It was a no-brainer to Rick Byrd.
Not only to host the Don Meyer Classic at Belmont but to nominate his longtime coaching rival and friend for induction into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.
“I felt like it was already overdue. It was easy,” Byrd, who is in his 25th season as Belmont’s coach, said. “Sometimes, it seems so obvious with a guy that it goes way too far. He should have already been in it before he left Lipscomb in my opinion.”
Meyer, who coached at Lipscomb for 24 years and is men’s college basketball’s all-time leader in wins, was informed of the decision Tuesday night at halftime of Belmont’s 79-64 exhibition victory over Northern State at the Curb Event Center. To make the moment even more special, ESPNU was on hand to televise the game and dedicate the night to Meyer.
Meyer, who spent the last 11 years at Northern State before retiring after last season, received a standing ovation from the fan base of his old rival as Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame executive director Ryland Hoskins made the announcement that he would be inducted this February.
“I would have preferred to have gotten a large amount of money,” Meyer joked. “It was great because Tennessee is obviously one of the great sport states. Rick is just a first-class guy. That is just the kind of person he is. He is going to do something without being found out. He will do a good thing and he doesn’t expect a reward for it and that is why he is such a great guy.”
It was obvious the two were good friends, and coaches, as Meyer and Byrd discussed the game and the stat sheet in lengthy detail afterwards. Meyer was joined by his wife, Carmen, and their three children and eight grandchildren. When Meyer wasn’t being interviewed by ESPN The Magazine senior writer Buster Olney, he was greeted by former players and friends as he sat behind the Northern State bench.
The game was played on the same night as the release of Olney’s book How Lucky You Can Be: The Story of Coach Don Meyer.
Meyer won 923 games during 38 years of coaching but has received a ton of national recognition for how he has responded to a near fatal car crash. In September of 2008 he was involved in an accident that led to the amputation of his left leg below the knee and to the discovery of terminal cancer. He has persevered since then, coaching two more years after the accident, including some games on the sideline from a wheel chair.
He now has a prosthetic leg and walks with a cane. He still works for Northern State as an ambassador, recruiting students and raising funds and still makes speaking engagements and appears at coaching clinics across the country. In 2009 he received the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2009 ESPY Awards.
With Olney’s book coming out, ESPN wanted to honor Meyer again. So the network went to Lipscomb first with the idea of the game but the Bisons couldn’t hold it at Allen Arena this week because of scheduling conflicts.
Olney, a Vanderbilt grad, covered the Lipscomb-Belmont rivalry nearly 20 years ago while at the now defunct Nashville Banner and knew Byrd. So he improvised and asked if Belmont would do the honors.
“It was amazing that it came off at all,” Olney said. “The idea was incredible and it was so gracious of Rick to do it, to honor Don.”
• Belmont will be back on ESPNU for its season opener next Tuesday when it travels to Knoxville to play Tennessee in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
It will be the second of seven televised games for the Bruins. The Atlantic Sun announced Tuesday that Belmont’s home game against Lipscomb on Jan. 13 will be aired on ESPN3.com. The second game of the “Battle of the Boulevard” series on Jan. 25 will be at Lipscomb and will be televised on CSS.
Belmont will have two other games aired on CSS – Dec. 4 at Vanderbilt and Jan. 28 against Florida Gulf Coast. The Bruins matchup at Tennessee on Dec. 23 will be televised on SportSouth.
On the radio, 10 Belmont regular-season games will be heard on 104.5 The Zone.