Basketball minds boggle at the level of coaching talent in Nashville.
Rick Byrd's steady hand has guided Belmont through what could have been the tumultuous rapids of transition. His Bruins have evolved from NAIA power to local secret to perennial place-holder on the lists of teams no powerhouse wants to play.
Notwithstanding a lack of postseason success — and a very underwhelming 2011-12 season — Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings is a well-regarded tactician. He's made the Commodores contenders in the brutal Southeastern Conference.
Away from the tree-lined boulevards of the west side, however, a third contender has risen — and he may be doing the best of anyone.
For the first time since 1996, the TSU Tigers have secured a winning season. And for that, they must thank Coach John Cooper.
It's been a tough decade and a half on the north side, a fan base sustained by the faded memories of the glory days when John McClendon had Dick Barnett and teammates regularly scoring in the triple digits. This in the pre-shot clock, pre-3-point line days of the 1950s, back when Truck Robinson belied his huge size with a guard's precision-fingered shooting touch.
But in later years, TSU was marred by litigious coaches and single-digit win totals. It garnered only the wrong kind of headlines, and coasted on the novelty of a woman coaching the men's team.
Coach Cooper has changed all that. The recommendation of a one-man search committee — former Vandy coach Eddie Fogler, under whom Cooper played at Wichita State and coached at South Carolina — Cooper has the Tigers on track once again.
He's laid out a schedule that would make most coaches shirk in fear: on the road at North Carolina and South Carolina, games against local rising stars Belmont and Middle Tennessee. The Tigers were no longer going to hide in the OVC.
He raised eyebrows early this year with a win against the Gamecocks, a victory tempered — and largely shrugged off — by the realization that South Carolina is not an average SEC team. Indeed, they would be a very average Atlantic Sun team.
They made a nice story, TSU. They were in the upper half of the OVC; the top of that heap was Murray State — the nation's last undefeated team, 23-0, with a schedule laid out like a primrose path to a perfect season. The team 22 miles from anywhere — and that's if one generously considers Paris, Tenn. "anywhere" — would be March's sexy small-college story, its Cinderella bound for the Dance.
But Cooper shattered the Racers' glass slipper with a ball-peen hammer. Stunning Murray's raucous, packed CFSB Center into silence, the Tigers beat the then-No. 9 team in the country 72-68.
It was TSU's first win against a Top 10 team in the NCAA era — McClendon coached Barnett et al to NAIA titles in days before integration. It secured their winning season.
And most importantly: It showed TSU — and indeed everyone else — they could hang with and beat the best teams.
In two seasons, Cooper has taken Tiger basketball from an uncomfortable grimace to a smile. He is not shy about selling his program. Even before he became the most popular radio guest in the country after solving the Murray Rubik's cube and securing the biggest TSU win in decades, he was making regular FM dial appearances in Nashville.
He is not shy and he is not afraid. His buy-in or get-out attitude raised eyebrows early, but is paying heavy dividends now. He's effecting the kind of sea change at TSU that James Franklin hopes to pull off at Vandy.
And now Murray — foreordained for a cakewalk through the OVC tournament before making the country go to Google Maps during the Big Dance — has something to think about.
The OVC tournament is in Nashville, on TSU's turf.
There's no reason to believe Cooper won't have his team ready for the Racers again. And the conference may have its Cinderella — just not the one everyone expected.
After having lied for months about "negotiating for a better deal" and "working for compromise"…
"Toleration is good for all, or it is good for none."
First it's Satanists, and then it'll be - even worse - Muslims! Thanks, Obama!
Really? What if you're the one wearing the expensive suit en route to an important…
I am so amazed that so many people in this world find it perfectly ok…