The story behind Gene Keady, Mark Fratto's relationship: "It’s funny to think one of your best friends is 40 years older than you"

b8vTr9Hoby:Mike Carmin04/06/24

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Matt Painter was peppered with questions for nearly 30 minutes Friday during his Final Four press conference at State Farm Stadium.

This was Painter’s cue to ask his own question.

“Do you have any moments of living with coach (Gene) Keady that you want to share?” Painter asked moderator Mark Fratto, who is working his 14th Final Four.  

Fratto quickly brushed aside Painter’s question and ended the press conference.

“That’s all the time we have for this session,” he said laughing.

Everyone in the press room glossed over the response, not knowing there was a story to Painter’s question. And here it is.

Fratto and Keady were roommates for one season, while Purdue’s all-time winningest coach served on Steve Lavin’s staff as a special assistant/advisor at St. John’s from 2010-15. Lavin was a graduate assistant under Keady in the late 1980s.

Or, this is how Fratto – who was the school’s Director of Athletics Communications –  described Keady’s role.

“Coach Lavin’s consiglieri. Coach Lavin would call him Mr. Miyagi, his wise old owl,” Fratto said.


Before the two shared an apartment, Keady was living in a 5-star hotel in Central Park West, which was financed by donors from St. John’s and Purdue. Fratto lived on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, about 15-20 blocks away from the hotel. He drove Keady to campus, to the airport for road games and dropped him off late at night.

However, after the first year, the athletic department examined the hotel arraignment and coupled with Fratto’s desire to purchase a home, an idea was born.

Until meeting Keady, the only impression Fratto had of the legendary coach, who guided the Boilermakers to six Big Ten titles, was what he saw on television.

“The Gene Keady that I first knew was the one on TV — the one with the scowl, the one twirling the jacket over his head, battling Bobby Knight, getting technicals, and winning a lot of games. I always imagined he would be a fearsome creature in real life as well,” Fratto said.

Keady and Fratto decided to share a duplex, which had separate bedrooms and was connected in the middle by the kitchen. Fratto saved money, not only for the school but also for a down payment on a future house.

Here’s one of the kickers – Keady is 40 years older than Fratto.  

“We were truly the Odd Couple and I think we missed out on a sitcom opportunity,” Fratto said.

While the two didn’t have a lot in common from an age perspective, they did share a bond of arriving early for meetings, games, fundraising events and other functions.

“We were always 20-30 minutes early for everything,” Fratto said.


But here’s where the relationship became interesting and humorous.  

Fratto was single and dating. He started bringing Keady on his first dates – a third wheel – to “get a clear assessment of whether the young lady that I was going to dinner with … we got a really good gauge of what her sense of humor was like and if she appreciated coach’s presence or bristled a bit at the thought.”

Fratto told his first dates Keady was coming.

“He wasn’t a surprise guest,” he said. “That would be communicated ahead of time.”

Did his dates know who Keady was?

“Some would and some wouldn’t,” Fratto said. “The ones who got it were in a slightly better mood when they found out we would have another guest.”

But Keady wasn’t part of Fratto’s first date when he met his future wife, Kristine. Mark was living in New York City, and Kristine was in Washington, D.C.

“Coach Keady knew the way I described the first meeting it would be the last first date I would go on,” Mark said.


Keady and Fratto remained close friends ever since. If one doesn’t hear from the other during a three or four-day stretch, they’re on the phone.

“He’ll call me up and say, ‘I want to make sure you’re still cookin’,” Fratto said.

His family is close with Keady, including his parents and wife, and regularly visited their house in South Carolina while on vacation. Keady and his wife, Kathleen, have since moved back to West Lafayette.

Keady attended the couple’s wedding and introduced the bridal party. Fratto traveled to Larnard, Kansas, when the city named a street after Keady—Gene Keady Way—and was honored by his hometown with a parade as the six-time National Coach of the Year was throwing candy to the crowd.

“It’s funny to think one of your best friends is 40 years older than you,” Fratto said.

And the image that Fratto saw on TV in the 1980s didn’t capture the true Keady.

“Found out quickly that coach Keady was not the scary, combover, technical accruing coach that I saw on TV in the 80s,” Fratto said. “He was a really fun and funny, kindhearted grandfather figure to me and all of us.”

Fratto is now principal and director of business development for Lincare Media, a production company. He also serves as PA announcer for the Washington Commanders, Washington Wizards, New York City FC, and numerous boxing events.

Fratto understands how much Purdue’s trip to the Final Four means to the 87-year-old Keady.

It’s been a special 12 months for Keady, who was selected to the Naismith Hall of Fame last year in Houston, inducted in Springfield, Mass., last summer and now has watched Painter guide the program to its first Final Four in 44 years.

“It’s been in his veins for so long and he’s so proud of Matt,” Fratto said. “He was proud of Matt before Matt coached the team to the Final Four. It’s been a wonderful experience these last 12 months, watching Coach be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame and then having this opportunity to take this ride with Purdue.

“As much love coach Keady has in his heart for Purdue, Purdue equals that and matches it for Coach. Matt and the Purdue basketball program have taken such great care of coach Keady.”

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