Casey Alexander is certainly blazing his own trail.
Long assumed to be the successor at Belmont when Rick Byrd retires, Alexander hasn’t bided his time and waited patiently. He’s been proactive.
The longtime Belmont assistant and former Bruins point guard got his second head coaching job in three years when he was introduced at Lipscomb earlier this week. For 16 years, he served under Byrd at Belmont. But the itch to run his own program was hard to shake, and in 2011 he left to take the helm at Stetson.
“I needed new growth. I wanted an opportunity to be a head coach,” Alexander, 40, said. “The coach they’ve got at Belmont is pretty good and probably is going to be there a while. So it was kind of an obvious decision I had to make. I would do it all exactly the same way.”
But Byrd, 60, won’t be at Belmont forever. He’ll be entering his 28th season with the Bruins next year and plans to coach at least five more years. But he also noted there was a time when he believed he wouldn’t coach past the age of 50.
Still, when Byrd does call it quits, for many, Alexander will be the top choice.
“I think probably he has always had that in the back of his mind. He wouldn’t be human if he didn’t,” Byrd said. “I think it is fair to say he still loves Belmont. It is OK to be [at Lipscomb] and love it. It is OK to love two things. What this does to that possibility I don’t know. And I even mentioned that to him when he called me [about interviewing at Lipscomb]. I said, ‘Casey I don’t think we can predict what this will do to that.’
“He may like it so good over [at Lipscomb] this will be his home forever. … He may be the next coach at Duke because they play great here. He may go 0-52 in two years. You don’t know what it does because you don’t know who the president and AD at Belmont is going to be when I retire.”
A lot can change in five years.
Byrd pointed out that both Belmont president Robert Fisher and athletic director Mike Strickland are older than he is. It is highly likely both will be gone in five years and a new administration will have a different agenda.
“There was no question when Casey was here we always looked at him as someone who could more than take over some day,” Strickland said. “Once Rick decides he has had enough Casey is certainly going to be — would have been — somebody we would have obviously looked at. Who knows where five or six years we’ll be? But, again, he’s going to be a great head coach. He’s got two years. We give him some time but I think when you look down the road, seven, eight, nine years down the road, and look at Casey’s body of work at that point it is going to be pretty impressive for anybody.”
But who is to say another school doesn’t sweep in and snag Alexander if all goes better than expected at Lipscomb?
Andy Enfield spent just two years at Florida Gulf Coast before USC stole him last month in the wake of “Dunk City’s” surprising run to the Sweet 16. The Ohio Valley Conference lost coaches in successive years to bigger conferences — Billy Kennedy (Murray State to Texas A&M) and Donnie Tyndall (Morehead State to Southern Mississippi).
Just looking at the Atlantic Sun, Conference USA and OVC, keeping a coach for a decade is very rare.
Of the conference’s 34 schools, only four have coaches who have been at the same place for more than 10 years – Byrd (27 years), Austin Peay’s Dave Loos (23), USC Upstate’s Eddie Payne (11) and East Tennessee State’s Murry Bartow (10). In fact, Middle Tennessee State’s Kermit Davis (11 years) will be the longest-
tenured coach in the C-USA when the Blue Raiders join the league in July.
“Any mid-major school has the threat of losing their coach to another school,” Byrd said. “Two things usually happen to mid-major coaches. They have good careers and they get a job at a higher level. Or they have bad careers and they lose their job. … I’m sure Lipscomb, in a way, hopes that Casey does good enough to be an attractive candidate for some other program. Because if he isn’t he is not doing very well.”
And Lipscomb longs for longevity.
The Bisons enjoyed plenty of staying power with their last two coaches. Don Meyer compiled a 665-179 record and won a NAIA national championship in 24 years. Scott Sanderson went 222-201 and shared the A-Sun championship twice in 14 seasons.
“We’ve hired two coaches in 40 years and I hope not to hire another one for a long, long time,” Lipscomb athletic director Philip Hutcheson said. “So I certainly hope he is here for a long time.”
Alexander said he believed he could make a career at Stetson. In just a short time there, improvement was being made. In 2011-12, the Hatters went just 9-20 and finished eighth out of 10 teams in the A-Sun. This past winter, they placed third in the league, went 15-16 overall and reached the semifinals of the league tournament before losing to eventual tourney champ FGCU.
But when the Lipscomb job came open, so did the opportunity to return home. A Nashville native who starred at Brentwood Academy, Alexander, his wife, Sunni, and their three children, jumped at the chance to return to Middle Tennessee.
Now that he is back home, the question is how long will he stay on the Lipscomb side of Belmont Boulevard?
“You take a job thinking that is where you’re going to be [long-term],” Alexander said. “I want our program at Lipscomb to be at a place where that doesn’t even matter when coach Byrd decides to hang it up.”