What retired Belmont coach Rick Byrd said about his National Collegiate Basketball HOF induction

Mike Organ
Nashville Tennessean

For Rick Byrd the most difficult part about his job as architect of the Belmont basketball program also was the most enjoyable.

Byrd took an NAIA program that wasn't even the best in its own town being located just three miles from NAIA power Lipscomb and turned it into one of the nation's top NCAA Division I mid-majors.

"After we built it up on the NAIA level we made the move to (NCAA) Division I and now you're an independent and you've got no path to the NCAA Tournament and that makes recruiting really difficult," Byrd said. "We weren't in a league and we didn't have a Division I building. At the same time, that was the hardest part of my career but it also was the most fun because you were building. If we hadn't made it I don't guess it would have been any fun."

Former Belmont head basketball coach Rick Byrd watches the big screen before the announcement of the court’s naming in his honor Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.

Byrd, 68, who retired in 2019, was rewarded for his hard work Sunday night when he was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Kansas City.

His enshrinement came on the heels of news that Byrd will be the recipient of the John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award in April.

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Seven years after making the transition from the NAIA, Byrd led Belmont to the NIT and two years later to its first of what would end up being eight NCAA Tournament appearances.

He retired with 805 career victories, including 658 at Belmont. That ranks 12th all-time among NCAA Division I men's coaches. Belmont won 10 conference championships and seven league tournament championships in Byrd's final 14 seasons.

In typical fashion, he was quick to share the spotlight with those who helped him along the way after being inducted with the 2021 class that included Maryland great Len Bias (posthumously), UCLA's David Greenwood, Bradley's Hersey Hawkins, Ohio State's Jim Jackson, North Carolina's Antawn Jamison, Kansas' Paul Pierce and fellow coach Tom Penders.

"There are literally hundreds of people that deserve a little piece of that medal I got Sunday night," Byrd said. "My job was to do the best I could for Belmont University, and if that enhanced the school and was a good thing for the school then I'm happy for that."

Byrd is a scratch golfer who gets to spend a lot more time on the links these days but also still attends every Belmont home game played on the court that was named in his honor in 2020. 

Former Belmont head basketball coach Rick Byrd speaks to fans after the court was named in his honor before the game against Jacksonville State Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.

He is eager to see what the future holds for Bruins, who are leaving the Ohio Valley Conference to join the Missouri Valley in 2022.

"That move will make them a better team and it also will make it tougher to get the NCAA Tournament because that is a significant difference in conferences," Byrd said.

"But always one of the biggest difficulties in recruiting was levels of the conference and it was hard for us to out-recruit anybody that was say 10 spots up when we went head-to-head. Now Belmont is 10 spots up and they've got a magnificent practice facility in the Crockett Center. Those two things are going to help Belmont get better players."

Former Vanderbilt running back Paul Morgan running for governor of Hawaii

Paul Morgan

Former Vanderbilt running back Paul Morgan has announced his candidacy for governor of Hawaii. The election is in November 2022.

The Courtland, Mississippi, native who played at Vandy from 1994-97 is now a resident of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Morgan, 46, is on the Republican ticket. He owns a business consulting firm that specializes in developing minority, veteran and women-owned businesses and is a former member of the Hawaii Army National Guard.

He moved to Hawaii in 2013 and sold insurance while also serving as an assistant football coach at Kamehameha High.

At Vanderbilt Morgan, who also played fullback, rushed for 399 career yards on 89 carries and scored three touchdowns.

Hillsboro's Matthew Jackson and Austin Peay's Koby Perry are Buck Buchanan finalists

Matthew Jackson

Former Hillsboro linebacker Matthew Jackson, now a junior at Eastern Kentucky, and Austin Peay safety Koby Perry were named finalists for the 2021 Buck Buchanan Award, which goes to the nation’s best FCS defensive player.

Jackson made the All-Atlantic Sun first team. He recorded 102 tackles including 11 for loss, 3.5 sacks, six pass breakups and an interception.

Perry, a graduate student from Covington, Georgia, was the OVC defensive player of the year. He had 85 tackles, eight for loss, a sack, three pass breakups and an interception. 

The winner will be announced Jan. 7 at the FCS championship game.

McGavock's Walt Wells, now at EKU, is the Atlantic Sun coach of the year

Walt Wells

Former McGavock and Austin Peay offensive lineman Walt Wells, who was on the Tennessee coaching staff (2016-17) and is now the coach at Eastern Kentucky, was named the Atlantic Sun coach of the year.

In his second season Wells led the Colonels to a 7-4 record and second place in the conference.

The Colonels put together a five-game win streak, their longest since since 2014, and were ranked at one time No. 19 in the FCS Coaches Poll. 

Wells also coached at Western Kentucky, Cumberland and Smyrna High.  

ETSU's Randy Sanders is a finalist for FCS coach of the year

ETSU head coach Randy Sanders is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson FCS Coach of the Year Award.

Former Tennessee quarterback and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson FCS Coach of the Year Award.

Sanders, in his fourth season, led the Pirates to a 10-1 regular season record, which included a  23-3 win over Vanderbilt.

ETSU won the Southern Conference championship, finished ninth in the final regular season FCS top 25 poll and earned a first-round bye in the national playoffs.

UT Martin coach Jason Simpson, who led the Skyhawks to the OVC championship, is also a finalist. UT Martin (9-2) finished 16th in the final regular season poll.

Jevon Kearse signing autographs in Columbia

Tennessee Titans great Jevon Kearse will sign autographs in Columbia Dec. 18-19.

Former Tennessee Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse will meet fans, sign autographs and be available for photos at the Dad’s Dugout Sports Cards and Memorabilia Show Dec. 18-19 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at the American Legion Post on Nashville Highway in Columbia.

Kearse No. 90 jerseys and cards and Titans helmets will be available for purchase along with food and drinks. 

Kearse was the 12th Man at the Titans game Sunday against the Houston Texans.

Admission is free.

Plaster adds Adam Duvall and others to Celebrity Bowling night 

Braves center fielder Adam Duvall rounds the bases after his two-run home run.

Local sports talk radio show host George Plaster has added some sports personalities to participate in his inaugural Plaster and Friends Celebrity Bowl Night Monday at Hermitage Strike & Spare.

Plaster announced 50 personalities earlier this month and added Atlanta Braves outfielder Adam Duvall along with Nashville Predators broadcaster Terry Crisp, Clay Travis, Joe Bowden and Clyde Simmons.

The event will be from 6-9 p.m. and streamed live on the Nashville Sports Radio (WNSR) Facebook page.

UT's Smokey is up for national mascot of the year

Smokey high fives fans during the Vol Walk before a football game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021.

Tennessee’s mascot Smokey placed first in the semifinals of Universal Cheerleading Association’s Division 1A College Mascot National Championship and will compete for the title at the finals in January at ESPN's Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida.

Auburn’s Aubie the Tiger was second, followed by Cincinnati’s The Cincy Bearcat, Minnesota’s Goldy the Gopher and Colorado’s Chip the Buffalo.

Smokey won the national championship in 2000, 2001 and 2008,

Former Cumberland player and assistant coach added to Tampa Bay Rays' staff

Brady North

Brady North, who played baseball and coached at Cumberland, was hired as assistant hitting coach for the Tampa Bay Rays.

North spent last season leading the Bowling Green (Kentucky) Hot Rods to an 82-36 record and the High-A East South Division championship.

He is the second player from Cumberland to reach the major league level as a coach. The first was Lester Strode who served as the Chicago Cubs assistant pitching coach in 1994-95 and the bullpen coach from 2007-2017.

North helped Cumberland win the 2014 NAIA national championship.

He was an assistant at Cumberland in 2017-18, coached in the Cape Cod Summer League in 2018 and joined the Rays organization in 2019. He was promoted to Bowling Green last season. 

Goodlettsville court named in honor of Tony Dorris

The basketball court at Goodlettsville Middle School, which used to be a high school, was named in honor of Trojan great Tony Dorris

Dorris, who died in 2020, was a standout on the high school's basketball team from 1978-81. 

He played several other sports in high school and then spent more than 30 years coaching multiple sports at Goodlettsville and Greenbrier middle schools before retiring in 2020.

Oliver Cordell wins Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway race named in his father's honor

Oliver Cordell won the Legends division point standings championship with his win Saturday at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

Oliver Cordell’s win in the Legends division points standing championship at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway had a special meaning.

The race was named recently in honor of Cordell’s father Kevin, who died earlier this year after battling COVID-19.

Oliver Cordell held off Jensen Jorgensen in the 30-lap event and pocketed $8,000 for the win.

“Obviously none of this would be possible without my dad,” Cordell said. “He’s fought for me, he’s fought for my family, he’s fought for this race car and he’s fought for this track.”

Other champions included Kevin Rollins (limited late model), Michael Pannell (street stock), Dylan Jones (pure stock), Jesse Litchford (front runner) and Aidan Potter (Bandolero).

Lawrence County great Jana Killen inducted into Alabama hall of fame

Jana Killen, a former Lawrence County basketball standout (1979-82), was inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame.

Killen went on to play basketball at Columbia State and North Alabama.

She then spent 33 years coaching basketball, volleyball, tennis and softball at Deshler High in Alabama.

She posted a career basketball record of 808-212 and won six state championships and a 918-460 volleyball record with two state runner-up finishes.

The court at Deshler was named in Killen’s honor last year.

If you have an item for Midstate Chatter contact Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 or on Twitter @MikeOrganWriter.

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