July 9, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Robert Byrd is looking ahead.
After years working to raise the children of other people and toiling as a basketball coach, Byrd said Wednesday it is time for a change.
Byrd on Tuesday resigned as boys basketball coach at New Hope High School, citing a desire to spend more time with his family and to focus on the pursuit of a master''s degree.
"It is gut wrenching," Byrd said. "I still necessarily don''t feel good about it, but I have to keep my kids in mind when I have a negative thought about it and try to think about them. I love New Hope. I went to school there up to the third grade, and I spent most of my life trying to get back to New Hope.
"It is gut wrenching. I hope New Hope does well in everything it does. I will do everything I can to help New Hope move forward."
Drew McBrayer, the school''s boys golf coach who also is an assistant boys basketball coach, is expected to be named to replace Byrd. The Lowndes County School Board is expected Friday to approve the hiring at its monthly meeting.
McBrayer declined to comment until the decision was finalized.
Byrd on Monday started a two-year program at the Mississippi University for Women that will help him earn a master''s degree in educational leadership. He said his goal is to become an administrator or an athletic director so he can better financially support his family in the future.
Byrd, 39, and his wife, Katy, who teaches eighth-grade English at New Hope Middle School, have four children: Jordan, 15; Alex, 12; Price, 5; and Pressley, 2. He said he has put his children "on backburner" too long and that he will "try not to do that anymore."
"There are a lot of changes going on at New Hope, and I figure this is as good a time as any," said Byrd, who expected Wednesday night to tell all of his players of the decision.
Byrd said he had been thinking about pursuing another career track for some time. He said the recent developments and teaching turnover at New Hope High also played a role in his decision.
"That kind of bothered me when (girls basketball) coach (Tim) Vaughan left (to go to Columbus High)," Byrd said. "Loyalty is such a big thing to me, and defending people and having peoples'' back. When coach Vaughan left it just wasn''t the same without him there.
"What went on with (former New Hope High baseball coach) Stacy (Hester), I don''t know the situation, but I hear everything and I know he gave a good part of his professional career to New Hope and I am sure he feels right now he is not appreciated. He made me a much better coach. We did some things and accomplished some things, but if you don''t have the right people supporting you that could have been me next year. I don''t want that to happen to anybody, and I sure don''t want that to happen to me."
Hester credited Byrd for getting his players to buy into his system and for getting them to work so hard. He said he has a lot of respect for what Byrd did with the school''s boys basketball program.
"He always pushed the kids hard and made them come to practice and work hard every day," Hester said. "(The players) knew he had a passion for the game, and if you have a passion and are willing to work hard the kids will work harder for you."
Vaughan, who spent two seasons as the girls basketball coach at New Hope High, said Byrd did more with less than any coach in the state of Mississippi.
"He did it all," Vaughan said. "He did something that nobody in their right mind could think happen (win a state title at New Hope). As a graduate of New Hope, I saw a lot of good basketball teams. Some of the ones that Robert put out on the floor are probably the best teams that New Hope ever had.
"Robert is going to be hard to replace, and it is going to be hard to replace what he did for the kids at New Hope. It is a dark day at New Hope."
Byrd won more than 250 games in 11 seasons as the boys basketball coach at New Hope High. The Trojans were the state runner-up in 2006-07 and went on to win the Class 4A state title in 2007-08.
Byrd was named the Mississippi Association of Coaches Coach of the Year that season.
He returned to the school to be the junior high basketball coach in 1997-98 and helped to build a program that became known for its hard work and its defense.
Noxubee County boys basketball coach T.J. Billups said he could expect two things every time his team faced the Trojans.
"I knew coach Byrd''s team would play extremely hard on defense and I knew they would run their offense to the T," Billups said. "They were very disciplined on offense and very disciplined on defense."
Byrd said he was proud of what he, his coaches, and his players accomplished in his time at the school, but he said any coach who would have had what he had would have had as much success.
"New Hope boys basketball always has been pretty competitive, and I think we were able to take it up a little bit.," Byrd said. "I think consistently competing every year there is something that we wanted to accomplish."
Byrd said McBrayer would be an ideal replacement if he is hired.
"That place is dear to him, too," Byrd said. "He played there and had success on his own, and I think he would do a good job at New Hope. I think the kids will play hard for him and respond to him because he already has a relationship there."
Byrd didn''t rule out a return to coaching, but he said it would have to be the right fit and the right timing for him and his family. He said he intends to remain at New Hope High as a teacher.
Byrd thanked all of his players and their parents as well as Bobby Eiland, who hired him at New Hope High, former school superintendent Tommy Smith, and Mike Halford, the former principal at New Hope High who is now the Lowndes County School District superintendent, for helping him when he was boys basketball coach.
"This is a chance to better myself and to go back to school," Byrd said. "It is something I have been putting off and I couldn''t afford to put off anymore. I am halfway through my career, and I need to better myself financially."
This season, Byrd guided an undersized and inexperienced New Hope High team to a 25-6 finish. Eventual Class 4A state champion Callaway beat New Hope 83-63 in the third-place game of the North Half state tournament in Jackson.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.