Belmont men’s basketball head coach Rick Byrd went 13 years without having to hire an assistant coach.
Now it appears he’ll have to fill two vacant spots.
Already gone is longtime assistant Casey Alexander, who, after 16 years at Belmont, took the head coaching job at rival Atlantic Sun Conference school Stetson two weeks ago. Belmont announced on Tuesday that assistant men’s basketball coach Roger Idstrom is leaving to become Alexander’s top assistant at Stetson (Fla.). His biography information under men’s basketball coaches has already been taken off the Belmont website.
Byrd, however, would not confirm Idstrom’s departure, saying he’d rather let Stetson make that announcement if he is hired.
“Roger and Casey are great friends and if Roger wants to go there as the No. 1 assistant, I wouldn’t blame him,” Byrd, who will begin his 26th season next winter, said. “I know it would be great for Casey to have somebody he trusts like Roger, and Roger would have a chance to be a top assistant in this league. It makes a lot of sense if that is what happens. I also know it is a struggle. Those things are emotional decisions for a lot of people.
“Those guys have spent a lot of years here and had families that started here and grown up here. That stuff is not easy to just to walk out of the office into another one 600 miles away the next day. You got to do what is right for your family. I know that part of that, I’m sure, was not easy for Casey and his family, and I know it has not been easy for Roger to think about the possibility [of leaving].”
Alexander’s departure broke up the longest tenured coaching staff in the country.
Byrd, Alexander, Idstrom and Brian Ayers had been together for 11 seasons. Byrd’s last hire, Ayers, is expected to be back for his 14th season, and Byrd plans to name Ayers associate head coach — Alexander’s previous title. Idstrom, a native of Louisville, Ky., has been full-time since 2000, after the part-time jobs of strength and conditioning coach and an administrative assistant in charge of team travel were morphed together.
Together, the four turned Belmont into a mid-major power. Just 15 years removed from playing in the NAIA, Belmont has been a force in the Atlantic Sun. The Bruins have reached the NCAA Tournament four times in the last six years, including this past season when they lost to Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The loss ended a 30-5 season that was highlighted by conference regular-season and tournament championships.
Quickly thereafter, Alexander, a Brentwood Academy grad, former Belmont standout and Byrd’s associate head coach since 2002, was receiving interest from three Atlantic Sun schools — Kennesaw State, Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson — with head coach openings.
“I’m going to miss the daily friendship,” Byrd said of Alexander. “I have tried as hard as I know how to try to help him when a job has come open that he felt might be good for him and will always do that for him or anybody on my staff that I believe in. He is a head coach. He is plenty good enough and he’ll prove it, in my opinion.”
The search to fill the void left by Alexander is underway, though. Byrd has spoken to several candidates — over the phone and in person — and said a hire could be made as early as the beginning of next week.
Byrd has heard from “a whole lot of folks” on different levels, including high school coaches. But he said “having recruiting experience at the Division I level is a real important part.”
“Otherwise there is a pretty large learning curve without that,” Byrd said. “While there is nothing that is an absolute on this, except character I think, I do think that experience in recruiting at least the Atlantic Sun level is real important. ... I just think you have to find the best person you can get. I don’t think there is a skill set I am looking for or just a great recruiter first or a guy that can work with perimeter players like Casey did. I just think you have to find somebody that enhances your program the best way that you can.”
Byrd’s staff of the last 11 years has not had a minority coach and Byrd said he prefers to be “color blind” when making hires.
“I want to judge them on the kind of people they are,” he said. “At the same time, there is plenty of reason to take a harder look at a minority candidate. But I want to do what is best for Belmont and be fair to every candidate that applies.”
The release from Belmont on Tuesday also said Alexander plans to hire former Bruin standout Steve Drabyn, who most recently coached at Carmel (Ind.) High School. Drabyn, a 2004 graduate of Belmont, is fifth all-time in the school’s NCAA era history with 1,237 points.