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VOL. 43 | NO. 47 | Friday, November 22, 2019

3 new coaches, 3 unique storylines in Middle Tennessee

By Tom Wood

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Former North Carolina legend Jerry Stackhouse is now tasked with rebuilding Vanderbilt’s program.

-- Photo By Michelle Morrow |The Ledger

One played for a Dean, the other inherited the title of dean of Nashville’s college basketball coaches. And the third may not have that connection, but he does share the last name of the King of Country Music.

Meet Jerry Stackhouse, Casey Alexander and Lennie Acuff, the new men’s college basketball coaches at Vanderbilt, Belmont and Lipscomb.

Stackhouse starred at the University of North Carolina under the tutelage of legendary coach Dean Smith, who led the Tar Heels to 879 victories, two national championships and 11 Final Four appearances including one featuring Stackhouse in 1995. Following a stellar NBA career, Stackhouse joined the pro coaching ranks before taking his first collegiate coaching job April 5, replacing Bryce Drew.

After winning his debut with the Commodores – beating Southeast Missouri State 83-65 at Memorial Gymnasium – Stackhouse began his postgame press availability conference with this deadpan quip: “878 more and then I’ll tie Coach Smith.”

Then breaking into his trademark smile, the coach added: “So you know what I’m saying, I’m well on my way.”

Stackhouse’s first collegiate coaching win came a day after his 45th birthday, meaning that if he averages 25 wins a season he would tie Smith’s record sometime around 2055 – at age 81.

If not for Stackhouse’s presence in Nashville, the media spotlight would shine even more on Alexander for two reasons: He replaces legendary Belmont coach Rick Byrd, who retired in April after 805 wins, and Alexander spent the last six seasons at crosstown rival Lipscomb, making him the longest-tenured coach in Nashville.

He returned to his alma mater April 10, coming off Lipscomb’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2018 followed by an NIT runner-up finish this past season.

Alexander laughs when called the “dean of Nashville coaches,” then adds that he’s “fortunate to have lived in this town and been a part of this program for as long as I have. It’s great to be back.”

And while Nashville’s three-pronged coaching transition may be unique, “It doesn’t say a whole lot to me, honestly. All three programs are in good shape,” says Alexander, who lost his debut as Bruins coach 79-72 at Illinois State.

“Vanderbilt obviously is coming off a tough season, but they’ve got the resources and the history that they need to get back where they want to go.

“And then Belmont’s had a great run. We just enjoyed a great run last year.

“I’ve spent a lot of time talking to Lennie. We’re both in similar situations, me because not only am I inheriting a program that’s done great things, I’m following a coach that’s literally the best of the best.

“And (Acuff is) inheriting a program that’s just done some great things. So, we’re in the same circumstances.”

Acuff, no relation to the aforementioned “King of Country Music” Roy Acuff but certainly one of the kings of small-college basketball after a 22-year run at NCAA Division II Alabama-Huntsville, agrees with Alexander’s assessment.

“It’s unique. A lot of times when you take over programs, there’s been reasons for a change – that maybe there hasn’t been the success they’d like and they’ve decided to go in another direction. At neither Belmont nor Lipscomb is that the case,” explains Acuff, whose team routed Rhodes 104-55 in his debut at Allen Arena before suffering his first loss, 73-70, to MTSU.

“Coach Byrd retired as a legendary figure there, and then Casey did a remarkable job here. And so, both programs have experienced a great deal of success the last few years.”

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