(The Tennessean)--- Rick Byrd admits there were times he dearly wanted to be Tennessee's men's basketball coach.
Tennessee is his alma mater, where he began his coaching career and the place he tagged along as a kid to Vols practices and games with his dad Ben Byrd, who was the sports editor of the Knoxville Journal.
But any chance of Byrd leaving Belmont for UT has come and gone.
When the position came open again earlier this week after Cuonzo Martin bolted for California, Byrd came to the realization that his timing and that of the Vols simply never matched up.
"I'll be 61 at the end of this month and I just think if I were in their shoes I'd want to start a program with someone you can count on for a long period of time," Byrd said. "I can't see it. You shouldn't ever say 'never' because you never know what might happen, so I choose not to say 'never.' But I'm going to be coaching at Belmont, I feel very sure, for the rest of my coaching career."
Byrd, a 1976 UT graduate, just completed his 28th season at Belmont where his overall record is 597-391. He's guided the Bruins to the NCAA Tournament in six of the past nine years and is considered by many as one of the nation's best strategists.
After arriving in 1986, Byrd quickly built Belmont into one of the very best teams in the NAIA.
When the UT job opened up three times over the next 11 years, Byrd was still coaching on the NAIA level and a long shot to be considered by the Vols.
By the time the job opened up again in 2001, Byrd was in the midst of leading Belmont through the difficult transition from NAIA to NCAA Division I. Belmont wasn't winning much at the time and so Byrd was not a hot commodity.
After Buzz Peterson got the ax in 2005 at UT, Byrd had started to build Belmont into a winner. The Bruins had won the Atlantic Sun in 2002-03 and then earned a berth in the NIT in 2003-04.
It wasn't enough, however, for then-Vols athletics director Mike Hamilton, who hired Bruce Pearl.
When Pearl resigned in 2011 Byrd interviewed at UT and emerged as a leading candidate.
By then he had established himself as one of the nation's brightest coaches. The Bruins were the first team that season to reach 30 wins and also claimed their fourth consecutive A-Sun title and fourth NCAA Tournament berth in six seasons.
But Hamilton instead hired Martin, who is 19 years younger than Byrd.
"My coaching career didn't really line up with UT or any SEC job," said Byrd, who began his career as a graduate assistant on Ray Mears' staff at UT in 1977. "I wasn't going to be hired as an NAIA coach. Then for several years in (NCAA) Division I I wasn't going to be hired anywhere. By the time we're successful at Belmont to some degree in Division I then I'm in my mid- to late-50s and so... If the last 10 years at Belmont had happened when I was in between 40 and 50 then maybe we're talking about something different."