The college basketball game lost one of the great coaches on Monday afternoon. According to BelmontBruins,com, head coach Rick Byrd retired from the Belmont Bruins a couple of weeks after losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Byrd also earned his first NCAA Tournament victory in the First Four over the Temple Owls.
Now, Byrd leaves the program in good hands after 33 seasons. The Bruins finished this season with a (27-6) record. They tied for the Ohio Valley Conference league title with the Murray State Racers. However, the Bruins lost to the Racers in the conference tournament finale. As a result, they had to wait for Selection Sunday to see if they received an at-large bid. For the first time ever, the Bruins got selected. Byrd was as proud of that accomplishment as anything entering March Madness.
Routinely, the Bruins have had one of the best offenses to watch in college basketball. They were the No. 2 scoring offense this season at 87 points per game. The Bruins were an NAIA school until 1996. They transitioned to Division 1 basketball and began to rebrand their program in 1999. For the last 20 seasons, Byrd transformed this new program into a mid-major power. During his first two seasons as a full independent, the Bruins went (7-21) and (13-15). They joined the Atlantic Sun in 2001 and had another losing season. However, the Bruins have only had one losing season since earning the regular season A-Sun title in 2003. In 2005, Byrd led the Bruins to a (14-16) record.
In fact, the Bruins have won at least 20 games in 13 of the last 14 seasons. They were only (19-12) in 2009-10. So, what we are saying is Byrd was leading one of the most successful college basketball programs in country. More importantly, the Bruins won the regular season or tournament title in 9 of the last 10 seasons. Keep in mind, they joined the OVC in 2012.
Overall, Byrd went (415-220) against Division 1 competition. He never left the Bruins to join a high major program. Yet, he finished with a .654 winning percentage. Overall, Byrd won 11 conference regular season titles and 7 tournament titles. He was (1-8) in tournament games, but the team usually played well in the biggest game. Unfortunately, the Bruins let the Maryland Terrapins sneak away with a 79-77 victory in the round of 64. The Bruins were so close to making a memorable run in what turned out to be the legendary coach’s final season.
Here is Coach Byrd’s statement-
“For the past 33 years, it has been my privilege to work with, and for, a remarkable community of men and women at Belmont University,” Byrd said. “Throughout my tenure as men’s basketball coach, our program has received great support from Belmont’s administration, faculty, staff and students. For this, I am forever grateful. Personally, I have been the beneficiary of a very supportive family that I could count on every single day, a loyal circle of friends who consistently offered encouragement, and a terrific fan base that has embraced our program and our players for over three decades. Most importantly, it has been an honor to coach the young men that have brought credit to Belmont University, not only by how they played the game, but how they represented our university all over our country.”
The Bruins will conduct a national search for the new coach. Meaning, they are likely not to stay in-house for a critical selection. Many programs of this caliber are used to finding gems in the coaching fraternity on a regular basis. However, since Byrd was such a mainstay on the sidelines, the Bruins must find a seamless transition to keep the program in the upper echelon of the OVC. The Bruins averaged 25 wins and 8 losses over the last nine seasons. Clearly, Byrd left his successor a lot to live up to.