This wasn’t on Rick Byrd’s to-do list.
Not that it is on many coaches’ minds when they first step into the profession, which Byrd did when he took over at Belmont in 1986.
He couldn’t have predicted he would be with the Bruins 25 years later or that he would be knocking on the door of win No. 500 at the university. But here he is, one win away from reaching that milestone as Belmont plays at Stetson on Wednesday night.
“I’m really a whole lot more of a short-term planner than I am a long-term planner,” Byrd said. “I always have been. Maybe I am just not intellectual enough to plot it way out ahead [of time]. ... Coaches are so maligned at times for talking about things like 'one game at a time' and that sort of thing. It really is the most effective way to improve a team or your organization, I think.”
That sort of mindset has guided Byrd to the doorstep of a very exclusive club.
Byrd is 499-276 during his 25-year career at Belmont. His next win makes him just the fifth active coach in NCAA Division I men’s basketball to have at least 500 at his current school. Also on that list: Duke’s Mike Krzyzrewski, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun and Sacred Heart’s Dave Bike, who got there on Sunday.
Plus, there is a good chance that this season Byrd will surpass 600 wins for his career as well. The Knoxville native and University of Tennessee graduate began his head coaching career at Maryville College when he was 24. After two years there and three as an assistant at Tennessee Tech, he spent three seasons as the head coach of Lincoln Memorial before moving on to Belmont.
Byrd is currently 591-333 overall as a head coach.
“I think numbers will mean more to me when it is all said and done than they do in the middle of it,” Byrd said. “It won’t really be the numbers. I have coached teams that didn’t win 20 games that I loved because they got as much out of themselves as they possibly could. I might like those teams better than teams that have won 25-plus games. It is really ... the journey not the destination. That is really the case. Anyone that has done this kind of work for any period of time will tell you that.”
This year’s team will most likely be one of those squads Byrd looks back upon fondly.
“This team, so far, has been as enjoyable to coach as any,” Byrd said.
After an 83-51 victory at Florida Gulf Coast, the Bruins are 11-3 — their best 14-game mark since moving up from the NAIA to Division I in 1996. They have won six of their last seven and their only losses have been on the road at Tennessee (twice) and Vanderbilt. The Bruins are 3-0 in Atlantic Sun Conference play and are eying their second straight league championship and first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2008.
What makes this team unique is its balance. Byrd shuffles in 11 players a game. Ten players average at least 15 minutes a game and no one averages more than 25 minutes.
“There aren’t any really regulars. I mean there are starters but there just because we have to start five guys. They all know they are going to have to contribute and they are going to be called upon in a game,” Byrd said. “If anybody is grumbling about not playing 30 minutes a game, I can’t tell it by the way they are performing and acting. ... You hope to have teams with this kind of unselfishness and enthusiasm for one another. You don’t get them very often.”
• Lipscomb struggling: While Belmont is hot, Lipscomb is in a funk.
The Bisons have dropped three straight, which comes on the heels of a five-game winning streak. Lipscomb (7-5, 2-1) fell 76-66 at Stetson in Atlantic Sun action Monday night. It was the third game of a four-game road stretch, which ends 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Florida Gulf Coast.
Against Stetson, Lipscomb didn’t make a basket for the first 8:36 but trailed just 19-18 at halftime. The Bisons got 20 points from Adnan Hodzic, who has now scored in double-digit figures in 69 straight games, and 12 from Josh Slater, who has scored at least 10 points in 31 consecutive games. Still, it wasn’t enough as Stetson scored 57 points in the second half.
“That loss stung,” coach Scott Sanderson said after the game. “There’s no way around it. That loss stung. It stung our staff, and it stung our players.”
Lipscomb also has been tripped up on the road by two non-conference opponents. The Bisons fell 71-51 to Alabama on Dec. 21 and lost 88-70 to then-No. 21 Memphis last Thursday.
Lipscomb will return home this weekend to host Jacksonville on Saturday and North Florida on Monday before traveling to Belmont on Jan. 13 for the first installment of this year’s Battle of the Boulevard.
• Eying a milestone: Middle Tennessee State senior running back Phillip Tanner needs only 33 all-purpose yards to become the 12th player in school history to reach 3,000 yards in his career. He currently has 2,697 — 1,937 on the ground, 447 receiving and 583 on returns.
He’ll get his chance to reach the mark when the Blue Raiders play Miami University (Ohio), 7 p.m. Thursday on ESPN in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
MTSU (6-6) is looking for its second straight bowl victory.
• Big plays for Packers: Middle Tennessee State’s all-time sacks leader, Erik Walden, put together a clutch performance in just his second start for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
The linebacker had 11 tackles (10 solo), two sacks — the first two of his career — and two quarterback hits in an important game for the Packers, who clinched a playoff berth in their regular-season finale with a 10-3 victory against the Chicago Bears.
Walden is in just his third season in the NFL and is with his fourth team. He was drafted in 2008 by the Kansas City Chiefs and since then he has been released three times — by the Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins.
After the Dolphins released him on Sept. 28, the Packers took a chance on Walden. The 25-year-old has taken advantage of his opportunity, recording 24 tackles in nine games with the Packers.
“I can’t say enough about the young man and the way he has performed, the way he has worked,” Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after Sunday’s game.
• Trevecca’s France honored: Trevecca Nazarene junior Michael France was named the TranSouth Athletic Conference men’s basketball player of the week, the league announced on Monday.
France, a 6-foot-1 guard from Shelbyville, averaged 22.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals against Lee University and Short University, which hosted the Christmas Classic. With 20 points against Lee, he became the 37th player in school history to reach 1,000 points for his career. For an encore, he dropped 25 points the next night against No. 13 Shorter.
• TSU sets record for fewest points: The Tennessee State women’s basketball team scored just 11 points in a loss at Georgia Tech last Thursday.
That total established an NCAA women’s Division I record for fewest points and TSU’s three points in the first half tied the mark for the fewest in opening half. It was the first time all season that TSU (4-9) had scored fewer than 46 in a game.
The Tigers, who lost 82-11, made just three free throws in the first half and trailed 49-3 at halftime. Their first basket from the field came four minutes into the second half. They were 3-of-50 from the field and committed 35 turnovers.
Jasmine Brimm scored a team-high six points for TSU, which returns to Ohio Valley Conference action with a road game against Murray State on Thursday.