Byrd separates Belmont in Tennessee sports
by Josh Cooper, USA TODAY Sports
Rick Byrd emerged from the locker room at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. The day was March 20, 2008 and his No. 15 seeded Belmont Bruins had just lost a close game to heavily-favored No. 2 Duke, 71-70, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
As the Belmont coach and his family searched for alumni, friends and well-wishers in the stands, the Bruins fans still in the arena stood up, put their hands together and gave Byrd an ovation.
Supporters of West Virginia and Arizona, the teams played in the next game in the building, also noticed Byrd and followed suit. The normally reserved Byrd looked around and thought, “Is this for me?”
On that night, the closeness of the game, and the humility of the Bruins players showed the people in the building, as well as a nationally televised audience, what Belmont already knew: That Byrd understands how to put together a winning program the “right” way.
Byrd does not have the outward personality of Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin. He doesn’t receive the media attention that Titans coach Mike Munchak and Predators coach Barry Trotz receive. Byrd’s teams do not play regularly in front of big home crowds like Vanderbilt basketball coach Kevin Stallings’ teams.
Yet, in a city with dozens of high-profile and elite coaches, Byrd, 59, has found his niche as the leader of one of the region’s most successful and respected teams.
“He’s a guy of great character and tremendous character. If he can have character to a fault, he almost does,” country music star and good friend Vince Gill said. “It’s really inspiring to be around because you know he’s going to do the right thing. He’s going to do the fair thing at every turn.”
He has built Belmont’s men’s basketball program from the ground up, overseeing the state’s second-largest private liberal arts university’s move to Division-I and five NCAA tournament appearances.
Tonight, Byrd and the Bruins make another transition as they play their first home game in the Ohio Valley Conference (7 p.m. at the Curb Event Center against Southeast Missouri State).
“I think they’ve built an outstanding program … [For more on Rick Byrd helps separate Belmont in Tennessee's sports teams, click here.]