Philip Hutcheson scored more points from 1986-90 than any college basketball player who preceded him. He was a four-time All-American who contributed to 139 wins. His jersey was the first in the history of Lipscomb athletics to be retired.
Yet, his next move might be just as important to the legacy of the university’s basketball program.
Entering his sixth season as Lipscomb’s athletic director, Hutcheson will make his first big hire when he names the next men’s basketball coach. Scott Sanderson resigned Tuesday after 14 years, a 220-201 record, zero NCAA Tournament appearances and on the heels of consecutive losing seasons.
Sanderson struggled to maintain the success of his predecessor Don Meyer, whose name adorns the court in Lipscomb’s Allen Arena. Meyer won 663 games and a national championship in 24 years — all at the NAIA level.
Matching or even approaching that mark on the NCAA Division I level is near impossible, especially out of a one-bid league like the Atlantic Sun Conference.
“It will be pretty hard to average a 32-win season over a 10-year period and get to the Final Four every year,” Meyer said earlier this week. “Can they be a sound, solid team and defend, take charges, get loose balls and get kids who can shoot and stuff like that? Yeah, they can do that. But it is not going to be easy. It is going to take a lot of work.”
A bevy of qualities will be sought in the hunt for the 18th coach in program history.
The Bisons need someone wired into the local hoops scene. The next coach will also have the task of finding mid-major talent who adhere to the school’s no-nonsense policies as a Church of Christ institution.
“We’re a faith-based institution that cares about character and developing whole people. That is part of it too,” Hutcheson said.
Someone with knowledge of the Atlantic Sun is a bonus.
The league gained notoriety last month when Florida Gulf Coast soared to the Sweet 16. Andy Enfield used the run to get a new job — as the head coach at USC. His success shows the A-Sun can be a springboard to higher profile jobs.
One possible candidate with an understanding of the A-Sun is former Lipscomb standout Brian Ayers.
He has spent the last 15 seasons as an assistant at rival Belmont and was elevated to associate head coach two years ago. The Clarksville native, who played with Hutcheson, also spent two years on the staffs of Austin Peay and Vanderbilt.
“Not many people get into coaching to be a lifetime assistant coach,” Ayers said. “We all want to have an opportunity to be a head coach, to have a program where you put more of your thumbprint, your philosophies and your conviction. … Obviously, I know [Lipscomb] well. The Atlantic Sun, [Belmont] being in that conference for a long time, I have a feel for that. It would have to be mutual interest. We’ll see what direction Lipscomb heads.”
Hutcheson said head-coaching experience isn’t a pre-requisite and reaching into the high school ranks is a possibility too.
Nashville native Drew Maddux falls into that category. The former Vanderbilt standout has spent the last seven years at Christ Presbyterian Academy, which has won two straight state championships.
Other candidates include interim head coach Pete Froedden, a former Lipscomb guard in his fourth season as an assistant, who has ties to the Meyer era; Vanderbilt assistants Tom Richardson, a former head coach, and Brad Frederick, who is in his 14th year and is the dean of assistant coaches in the Southeastern Conference.
Off-the-grid choices include: Austin Peay assistant Bret Campbell, who was the Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year at Tennessee-Martin in 2009 before resigning that summer after an internal audit found he violated school policies by cashing checks for basketball summer camps; and former Vanderbilt coach Jan van Breda Kolff, who hasn’t coached collegiately since 2003. Van Breda Kolff actively sought the TSU job last year.
Hutcheson plans to take his time in the search process and will lean on a committee comprised of administrators and other coaches in the athletic department. One of Lipscomb’s favorite sons, he is determined to make the hire that sends the Bisons on the path to restoring their former glory.
“In my opinion there is no reason why Lipscomb can’t be a great program,” Hutcheson said. “We’re in a great city. We’re a part of a great university. It is a great college town with other great teams here. The Atlantic Sun is a good conference. We are within a one-day drive of three quarters of the United States population so recruiting is no problem. I really don’t think there is any reason why we can’t be excellent in what we do.”