Mark Humphrey
January 09, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The big number Belmont basketball coach Rick Byrd wants to reach is six.

Yet with a career record of 699-361 in 34 seasons, he can understand why people are focused on his 700th victory, rather than his goal of guiding the Bruins to their sixth straight regular-season championship overall and third straight since moving to the Ohio Valley Conference.

Byrd is overtly aware of what his own record is right now, especially with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski at 997 wins.

''It's going to be in every story until he gets 1,000, and that's a big deal,'' Byrd said.

''That's just sort of natural, but really it's just one more win. And I think the longer that you coach or maybe just the longer you live and hopefully continue to mature, then those kind of things are way less important to you than they might have been when you're 30 years old and just starting out coaching,'' he said.

Byrd is 607-306 in 29 seasons at Belmont after a win over SIU-Edwardsville. The Bruins (10-5, 2-0) start a three-game road swing through the OVC on Saturday at Eastern Illinois, with Byrd ranking seventh in career wins among active Division I coaches.

The 61-year-old coach who oversaw Belmont's transition from a NAIA program to Division I has turned the school into one of only six D-I programs to win at least 26 games in each of the past four years, and only Kansas has won more conference championships than Belmont's 13 regular-season and tournament titles since 2006.

Belmont also has won six automatic bids to the NCAA tournament in nine years, something only Kansas and Memphis have managed.

''They're Belmont's or our teams,'' Byrd said. ''Those do matter. I mean we've been fortunate to have five straight years of regular-season conference championships, and that's rarely done in Division I basketball. That's way better than 700 to me.''

Byrd is in his second season as chairman of the NCAA men's basketball rules committee.

''There is no finer gentleman in the game and not a better coach at any level than Rick Byrd,'' Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said of his friend. ''He has a tremendously creative mind on offense and his teams constantly play to their fullest potential, and that's the mark of any good coach.''

Byrd builds his program with players being unselfish and patiently waiting for their turn to play. This season, Byrd has a much younger team, starting 6-foot-8 freshman Amanze Egekeze and a pair of sophomores with junior guard Craig Bradshaw and redshirt senior Reece Chamberlain.

Chamberlain credits the players' patience to Byrd.

''He recruits players that want to do it, listen to him and what he wants them to do, and it just keeps focus on the team,'' Chamberlain said. ''And we never thought about him or about us. It's about the team, and everyone's bought into what they can do to help us win and that's a big part of it.''

That same approach means there will be no cooler dumped on the coach in celebration whenever the Bruins win their next game, just the Bruins making sure to congratulate their coach for No. 700.

That's just how Byrd wants it.

''Our Division I history's being made, so trying to find a way to beat Eastern Illinois is what I'm thinking about right now, at least in terms of my job,'' Byrd said. ''So I appreciate people thinking about it. It's natural. I can remember my first. I can remember my 100th. Those numbers do kind of stand out, but they're really for thinking about when you're 90 years old and trying to remember anything.''

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