Published 12:00 am Friday, March 19, 2010



RESERVE – When Riverside coach Timmy Byrd speaks, his Rebels listen. Why wouldn’t they? Byrd has won eight state championships over a head-coaching career that has spanned 15 years.

With a track record like that, it’s easy to assume Byrd has uncovered a very new blueprint to winning.

But not so. There’s a very old school influence at play here.

That influence is personified in assistant coach Ronnie Byrd, Timmy’s father, who has been at his side every step of the way.

Heck, that includes Timmy’s first steps — Ronnie’s his dad, after all.

“I coached him since he was 4 years old,” said Ronnie, now 76. “I’d play with him every day at the gym. When I was the athletic director and basketball coach at River Forest Academy, he played on our ninth-grade team. And even as a fifth-grader, he was the star.”

Timmy went to De La Salle as an eighth-grader and freshman, the only seasons Ronnie did not coach him. He attended Ridgewood as a sophomore. Then as a junior, both members of the Byrd family made the move to East St. John, where Ronnie coached and Timmy starred both on the hardwood and the gridiron.

“For the most part, I’m the only basketball coach he’s ever played under,” Ronnie said.

These days, Timmy is the man in charge of a powerful basketball program. The transition from Reserve Christian — which won seven championships in its last eight years of existence — to Riverside has been seamless, as the Rebels rolled to the first basketball championship in school history last Saturday.

When Reserve Christian announced in mid 2009 it would be closing its doors, the Eagle coaches and players learned of the imminent event as it prepared to go to the 2009 Top 28 tournament in Lafayette. It wouldn’t distract the Eagles from winning the Class C championship, but it weighed heavily on everyone’s minds.

“We were all just crushed,” said Ronnie. “It was total disarray. Everyone was scared, wondering what are we gonna do?”

Once the Byrds officially made the jump to Riverside, their players followed. Which brought up the next question: How would they be accepted?

“Riverside accepted our kids more and more, day by day, not because they were a good basketball team and could win a championship, but because of who and what they were. It was like a marriage. You think you know what you’re getting into, but you really don’t. And every day, this love started to grow.”

The relationship between father and son in this case is extremely close (Ronnie was the best man at Timmy’s wedding, for example), and it spills over into their professional relationship. With eight championship rings, it would be easy for the younger Byrd to assume he knows everything.

Ronnie says, though, that is hardly the case.

“I tell him how I feel and how I’d correct certain things that I don’t agree with. And a lot of head coaches would take issue with that,” said Ronnie. “But he’s willing to let me come in every day and give me a chance to express some ideas. Now, he won’t implement them every time. But he listens, and many times we’ll execute it.”

One thing that’s always “in the game plan” is Ronnie’s overall coaching philosophy in dealing with players. It isn’t an in your face, break them down before you build them up type of system.

“We do not abuse, and we do not use vulgar language with these players,” said Ronnie. “Those words aren’t in our vocabulary. The only time we’re really going to go after a kid and get on them is if we feel like he isn’t doing what he can for his own betterment.

“A lot of the things we do here, on and off the floor, are really things I’ve been doing for 40 to 50 years.”

He still finds his work rewarding. A basketball lifer, Ronnie says seeing the goals these players achieve year in and year out never gets old.

“We’re blessed with such good kids every year,” Ronnie said. “A lot of your star players today are primadonnas, they’re about themselves. But then you have these kids who are all about each other and the team.

“It’s so rewarding to see them accomplish these things. When I wake up, sometimes I just ask the Lord, ‘Why are you blessing us so much?’”

And in his experience, it’s a system he’s seen work time and time again. He’s seen many former players come back having made successes out of themselves, be it on the court or off. It’s a system that demands a person expect nothing less than the best they possibly can give. It’s meant to create not only winners in basketball, but winners in life.

Winners as sons. Winners as fathers.

“When I see the man that Timmy’s become, to be so successful in life in everything he’s undertaken, proud isn’t the word to put upon it. It’s so much more than that,” said Ronnie.

“Man, what’s a dad to say. The only word to describe it has to be, ‘Wow.’”