Lipscomb athletic director Philip Hutcheson was taken aback but intrigued.
Among the numerous candidates who reached out about the vacant men’s basketball coach opening, Casey Alexander expressed interest early in the process.
To Hutcheson, he was an ideal candidate. Alexander has spent more than a decade coaching in the Atlantic Sun Conference and had just completed his second season as head coach at league rival Stetson.
But he was, after all, a Belmont guy. The Nashville native had been a standout point guard for the archrival Bruins and spent 16 years cutting his teeth on the staff of Rick Byrd.
“I kind of thought to myself, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ I was thinking about his résumé a little bit,” Hutcheson said laughing. “I thought this would be interesting. But, you know what, what we care about here is excellence and people who are connected and committed to what the mission of Lipscomb is about.”
He asked around and checked in with close friends about Alexander's character and personality, and Hutcheson decided Alexander could be a Lipscomb man too.
On Sunday, the Bisons officially introduced Alexander as the 18th head coach in program history at a press conference and an informal gathering for alumni and boosters. The 40-year-old is just the third men’s basketball coach in 40 years for Lipscomb. He takes over for Scott Sanderson, who resigned on April 9 after 14 seasons.
It took 40 days to find a new coach but Hutcheson believes he found the right guy, especially after conducting thorough research by talking to supporters of Alexander who didn’t even know he was interested in the job.
“Every one of them, to a person, said he is a wonderful person with a wonderful family,” Hutcheson said. “He knows basketball and has been part of successful basketball ever since high school. So you knew that part would work. If people felt good about him once they knew him as a person, I thought, ‘OK, he is going to be a real candidate.’ Some of our most loyal fans were here [Sunday] listening and I can tell you if they spend 30 minutes to an hour with him, they’ll come away as a fan of his.”
For his part, Alexander had no hesitation.
He had been at Stetson for just two years and had shown promise. In 2011-12, the Hatters were 9-20 overall and 6-12 in the A-Sun. Last season, they improved to 15-16 and placed third in the conference at 11-7.
But the Nashville native, who went to high school at Brentwood Academy, couldn’t pass up an opportunity to move back home.
“Regardless of where we went it wasn’t going to be home so it was going to be difficult to really, really enjoy the experience,” Alexander said. “But the people [at Stetson] were super. I had great support. People choose to move to Florida for a reason. It is a great place to live. But it is nice to be back in Middle Tennessee. The location was just a byproduct of it. I would have been just interested if it were in Shreveport, La., because I do like what Lipscomb has to offer — not only for my family but from a job perspective.
“I think it has everything it needs to be successful. The kind of young men we will recruit here will value the experience can offer. I think that is what gives you the best chance to be good.”
After his first interview, Alexander reached out to his mentor and former boss. Byrd, who has been at Belmont for 26 years and who also was caught off guard. He said, however, he wants the best for Alexander.
Though the schools are no longer in the same conference, the Battle of the Boulevard rivalry continues. The teams are set to play twice in November, beginning with the season opener. Alexander and Byrd have already met on the court twice. In 2011-12, when Belmont was still in the A-Sun, Byrd guided the Bruins past Alexander and the Hatters both times.
“It was a surprise,” Byrd said. “I hadn’t thought about it. But if you’re in this for the right reasons you want people that play for you, that work for you to find the best spot. … It is a great rivalry. And I think the two people who it will have the least issue with is Casey and I. It will be maybe a little awkward a couple nights a year but I enjoy coaching against people I admire and know our doing things the right way.”
Alexander’s immediate priorities are compiling a staff, hitting the road recruiting during July and keeping the team intact. He said there is a good chance Stetson associate head coach and former Belmont assistant Roger Idstrom joins him again — if he isn’t named his successor at Stetson.
The Bisons are expecting to return at least two of last year’s top four scorers. It could be three if A-Sun Freshman of the year Stephen Hurt decides to stay. On Friday, he asked for his release hours before Alexander was hired. Hurt, a 6-foot-10, 285-pounder from Murfreesboro, averaged 11.5 points and 7.8 points last year.
Alexander said he talked with Hurt on Saturday night and plans to have more conversations this week before granting his release and letting him transfer.
Coming off back-to-back losing seasons and having one of the youngest teams in the country last year, Lipscomb could be rebuilding in the short term. But Alexander believes it won’t take long.
“It is going to be a process,” Alexander said. “It is not going to go exactly like I want it to. But [the program] is a lot closer [to getting to the top of the conference] than people think. We’re not going to cut any corners to get there but we all expect to be there sooner rather than later.”