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What Rick Byrd means to me

No headphones walking in and out of locker rooms.

No phones at the dinner table.

No flashy attire.

In a world filled with Russell Westbrooks and Ja Morants, why would any player qualified to play in Division I want to come to Rick Byrd’s strict program?

Because Byrd could do two things — win championships and mold eager teenagers into upstanding young men.

A breath of fresh air.

That’s who Rick Byrd was to me.

Yes, it sounds odd that a 65-year-old man, coaching at the same school for 33 years was “refreshing.” But in the crazy world of NCAA basketball, he embodied everything college basketball needed.

He truly was not like anyone else. And I loved it.

Corruption, shame and scandal fill the locker rooms of numerous college basketball programs today.

From coaches paying players millions of dollars to providing athletes with prostitutes, a constant black eye stains the sport that keeps around 10 million people glued to their TVs every March.

But Byrd was different. I watched — first as a fan and then as a reporter — as day in and day out he held himself and his team to standards that could be perceived as “outdated.”

Yes sir. No ma’am.

Thank you.

All this from the mouths of Division I athletes.

Respect. Byrd demanded it. However, he also gave it.

Every time I spoke with Byrd, win or loss, he’d give me the time I needed and answer my questions the best he could.

He never lied to me, that I know of. And while he didn’t tell me he was going to retire when I asked a week before the announcement, he told me he was taking it year by year.

That’s fair.

Byrd also had the most memorable press conferences I’ve ever seen. He was always honest, cool and hilarious.

He didn’t try to be funny, but he also didn’t look at press conferences as something he needed to take seriously. He answered questions bluntly, which always allowed for great moments.

My favorite postgame Byrd quote was after the second Battle of the Boulevard in 2018 in the Curb Event Center. A reporter asked a question about the NET rankings and how Belmont compares to bigger schools like the University of Kentucky.

“Well, we can beat Kentucky,” Byrd said.

Besides the humor, Byrd represented everything college basketball needs.

He graduated his students and made sure school came first.

Sometimes I felt he recruited valedictorians who happened to play basketball. Most programs would stray far from this method.

Byrd wouldn’t.

Now, 805 wins, eight NCAA tournament appearances and countless sweater vests later, he has solidified a hall of fame career.

And he will be in the hall of fame, I’m sure of it.

I still can’t believe he won’t be on the sideline next year yelling at Nick Muszynski.

I will miss him.

Belmont will miss him.

College basketball will miss him.

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