Updated: Sep 20, 2022
It’s official: Former Belmont men’s basketball head coach Rick Byrd is an NCAA legend after his National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame induction Sunday.
“I am overwhelmed, humbled, and feel a great sense of gratitude to receive this ultimate recognition for those in our profession,” Byrd said in a statement to Belmont Athletics.
Posting a .797 winning percentage in conference play, Byrd ranks second all-time among Division 1 coaches in that category, leading the Bruins to 17 conference championship titles and eight NCAA tournaments, including one win, during his last 14 years as head coach. Byrd began his collegiate head coaching career at Division III Maryville College and Division II Lincoln Memorial University before coming aboard at Belmont in 1986. Byrd retired in 2019 after 33 years at Belmont, where he helped grow the program from the ground up. Following the university’s NAIA to NCAA Division I switch in 1996, Byrd continued recruiting out of minimal facilities.
His name is now on the Curb Event Center floor and the team he built practices in the newly built Crockett Center for Athletic Excellence, a private space the basketball teams didn’t have until this year. Byrd continues to be someone players can lean on — players like Luke Smith, after the graduate guard announced his post-play plan to coach his old high school team upon his May graduation. “Luke texted me the other day and wants to have lunch, and I had offered to be his volunteer assistant coach, so that’ll be interesting,” Byrd said jokingly at Monday’s press conference following the induction. Byrd shared the hall of fame recognition with Smith and the rest of his team. Thanking all the student-athletes and staff, family, friends, fans and fellow coaches for the endless support throughout his career, he emphasized the importance of how they embraced his values. “I think you’ve got to stick with your values, and you may not play a better talent sometimes but you’re playing a guy who practices harder and is more unselfish and helps the team more,” he said. “If that’s what you believe in, that’s what you need to do.”
The Knoxville, Tenn. native secured a stunning 805 NCAA Division I wins throughout his career, which puts him at No. 12 in the association’s rich history.
The honesty, decency and sportsmanship Byrd brought to his long and dedicated career stems from his dad’s life lessons, books by coach Clair Bee and inspiration from NCAA legend John R. Wooden, he said. Earlier this fall, Byrd achieved the highest college coaching honor as a recipient of the John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award. Besides his involvement in changes to the game, such as the time reduction to a 30-second shot clock, as a chairman of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee, he also made his mark wearing the iconic dressed shirt and sweater vest combination. All he ever wanted was to coach college basketball, he said, and so he did, for 42 years. Rick Byrd is a simple man like that, and humble to his core despite the individual praise. “The game of basketball has given me far more than I could ever give,” he said. ___ PHOTO: Coach Byrd (second from right) with the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2021. National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. This story was written by Jessica Mattsson.