Roots get deeper in Mullins family coaching tree
The Loyola men's basketball assistant coach glances down at his phone as it vibrates on his office desk. The name of a UIC men's basketball assistant coach appears on the caller ID.
The Loyola coach lets it go through to voice mail as he's occupied at the moment. The two coaches will catch up later and converse plenty about their lives on and off the court.
They always do.
Without stating names, the relationship between the Loyola and UIC basketball assistants would seem odd. Loyola and UIC are no longer in the same conference, but they both reside in Chicago and often pursue the same recruits.
They also still play each other once a season. There are plenty of reasons for the two coaches not to be super friendly.
The problem is brothers Brendan and Bryan Mullins don't know any other way through life without talking multiple times a day.
Brendan, a UIC assistant, and Bryan, a Loyola assistant, just aren't concerned about potential conflicts of interest. They ceased what had been an intense childhood sibling rivalry nearly a decade ago when they first became Downers Grove South teammates and have since only been best friends and each other's supporter.
"We've become so close that I can't even be competitive with him," said Brendan, 30, whose UIC office includes a plaque from when he and Bryan were inducted into Downers Grove South's Hall of Fame in February. "I want him to succeed so bad and he wants me to succeed so bad.
"I'll do anything to help him. Even in recruiting, we're constantly calling each other and trying to help each other. Even with that, we probably should be a little more competitive, but we're going to be there for each other. If I'm not a good coach because of it, so be it."
The idea of someday coaching has existed in the Mullins brothers' minds for much of their lives. Their father, Mike Mullins, runs the Illinois Wolves, one of the nation's top high school basketball club programs. They also grew up gym rats who often had to outwork and outthink their opponents to make up for their athletic ceilings.
They already possessed some of the necessary tools to be effective coaches before entering the profession.
Brendan and Bryan did take different routes to become Division I assistants in Chicago.
Brendan, 18 months older, had the longer journey. He played at St. Michael's College, a Division II program in Vermont. He worked his way up from a Division II Mercyhurst graduate assistant to Wisconsin-Green Bay director of operations to Wright State director of operations to a Wright State assistant coach. He was hired as an assistant at UIC in April when Steve McClain took over as head coach.
Bryan, 28, had the more successful playing career. He starred at Southern Illinois, where he helped the Salukis to the Sweet Sixteen in 2007, and continued his career professionally in France for four years.
He decided to retire as a player in 2013 when injuries began to accumulate. He immediately had Division I suitors and chose Porter Moser's offer to join Loyola's staff. Moser had recruited him out of high school at Illinois State. Bryan was promoted to assistant coach this season after two years as Loyola's director of operations.
"I was just with my youngest son, Michael, at the United Center, and we were talking about all the places the ball has taken our whole family," said Mike, who has had 200-plus Illinois Wolves alumni play Division I basketball.
"It's been a great thing to watch and be a part of. You got to be lucky in timing, but I think their preparation, work ethic and what made them successful as basketball players has helped them in coaching. We're happy to have them back here."
Brendan and Bryan took advantage of sharing the same city again this past off-season, even making a few recruiting trips together, but now it's mostly dialing each other's 630 cellphone number. Their talks aren't just about basketball, but they often turn there.
"I call him every day," Bryan said. "I ask him questions about recruiting probably every day. Just, 'How would you deal with this -- trying to get a hold of a high school coach and he's not getting back to you -- what would you do?'
"Different relationships with parents, kids. He's been huge for me; it's a huge advantage for me to have Brendan."
McClain and Moser understand that closeness, too. Neither head coach is worried about the brothers' relationship impacting their respective programs. The Ramblers and the Flames face off this season at Loyola on Dec. 19.
"I think the staff teases [Brendan], 'You're going to hang out with those Loyola staff tonight?' " McClain said. "But it is unique.
"Yet, I don't think there's anybody that would say both brothers haven't paid their price to get an opportunity. Started down at the lowest level of what you can be and worked their way up. That's who they are and that's why they're going to be very good down the road."
In the ideal world for the family, either Brendan or Bryan would be hired as a head coach and the other would come onboard as a top assistant. They understand being patient for that opportunity.
"The only thing I said is if you get a head-coaching job you better-hire-me-type thing," Bryan said. "Obviously it would be awesome to work with him someday. I think both of us have a long way to go to working our way up still.
"Hopefully, hopefully someday it'll happen."
Brotherly comparisonBrendan Mullins, 30Current job: First year as UIC assistant men's basketball coach.
• Spent five seasons at Wright State as director of operations and assistant coach, with two 20-win seasons.
• One season at Wisconsin-Green Bay as director of basketball operations.
• Two seasons at assistant coach at Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania,
College career: Four-year letter winner at Saint Michael's College in Vermont; ranks fifth on SMC's leaderboard with 200 career 3-point baskets.
Degrees: bachelor's in business administration from Saint Michael's in 2007, master's degree in organizational leadership from Mercyhurst in 2009.
High school: Led 2003 Downers Grove South team to 24-7 record and Elite Eight berth in state.
Bryan Mullins, 28Current job: After two seasons at Loyola University as director of basketball operations, now an assistant coach.
College career: Led Southern Illinois to two NCAA Tournament appearances, one NIT berth, and two MVC titles. Two-time Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year selection. Salukis were 29-7 record in 2006-07.
Degree: bachelor's finance with a perfect 4.0 cumulative grade-point average.
Pro career: Spent four seasons playing in France before joining Loyola's staff.
High school: Played on 2003 Elite Eight team and led 2005 Downers Grove South team to 29-4 record and third-place finish in state.