Overall Record: 637-339 (32nd year)
Record at Belmont: 545-284 (27th year)
One of the most successful and respected coaches in the country, Head Coach Rick Byrd has been a model of consistency in leading Belmont's transition from an NAIA institution to a perennial headliner and championship program in NCAA Division-I.
2011-12 was the latest chapter in a story of sustained excellence for Belmont Basketball. On the heels of a record-breaking 2011 campaign, Belmont lived up to advanced billing and again delivered championship form. After winning the EA Sports Maui Invitational Regional Games title in the non-conference, the Bruins earned an outright Atlantic Sun Conference regular season championship - the program's fifth regular season title in seven years. Byrd then directed the Bruins to three straight victories in the conference tournament to again cut down the nets and send Belmont to a second straight NCAA Tournament.
The Atlantic Sun Tournament championship marked Belmont's fifth in the last seven years; Belmont joins the exclusive company of Kansas and Memphis as the only programs in the nation to earn five NCAA Tournament automatic bids in the last seven years.
Just in the last year, Byrd received the NCAA Bob Frederick Award for his lifelong commitment to sportsmanship, ethical conduct, and fair play. Moreover, he received induction into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame.
Several Bruins earned conference postseason honors. Drew Hanlen, Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson were all named First Team All-Atlantic Sun - the first time in the 34-year history of the conference that three players from the same team received first team distinction. Mick Hedgepeth earned Second Team All-Atlantic Sun honors for a second straight season.
The Bruins received national Top 25 poll votes during November, and were ranked in the Top 50 nationally by Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin, and ESPN BPI, among others, all season long.
All told, Belmont has won 10 conference championships (five regular season, five tournament) since 2006 - only Kansas and Memphis have won more over that span. Unquestionably, Byrd has built a program with staying power. With a program-best 19 conference victories in 2010-11 and 16 more in 2011-12, the Bruins remain part of an exclusive fraternity in college basketball. Only Belmont and Kansas have won 12 or more regular season conference games each of the past 10 years.
In 2010-11, Byrd led Belmont Basketball to a fourth Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament title and fourth NCAA Tournament automatic berth in the last six years. Belmont became the first program in the nation to reach 30 victories this past season and received national poll votes for nine consecutive weeks from Jan. 17 to Mar. 14. The Bruins were also ranked as high as No. 2 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid Major Top 25 poll, earning a program-best No. 6 final ranking. Belmont led the Atlantic Sun Conference in 12 statistical categories, ranked in the Top 50 nationally in 11 categories, and ended the year ranked No. 18 by Basketball State and No. 19 by Ken Pomeroy.
Widely-regarded for his offensive philosophies and halfcourt execution, Byrd continues to rewrite the coaching record books. With 637 career victories, Byrd ranks seventh among all active NCAA Division-I head coaches in wins. Moreover, only five head coaches in the nation have been at their respective institutions longer than Byrd's 26 years of service at Belmont. Under Byrd's guidance, the Bruins have won 164 games and nearly 87 percent of their conference games over the past seven years. Byrd earned career victory No. 600 Jan. 30 vs. Stetson. With a victory Jan. 5 at Stetson, he also joined Mike Krzyzweski, Jim Boeheim, and Dave Bike as active Division I head coaches with 500 or more victories at his current school.
Additionally, Byrd is first among all active NCAA Division I men’s basketball head coaches (min. 10 years at school) when ranked by percentage of schools’ all-time wins; having accounted for nearly 65 percent of the total victories in Belmont history,
Following the historic 30-5 campaign, Byrd earned a number of postseason honors, including being named Hugh Durham National Coach of the Year, NABC District 3 Coach of the Year, TSWA Men’s College Basketball Coach of the Year, and Atlantic Sun Conference Coach of the Year. He was also a finalist for the Clair Bee National Coach of the Year Award, the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year Award, and the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award.
Sophomore Ian Clark was named NABC All-District, First Team All-Atlantic Sun and Atlantic Sun All-Tournament Team, while junior Mick Hedgepeth was named NACDA Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Atlantic Sun Tournament MVP and Second Team All-Atlantic Sun. Junior Scott Saunders was also a Second Team All-Atlantic Sun Selection, and senior Jordan Campbell was named to the all-tournament team.
Byrd, who has roamed the sidelines for more than a quarter century, turned in one of his finest coaching jobs in 2009-10. After losing the core nucleus of three consecutive NCAA Tournament teams and welcoming eight newcomers, Byrd directed the Bruins to a share of their third Atlantic Sun Conference regular season championship in five years.
Postseason honors piled up for Bruin freshman Ian Clark, who was named Mid Major All-America and Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year by CollegeInsider.com and Sporting News, respectively. Clark was also named Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year and Second Team All-Atlantic Sun by the league office. Byrd himself was named Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year by CollegeInsider.com.
Byrd led the Bruins to a 20-13 record in 2008-09 and a postseason appearance in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT). It marked Belmont's fourth straight 20+ win campaign and postseason berth; fifth in six years. Belmont spent much of the 2008-09 season ranked in the Mid Major Top 25 poll and earned the program's first NCAA-era postseason victory at Evansville of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bruins also defeated preseason Sun Belt Conference favorite Middle Tennessee State and defending Ohio Valley Conference champion Austin Peay, not to mention losing at the buzzer at nationally-ranked Tennessee.
The lightning quick floor general Alex Renfroe became the second Bruin to earn All-America honors from the Associated Press. Renfroe was also named All-District by the NABC and Basketball Times and a Mid-Major All-American by CollegeInsider.com and CollegeHoopsNet.com.
Byrd led Belmont to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance in 2007-08. In fact, Belmont was one of just six programs in the country to earn an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament three consecutive years. Moreover, the Bruins became the first member institution in Atlantic Sun Conference history to win the three straight conference tournament championships. Belmont finished the 2007-08 campaign with a 25-9 record - a single-season program record for wins and its fourth 20-win season in five years. The remarkable season included marquee non-conference victories over Big East stalwart Cincinnati and SEC power Alabama, which led to national press in USA Today and ESPN among others. The Bruins then elevated their play to another level during the heart of conference action. Belmont went a program-record 14-2 in the league en route to its first-ever outright Atlantic Sun Conference regular season championship. Then with tournament wins over Campbell, ETSU, and Jacksonville, the Bruins carried a staggering 13-game win streak into the `Big Dance.' - the program's longest winning streak of its NCAA era and the nation's third-longest entering postseason play.
But all that pales in comparison to the herculean effort the Bruins put forth in their NCAA Tournament first round game against four-time national champion Duke. A prohibitive underdog as a No. 15 seed in the West Region, Belmont stood toe-to-toe with the Blue Devils for 40 minutes. With the support of the overwhelming majority of a jammed-packed Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. and millions watching nationwide, Belmont overcame a 42-35 halftime deficit to claim several leads late in the contest. All that kept Belmont from one of the greatest victories in college basketball history was a coast-to-coast drive from Gerald Henderson with 12 seconds remaining. Three opportunities in the final seconds would narrowly miss, and the Bruins would lose to Duke, 71-70.
Effusive praise of Coach Byrd and the Bruins poured in over the days and weeks to come - from media and the coaching community alike. With apologies to the Dallas Cowboys, for at least one night in March, Belmont Basketball was `America's Team.'
Predictably, postseason honors were plentiful. Byrd was named Atlantic Sun Conference Coach of the Year, by the league and numerous publications. Moreover, Byrd was selected as one of 10 finalists for the inaugural Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award, an award to be given annually to a Division I head coach who best represents the high standards of the coaching profession: Winning with integrity.
Justin Hare was named First Team All-Atlantic Sun and Atlantic Sun All-Tournament Team - among countless honors received by the senior. Shane Dansby earned Atlantic Sun Tournament MVP honors as well as Second Team All-Atlantic Sun. Matthew Dotson also was named to the All-Tournament Team while Jordan Campbell became the latest Bruin to garner A-Sun All-Freshman honors.
Belmont ended 2007-08 ranked 11th in the final Mid Major poll on CollegeInsider.com.
2006-07 was yet another year cloaked with pressure and high expectations. Nevertheless, behind Byrd's leadership, Belmont answered every call. There were non-conference wins over formidable programs like Rice, Fordham, and Arkansas-Little Rock; the latter of which on December 13, 2006, gave Byrd 500 career victories and placed him as one of just 15 active head coaches in Division I to have reached that milestone. After going 14-4 in conference play, the Bruins stormed past Gardner-Webb, Campbell, and ETSU to earn a second straight Atlantic Sun Championship and successive trip to the NCAA Tournament. Belmont received a 15 seed in the East Regional, where they played Big East Champion and eventual Final Four representative Georgetown.
The 2006-07 Belmont Bruins finished with a 23-10 mark. The Bruins were ranked 25th in the final Mid Major poll on CollegeInsider.com. During the season, Byrd was also honored by CollegeInsider.com with a 'Coach of the Week' award.
Justin Hare and Boomer Herndon led Belmont's postseason honor parade, being named First Team and Second Team All-Atlantic Sun, respectively. Hare once again was named Atlantic Sun Tournament MVP, while Andy Wicke and Andrew Preston joined him on the All-Tournament Team.
Yet as an even greater source of pride, Byrd has overseen a program characterized by unparalleled academic achievement. For 13 consecutive years, the Bruins have compiled a team G.P.A. of 3.0 or higher. During the Bruins' 11 year stay in the Atlantic Sun, Belmont paced the league with a whopping 97 players making the Atlantic Sun All-Academic honoree list - far and away the league standard. Justin Hare (‘08) carried the academic banner for the Bruins during his stellar career: Three-time Academic All-District, two-time Academic All-American by CoSida and two-time Division I-AAA Athletic Directors Association Academic Team.
Of the 68 NCAA Tournament teams, Belmont tied for third in the most recent NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) report. The APR classified Belmont men's basketball as one of the premier academic programs in the country, one of only six programs nationally to earn distinction every year since the inception of the APR program. Belmont has recorded a perfect 1000 APR score five out of seven years.
Scott Saunders and Mick Hedgepeth have certainly added to the Bruin tradition, as Saunders was named Capital One/CoSIDA Academic All-American in 2011 and 2012, and Hedgepeth was named 2010-11 NACDA Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Belmont Basketball leads the nation in Academic All-America honorees since 2001 with 10.
Moreover, Hedgepeth joined Andy Wicke (‘09) as Belmont student-athletes honored as one of 10 finalists for the prestigious Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. Wicke and Hare received coveted NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships following their playing careers.
In addition, Belmont University has received the prestigious Atlantic Sun Conference Academic Trophy nine of 11 years. Seven Atlantic Sun Male Student-Athletes of the Year were Belmont Basketball players, while the program's three top scorers (Wes Burtner, Justin Hare and Adam Mark) have become Academic All-Americans. Bruin standout Wes Burtner landed CollegeInsider.com's NCAA Student-Athlete of the Year award in 1998.
Byrd led the Bruins to its first dream campaign in 2005-06 - surely one of the most memorable seasons in school history. With a 15-5 mark during Atlantic Sun Conference play, Belmont earned its first regular season championship in team history. But the landmark achievements were merely beginning for Byrd and his team. Victories over Campbell, Stetson, and rival Lipscomb in Johnson City earned Belmont its first Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins received a 15 seed in the Oakland regional, where they played Pac-10 Champion and eventual National Runner-up UCLA.
Belmont ended with a sterling 20-11 record. All told for 2005-06, Belmont ranked fourth nationally in field goal percentage (.493), eighth in scoring offense (80.6 ppg), and 15th in assists (16.7 apg).
On December 30, 2003, Belmont knocked off #23 Missouri to give the school its first victory over a top-25 opponent. Consequently, Byrd and his team received major media interest from ESPN radio and Dick Vitale's weekly ESPN.com column. The Bruins kept it rolling, posting an eight-game win streak in Atlantic Sun play en route to a third place finish in the league. Byrd would register 20 wins for the first time since the team's arrival in Division I.
On the strength of their top-100 RPI and 21 victories, Belmont received a berth in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) where they faced local rival Austin Peay. The team finished the season ranked 23rd in CollegeInsider.com's Mid-Major Top-25.
"It is hard to imagine Belmont basketball without immediately thinking of Rick Byrd," stated Director of Athletics Mike Strickland. "We could not ask for a better person to lead our team. He has positioned the program to compete among the nation’s best."
This marked the second straight impressive season for the Bruins. Belmont captured the A-Sun North Division title in 2002 as the league experimented with a divisional setup. Consequently, the Bruins were the number two seed in the postseason tournament.
Conference competition has been an area where Byrd has really shined. In his career, the Knoxville, Tenn., native is 315-92 in league play, a remarkable .774 winning percentage. Moreover, Belmont is an eye-opening 122-45 in Atlantic Sun Conference games over the past eight seasons. In 1994-95, he led Belmont to a perfect 18-0 record en route to the Tennessee Collegiate Athletic Conference Championship. He has earned District or Conference Coach of the Year accolades on six separate occasions, most recently receiving the NAIA National Coach of the Year award after leading Belmont to an historical 37-2 record in 1994-95. That season saw Belmont climb to number one in the national polls for the first time and marked the school's second of consecutive appearance in the NAIA Final Four. Byrd led Belmont to three TCAC titles in all. Prior, he directed Lincoln Memorial to a pair of conference championships in a three-year stint from 1983-1986.
In 1998-99, Byrd earned his first Tennessee Men's College Basketball Coach of the Year honor as selected by the Tennessee Sports Writers Association after Belmont finished 14-13 in its second season as a member of Division I. Among the 14 victories were road wins over NCAA Tournament participants Samford and Winthrop as well as a home win over NIT Semifinalist Butler. Belmont won all four games it played against mid-state rivals Middle Tennessee, Austin Peay and Tennessee State to earn local bragging rights.
Byrd's accomplishments are many: he received the Nashville Area Athletic Club's Reese L. Smith Award for achievement and community service in 1995. That same year, Rick was named NAIA National Coach of the Year as well as Tennessee Collegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. At Lincoln Memorial University, where he posted a three-year record of 69-28, Byrd was chosen as NAIA District 24 Coach of the Year and Tennessee Valley Athletic Conference Coach of the Year twice. In 1989, while at Belmont, he was selected District 24 Coach of the Year and Area V Coach of the Year.
Prior to Belmont University's decision to join the NCAA, Byrd shaped its men's basketball program into a veritable NAIA powerhouse. Belmont made five NAIA national tournament appearances under Byrd's direction, including trips to the semifinals in 1995 and 1996 and a spot in the quarterfinals in 1994. They won three Tennessee Collegiate Athletic Conference championships, and finished second in the league another five times. The 1993-94 team also received the Dr. James Naismith Sportsmanship Award. Byrd coached six players who earned a total of 11 NAIA All-America honors, including Joe Behling, a first-team All-American in 1988, 1989 and 1990 and the 1989 NAIA National Player of the Year; Kerry West, a 1995 first-team selection; and DaQuinn Goff, a 1996 first-team choice. Behling was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame this past March during the NAIA Basketball National Championship.
After beginning his coaching career in 1976 with a two-year stint as assistant coach at Maryville College, Byrd became head coach at Maryville. His two-year record of 23-27 is misleading, as Maryville's 15-11 ledger in Byrd's second season was the school's best mark in 31 years. He was hired as assistant coach at Tennessee Tech in 1980 and served three years in Cookeville before becoming head coach at Lincoln Memorial in 1983.
Byrd also has served in an administrative capacity at Belmont. He was Director of Athletics from 1986 to 1991 and acting Director of Athletics for a brief period before Mike Strickland was named to the post in the fall of 1996.
In 1990, Byrd was instrumental in creating the Vince Gill Celebrity Game, an event that raised money for the Bruins' basketball team and Belmont's School of Music Business. Joining forces with his good friend and golfing partner Gill, Byrd spearheaded an overwhelming success.
A graduate of Knoxville's Doyle High School, Byrd was an honors student at the University of Tennessee; earning a bachelor's degree in physical education in 1976 and a master's degree in physical education in 1977. While in Knoxville, he was a student assistant coach under the legendary Ray Mears.
Byrd's charm, graciousness, and humility have endeared him to fans and media members alike. He and his wife Cheryl live in Nashville. Byrd is the father of two daughters, Andrea and Megan, and a stepson, Robert Duke.
Byrd is a voter in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coaches' Poll and is a member of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee.