Nearly a month elapsed after the season ended before Lipscomb University and men’s basketball coach Scott Sanderson decided to part ways.
Similarly, the Bisons aren’t in a rush to make a snap decision in finding his replacement.
“I feel like a place like Lipscomb is definitely more concerned about what this program looks like two or three years from now than two or three months from now,” athletic director Philip Hutcheson said Tuesday night. “We want to build something that is going to last, that is going to have impact in the community, something that people can rally behind. Not just Lipscomb alums. I believe there are a lot of people who value what we try to value here and want to see Lipscomb succeed.”
An absence of sustained success doomed Sanderson, who resigned on Tuesday after a record of 222-201 in 14 seasons.
A former assistant at South Carolina and the son of former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson, he took over the program in 1999, replacing legendary coach Don Meyer. Sanderson led the Bisons out of the NAIA and into NCAA Division I. They captured a share of two Atlantic Sun Conference championships and went 9-12 against rival Belmont. Four of those losses came in overtime.
“It was pretty obvious that Scott’s teams played us much better than anybody over the history of the A-Sun,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. “They were the hardest team we had to beat during that whole stretch. He prepared for us and had his teams ready to play us better than anybody in the A-Sun did. He is a good man. Ronda, his wife, is great. They have a terrific family. I don’t know what the future holds but just hope for this to take him somewhere that is even better — wherever that is — next.”
While Belmont reached the NCAA Tournament six of the last eight years — the first coming in 2006 by edging Lipscomb in overtime of the A-Sun championship game — the Bisons are still awaiting their first trip to the Big Dance.
The product on the court dipped the last two years with a 25-36 record. Plus, the 2011-12 campaign saw four players dismissed and another transfer. Still, Lipscomb players were surprised Sanderson wasn’t coming back for his 15th season.
“I had no idea,” junior forward Martin Smith said. “You hear rumors and stuff but when it actually happens it catches you off guard. I thought we were a young team and he’d get another chance, another crack at it. But I guess they feel like they need to go in another direction.”
What direction is uncertain.
Hutcheson says he will create a search committee of administrators and coaches. Head coaching experience is not a prerequisite and would consider high school head coaches. Christ Presbyterian Academy boys coach and former Vanderbilt standout Drew Maddux, fresh off his second straight state championship, fits that bill.
“Where we are in terms of the college landscape, it is highly unlikely a top assistant from a top five team in the country is going to come here,” Hutcheson said. “I think really it is not smart to limit yourself by making too many stipulations.”
Hutcheson, a former Lipscomb standout who was hired in 2008, said he would reach out to Meyer, his former coach. When reached in his South Dakota home by phone Tuesday, Meyer said he didn’t know who the Bisons should go after. But he expects Belmont’s top assistant and former Lipscomb pupil Brian Ayers to receive consideration.
“He doesn’t have head coaching experience but he has been an assistant at a good program,” Meyer said. “He has played at Lipscomb. He graduated from Lipscomb. So I would think he is a guy you would want to consider. But there are other guys out there too besides Brian. This is where ADs really make their money. It is their hire. They want to make sure they got the right guy.”
Ayers has been at Belmont for the last 15 years and has served as the associate head coach the last two seasons. The Clarksville native also spent two years each on the staffs of Austin Peay and Vanderbilt.
A team captain at Lipscomb, he helped the Bisons to one NAIA Final Four, two Elite Eights and the Sweet 16.
“I think any former player who gets into coaching would love an opportunity to go back to a place where they played and had success,” Ayers said. “I would be interested to learn more about the opportunity if there was mutual interest. … Lipscomb would be one of the schools I’d be drawn to.”
As for a timetable, Hutcheson doesn’t think a hire will occur before the spring signing period begins April 17. He is hopeful to hire Sanderson’s successor before summer camps begin in June.
“I think it is better to try to see who are the candidates and then do they fit in terms of what we’re looking for competitively, the attitude they bring to the table, the kind of culture they are building,” Hutcheson said. “I think culture is way more important than win-loss record. We’re trying to build something for the long run, not for next year. Although, next year would be nice.”