Rick Byrd is one of those coaches who just seems happy where he is. When he took over the Belmont Bruins in 1986, the program was a member of the TranSouth Athletic Conference of the NAIA. Ten years later, in 1996, the Bruins made an epic leap to the NCAA’s Division I, spending five seasons getting kicked around as a provisional independent. His squad joined the A-Sun in 2001, and then the fun started. By year two in the league, Byrd’s team had a winning record and a first-place finish in the North division. Then came an NIT berth and a run of three straight NCAA appearances. Most recently, there have been two more appearances in the Big Dance, providing an excellent swan song as the Bruins prepare to join the Ohio Valley Conference this season.
Byrd has been amazingly successful and surprisingly loyal. A five-time auto-bid winner must get phone calls from bigger schools, but Byrd has stayed put in the only DI job he’s ever had.
Byrd’s quiet string of successes in the Volunteer State have not gone unnoticed. Recently, he was chosen for induction into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. According to the Nashville Tennesseean, nobody told him the good news.
Rick Byrd became suspicious Tuesday after being greeted in the parking lot of the Vanderbilt Legends Golf Course by a fellow who congratulated him with a hearty handshake and a big smile.
The Belmont basketball coach was puzzled. He thought he was there to play a round of golf with the inductees for the 2013 Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.
He didn’t know who was being inducted, but with his five handicap, Byrd gets invited to lots of these types of outings when golf is involved.
After entering the Legends Club and sensing that too many of his friends were too tight-lipped and avoiding eye contact, Byrd started to think it wasn’t his mad skill on the links that led to him being invited.
He suspected he might actually be one of the inductees.
“There were a couple of people who probably said more than they needed to,” Byrd said. “Even then I was only hopeful; I didn’t know for sure.”
This should be an interesting season for Byrd and the Bruins. They’ll face tough trips to Stanford, VCU and Kansas in the non-conference season. In the OVC, they’ll battle a Murray State team that has a similar history of mid-major dominance. Byrd will also have to face his mirror-image in Dave Loos, who has helmed the Austin Peay Governors for 22 seasons. Even with a newly-minted Hall of Famer in the coach’s box, it won’t be easy.