In the 2018-19 college basketball season, Belmont head coach Rick Byrd passed Lou Henson, Lute Olson and Lefty Driesell in career victories. Byrd will likely surpass Eddie Sutton this season, as well, after hitting his landmark 800th win on Thursday.
— Belmont Basketball (@BelmontMBB) February 22, 2019
Most of the many luminaries Rick Byrd has already bypassed are Hall of Famers. Byrd’s enshrinement seems like just a formality at this juncture. Depending how much longer he opts to coach, Rollie Massimino, Adolph Rupp, Dean Smith and Bob Knight’s career records are all within striking distance for the 65-year-old Byrd.
For all the legendary names with which his can be mentioned alongside, Byrd lacks ego. I wrote a profile on him for the Rivals network ahead of the Bruins’ 2013 NCAA Tournament matchup with Arizona. With Ian Clark leading the way, Belmont was a trendy pick to score a first-round upset, and perhaps even mount a Sweet 16 run with New Mexico and Harvard the other two teams on the Bruins’ side of the bracket.
Despite the national buzz, Byrd dedicated a lengthy portion of his Monday ahead of the Big Dance to chatting with me one-on-one. He made a comment that was just too good not to lead the profile, saying: ““When I quit or they decide to fire me, there’s going to be a lot of good coaches interested in this job.”
The idea of Belmont firing Rick Byrd, who the then-NAIA university hired in 1986, is laughable. No coach at any level of basketball currently may be more synonymous with his program than Byrd is with Belmont, raising it from the absolute lowest level of four-year college hoops to the highest.
Belmont is a regular NCAA Tournament participant now under their living-legend coach, having appeared in seven since 2006. I first heard of the Bruins playing NCAA Final Four 2000 on PSX, but the program truly came on my radar with its three consecutive Tournament appearances from 2006 through 2008.
In the first two trips, they played the pretty standard role of lowly seeded underdog, losing lopsided affairs to Georgetown and UCLA. But in 2008, a matchup with Duke very nearly produced one of the greatest finishes in March Madness history.
Rick Byrd has piled up hundreds more wins in the decade-plus since, and the Bruins are again in the mix for an NCAA Tournament. Byrd’s 800th win of his career marked the 13th for Belmont in the 2018-19 Ohio Valley Conference season, keeping the Bruins on pace with budding rival Murray State (which Belmont beat for its 2015 Tournament berth).
Dylan Windler has NBA potential, six years after Ian Clark made the leap to the pros. That a member of the NAIA when Byrd took it over can now send players to the NBA is a remarkable testament to what the coach has built in Nashville.
Rick Byrd may have been just a “small-college coach” as he described himself to me in 2013, but his impact on the sport’s history is big time.