Posted by Tom Wilson | Posted in Regular Season | Posted on 12-19-2008
In an era when coaching trees in college sports are all the rage, one highly successful NCAA Division I basketball coach stands alone on his own branch in a lonely tree.
North Carolina has the Dean Smith tree. Rick Patino has his own tree. Bob Knight has another.
At the University of Tennessee, where college basketball has been nothing more than a seedling for most of the last 30 years, the school does have one particular branch of a tree that it can be proud of.
Its name is Rick Byrd, head basketball coach for the past 22 seasons at Belmont University in Nashville.
Byrd is a Knoxville native and UT grad. His father was the legendary sports editor of the Knoxville Journal for many years, and Byrd once served as a graduate assistant on the Vol basketball team under UT’s Ray Mears.
Since that time, Byrd has carried the flag most notably for Belmont, where his Bruin teams have won three straight Atlantic Sun tournament championships and made three straight NCAA tournament appearances. This man can coach, and his peers know it.
He’s won 545 games, and last March went toe-to-toe with college basketball’s greatest coach of the past 25 years – Duke’s Mike Kryzewski – losing by one point in the final seconds.
But at the same time, Byrd is a Tennessee guy, and a UT graduate. He has represented his alma mater well all these years and has worn the mantle of being the only current NCAA head basketball coach from the University of Tennessee with distinction.
This Saturday, Byrd returns to his roots in Knoxville where he will attempt to defeat the university that granted him his diploma.
To be sure, Byrd will have many friends and family in the stands at Thompson-Boling Arena. He should also have the respect and admiration from some 20,000 Vol fans as well. He has represented his university exceptionally well, and we should all acknowledge and show our appreciation to him for that.