With Rick Byrd announcing his retirement after 33 years as head coach of Belmont’s men’s basketball team, speculation has already begun as to who might become his replacement.
With Athletic Director Scott Corley saying a search for Byrd’s replacement will start immediately, eager fans and media professionals are already predicting who may make the short list.
Though Byrd’s career is a difficult act to follow, Corley wants to ensure the transition between head coaches is swift, he said.
“I’m just going to move as quickly as we can without rushing it to where we’re not making the right decisions. I think in fairness to everybody — whether it’s the existing players, the incoming recruits, the coaching staff, etcetera — the sooner we can make that decision, I think, the better off for everybody.”
One name frequently mentioned by the media is Casey Alexander, Lipscomb University’s head coach since May 2013. Alexander coached alongside Byrd for 16 seasons before starting as a head coach, so it’s not surprising that Alexander stands out as a likely replacement.
2011 Atlantic Sun Tournament Championship. Casey Alexander pictured bottom left.
Alexander also played at Belmont from 1992 to 1995. He had a 119-25 record and was inducted into Belmont’s Hall of Fame in 2005.
During his time as head coach at Lipscomb, Alexander has revitalized the Bisons’ competitive prospects, giving them their first 20-win season in over a decade, as well as their first Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Championship in program history.
Two other names being tossed around as potential candidates are already on staff at Belmont — associate head coach Brian Ayers and assistant coach James Strong.
Corley said Ayers and Strong would be considered for the head coach position should they decide to apply, according to The Tennessean.
Ayers boasts 20 seasons at Belmont, and during that time the men’s basketball team has averaged 21 wins per season, according to his bio on the Belmont Athletics website.
During this time, he’s coached wildly successful players like Evan Bradds and Adam Mark, and he has a special talent for coaching players in the post.
Strong is also a standout option to replace Byrd, given his eight seasons as assistant coach at Belmont.
Strong has worked with “five of the most productive and decorated players in program history:” Ian Clark, Kerron Johnson, J.J. Mann, Craig Bradshaw and Austin Luke, according to the Belmont Athletics website.
With six consecutive conference championship wins to boast as well, Strong fits the profile for a compelling potential candidate.
Before beginning his work alongside Byrd in 2011, Strong spent five seasons at Vanderbilt University, followed by five more at Furman University.
The current associate head coach for the University of Texas, Darrin Horn, could also be a potential replacement for Byrd, according to speculation from The Tennessean.
His career includes a variety of relevant experiences, spanning his time as a player and winning coach at Western Kentucky University, and his work as an analyst at ESPN and the SEC Network.
This article written by Justin Wagner. Contributing reporting from Melissa Kriz, Carina Eudy, Joe Bendekovic, Gabby Smedley, Katie Knipper, Lydia Fletcher, Laura Privott and Steven Boero.