In 18 years as head coach at West Virginia University, Mike Carey has guided the Mountaineers to 12 postseason appearances, 13 21-win seasons, a 30-win season, and three conference tournament championship game appearances. The three-time conference coach of the year is the most winning coach in school history, with 393 victories going into 2019-2020.
A native of West Virginia, Carey was a standout at Salem College, where he scored 2,000 career points. He coached high school boy’s basketball for seven years before being named assistant men’s basketball at Salem. After a year he was promoted to head coach, where he stayed until 2001, when he was named head of the Mountaineers.
Carey and his wife have four adult offspring.
When did you know you wanted to coach?
I was involved with athletics my whole life, but my first two years in college I studied criminal justice. My goal was to be come a state police officer and get into the FBI. Going into my junior year I changed my mind, and decided I wanted to go into coaching. I had a lot of friends who were going into coaching, and my older brother was going into coaching. So it was an easy decision.
How did you approach setting up your systems at West Virginia?
Needless to say, my college experience was on men’s side in a DII school and my connections and the coaches I knew were on the men’s side. So when I first got here, that was a concern of mine. I wanted assistant coaches that I could trust who were loyal. So I went about hiring my first assistants. I didn’t have a lot of connections at that time, and not a lot of knowledge as to who great assistants were. I knew Joanna Bernabei at Eastern Kentucky, so I reached out to her and felt very comfortable bringing her in here.
How did you get from the men’s to the women’s side?
I had coached women in high school before, and this was just a great opportunity in my home state. People say men and women need to be coached differently, but really I really don’t. Then again, I might be a lot softer because I’m getting older.
What are the cornerstones to success in a program?
You have to have trust and loyalty on your staff, and players have to have trust and loyalty, as well as standards, goals and discipline. Every year we try to win conference and win the national championship. That being said, we have to set goals academically, make good grades and be in class. Our team GPA is normally over a 3.0.
What are the characteristics of Mountaineer basketball?
We’re disciplined, and we treat people the right way. I’m big on treating everyone like you want to be treated. As a program, we’re very physical. We stress defense, we stress doing things the right way on and off the floor. We stress treating everybody with respect.
What is the difference between student-athletes of 20 years ago and student-athletes now?
I don’t think it’s the players changing – it’s the coaches changing. Coaches now are worried about what other people are going to say, what lawsuits might be filed. I’m not so sure players have changed. Some coaches are scared to be themselves and discipline players.
You’ve experienced your share of adversity, including player injuries. What are the best ways to cope with such situations?
First of all, you can’t feel sorry for yourself, and the other players cant’ feel sorry for themselves. You have to move on and know that it is what it is; you make adjustments and there are no excuses – it’s next person up. Probably the person who is going to play in someone’s place was complaining about playing time anyway, so now she’s got an opportunity to prove herself. I don’t like to give excuses and I don’t like players to give them. We all need to be held to a high standard and be accountable for our actions.
What was one of your highs in basketball? What was one of your lows?
A high for me has been being able to stay in the state of West Virginia and be around my family. My mom and dad are not with us right now, but it was great not to have to move away from them. The highest was to be able to be with my family throughout my career. The lowest is to see student athletes not achieve their goals. I always promise recruits when they come here there that they will be a lot better when they leave, but sometimes reality hits. We have great players, and those who work had and stay focused are usually the players who are most successful. Not everyone can be helped. You feel badly, but that’s part of life. If they can put up with me for four years, they’re mentally tough.
How has coaching changed you as a coach and a person?
I think bringing in players from all different walks of life and backgrounds and states has opened up my eyes. I love being from West Virginia, but not everything is about West Virginia and not everything is like it is here. I’ve made a lot of great friends, met a lot of great coaches and staff people. I’m very fortunate.
What do you want your student-athletes to take from your program once they leave?
Knowing: lets’s work hard, there’s no short cuts, how to get an A in a class, how to be a great player, that you have to be blue collar because success takes hard work. Not everyone can be a great player and a great student. In real life people don’t give you anything – you have to go out and work for it.
What is the best thing about your job?
Relationships. I’m tough on the players on the floor, but I have great relationships with them off the floor. That’s what’s important, not only with players, but with their families and those surrounding them. I feel the best about the relationships I’ve developed over the years. A lot of them come back and say I’m getting soft because I was tougher on them.
What do you want your legacy to be?
That I was fair, that I was consistent, and that I treated eveybo0=dy the same. Some ask me, “do you have favorite players?” Yes I do. My favorite players are the ones who go to class, and who do the right things on and off the floor.
What is your favorite vacation spot?
I like going to Florida, going to Disney and watching Hallmark movies – those kids of things. I like to travel anywhere, but we have a place in Florida so I go there a lot. I am a big Hallmark movie fan, and I have my share of Christmas sweaters.