Overall Record: 711-366 (34th year)
Record at Belmont: 619-311 (29th 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.
2013-14 was the latest chapter in a story of sustained excellence for Belmont Basketball. After losing arguably the greatest backcourt in program history - Utah Jazz guard Ian Clark and two-time conference tournament MVP Kerron Johnson - the Bruins were pegged for a transition season. But behind Byrd's leadership and the play of OVC Player of the Year J.J. Mann, Belmont defeated six-time National Champion North Carolina, reached the quarterfinal round of the Postseason NIT, and finished with a final record of 26-10.
In fact, Belmont is one of only six NCAA Division I men's basketball programs to win 26 or more games each of the past four seasons, joining the select company of Duke, Florida, Syracuse, VCU, and Wichita State.
In addition, Belmont joined an exclusive fraternity of programs to win five straight regular season conference championships. Since the Bruins became an NCAA Division I member institution in 1996-97, only Belmont, Butler, Cincinnati, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Nevada and Xavier have won five straight conference regular season championships.
Named OVC Coach of the Year for a second consecutive season and finalist for the Hugh Durham National Coach of the Year Award for a third time in four seasons, Byrd has been named District or Conference Coach of the Year on 12 occasions.
With Belmont's victory over Indiana State November 14, Byrd passed legendary UCLA head coach John Wooden in career victories.
He will enter the 2014-15 season ranked seventh among all active NCAA Division I head coaches in career victories with 689.
Byrd has led Belmont to postseason play nine of the last 11 seasons. And only Belmont, Kansas and Memphis have earned six automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament in the last nine years.
Only three head coaches in the nation have been at their respective institutions longer than Byrd's 28 years of service at Belmont. Under Byrd's guidance, the Bruins have won 217 games and nearly 83 percent of their conference games over the past nine years.
Byrd earned career victory No. 600 Jan. 30 vs. Stetson. With a victory Jan. 5 at Stetson, he also joined Mike Krzyzweski and Jim Boeheim, as the remaining 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 over 67 percent of the total victories in Belmont history.
All told, Belmont has won 13 conference championships (seven regular season, six tournament) since 2006 - only Kansas has won more over that span. Unquestionably, Byrd has built a program with staying power. Also of note, Byrd has directed the Bruin program to 12 or more conference victories each of the past 12 seasons - a distinction Belmont shares with Kansas alone.
On the heels of a record-breaking campaigns in 2011 and 2012, Belmont lived up to advanced billing in 2013, new life in a new league, and again delivered championship form. After winning nine games against the No. 2 non-conference strength of schedule in the nation, Belmont won the OVC regular season title - the program's sixth regular season title in eight years. Byrd then directed the Bruins to victories over Tennessee State and Murray State in the conference tournament to again cut down the nets and send Belmont to a third straight NCAA Tournament.
Belmont received national poll votes eight times in 2012-13, including the final ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coaches' poll. And the Bruins' final RPI of 24 was the highest in program history.
In 2013, 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.
In 2011-12, 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 fifth NCAA Tournament.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.'
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.
Yet as an even greater source of pride, Byrd has overseen a program characterized by unparalleled academic achievement. Belmont, Kansas and Notre Dame are the only three programs in the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship to have perfect APR scores and perfect graduation rates. Moreover, Belmont was named ‘Academic Bracket’ champion by InsiderHigherEd.com on Monday, Mar. 18. For 14 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.
The APR classified Belmont men's basketball as one of the premier academic programs in the country, one of only three programs nationally to earn distinction every year since the inception of the APR program. Belmont has recorded a perfect 1000 APR score six out of eight years.
Scott Saunders, Mick Hedgepeth, and J.J. Mann have certainly added to the Bruin tradition, as Belmont Basketball leads the nation in Academic All-America honorees since 2001 with 11.
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. And Mann was honored at the 2013 Final Four as part of the inaugural Allstate NABC Good Works Team.
Belmont University received the prestigious Atlantic Sun Conference Academic Trophy nine of 11 years in the league. 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) became 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.
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."
Belmont also captured the A-Sun North Division title in 2002.
Conference competition has been an area where Byrd has really shined. In his career, the Knoxville, Tenn., native is 378-99 in league play, a remarkable .792 winning percentage.
Byrd received the NAIA National Coach of the Year award in 1994-95, after leading Belmont to a 37-2 record including a perfect 18-0 league mark en route to the Tennessee Collegiate Athletic Conference Championship. 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, serving as committee chairman in 2013-14.