to have a good time,’” Brodhead said. “We have so much trust and belief in one another.
“This is much more than a basketball team. I think we really are a family. I just know they’re going to help me so much (this season). They’re going to make me a better coach, a better Dad and a better man.”
Jones believes the biggest lesson of all was Brodhead’s total dedication to his wife.
“Remember, this is a team of females, not guys,” he said. “For them to see how he stood by his wife through everything taught them so much.
“He was a two-time winner. He was a winner to his biological kids and he was also a winner to his other kids on the basketball team.”
Farmer said his decision to stay the course with Brodhead was “the right thing to do” regardless of how successful the team was on the court down the stretch.
But as last season played out, the unselfishness displayed throughout the process was rewarded.
After catching stride midway through the Sun Belt season, the Cajuns lost three of four to end the regular season, including an 87-65 loss at Arkansas State in the finale.
Then it happened.
Throughout most of the season, the team asked Brodhead if their team mom and biggest fan would ever be able to make a game.
Brodhead said he told his wife that he made reservations in New Orleans for the conference tournament if she felt like going.
“She always said, ‘Let’s wait and see,’” he said. “But in my mind, I didn’t think she’d go.”
Then one day, when discussing plans, she said, “OK, I’m going to go.”
Brodhead didn’t tell his team until the day arrived.
Before the first tournament game March 11, he revealed to the players that their biggest fan was out there to watch them play.
“It was so loud in that locker room,” he remembered. “They were so fired up. It was, ‘Let’s go win this game for her.’”
Not only did UL handle Troy, which had swept the Cajuns in league play, 66-52 that day, but took that same Arkansas State team to the wire before falling 63-61 the next day.
“Looking back now, I don’t think we really understood how great it was at the time for her to be there and see us excel,” Prejean said. “I’m so glad she was able to do that.”
That inspired play was transformed into winning the WBI Tournament title with four wins at Earl K. Long Gym with Andrea Brodhead at courtside relishing every moment.
“The WBI was so special for our family,” Brodhead said. “For her to get to see us win something was so special.”
After all, Andrea had told her husband in a private moment during her battle, “You know you didn’t get this job by yourself.”
Again, he didn’t need to be told. Brodhead knew all along that it was a family journey.
In fact, one of her big regrets as she faced death was missing out on more of the fruits of her husband’s years of labor.
“She told me, ‘I know we’re going to be good. I know you’re going to win a lot more championships in the future. And I won’t get to experience that with you.’”
Perhaps no one appreciated the scene as the team won the WBI Tournament crown more than Jones.
The first priority was to play the games at the Cajundome, but logistically the decision was made to play it on campus in the much-smaller E.K. Long Gym.
“It worked out so perfectly,” Jones said. “It was meant to be. If we were in the Cajundome, it’s so big and she would have gotten lost. She probably would have been behind our bench. At E.K. Long, she was right there in the first row, right across from our bench where the whole team could see her cheering us on.
“We had six people on the court for that entire tournament.”