Rick Insell begins his third season as head coach at Middle Tennessee after leading the Blue Raiders to unprecedented heights in 2006-07, including the program's highest-ever national ranking, a Sun Belt regular season title and a fourth straight Sun Belt Tournament championship.
Insell has helped elevate the program into the national spotlight as well, with a victory at then eighth-ranked Georgia on December 8, 2006, showcasing the program. The victory in Athens was the first in program history over a ranked team on the road and just the fifth victory over a ranked foe in the 31-year history of the Middle Tennessee program.
The Blue Raiders won 27 games in a row at one point, the longest streak in the nation at the time, and did not lose for more than 100 days. The squad was ranked in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll for the first time since 1988 and had its first-ever national ranking in the Associated Press poll. The Blue Raiders ended the year ranked 17th by the AP and 23rd by the coaches.
Middle Tennessee eclipsed the school record for victories in a season, posting a 30-4 overall record, besting the previous mark of 26 wins set by the 1982-83 squad. The 2006-07 team also tied the record for consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, tying a mark set from 1983-86, and collected the program's fourth consecutive 20-win campaign, also a school record. The four straight conference tournament titles also ties a school record set from 1983-86.
Insell was voted Sun Belt Coach of the Year after the 2006-07 campaign, the first Coach of the Year for women's basketball at Middle Tennessee since 1988. He was also named Russell Athletics Region V Coach of the Year by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association after the record-breaking campaign.
Insell's two-year mark of 50-15 is the best back-to-back seasons in program history, bettering the mark of 48-17 posted during 2003-04 and 2004-05.
Fans have also taken notice of the program's entertaining playing style. Middle Tennessee led the nation in increased attendance percentage in 2005-06, drawing 2,699 fans per game, a 276 percent increase over the previous season. The Blue Raiders improved on that number in 2006-07 as well, setting a single-game record with 10,010 in the season opener against defending national champion Maryland and averaging 4,157 fans for 15 home games, an increase of 65 percent. Middle Tennessee's attendance ranked 26th nationally and the crowd for the Maryland game was one of the Top 50 for attendance in the nation this year. The attendance increase in 2006-07 was sixth best in the country as well.
Insell developed one of the best players in school history in his first two seasons as head coach. Chrissy Givens registered the second most points in school history in 2005-06 and eclipsed the top mark in 2006-07, and ranked in the Top 10 nationally in scoring both seasons.
Insell, a Murfreesboro, Tenn., native, made a huge splash in his first year at the helm of the Middle Tennessee program in 2005-06, guiding the Blue Raiders to their third consecutive Sun Belt Tournament title and doing so in front of a record-setting home crowd in the finals of the Sun Belt Championships.
Insell directed one of the most thrilling comebacks in Sun Belt Tournament history, leading Middle Tennessee to an 84-73 win over Western Kentucky after being down by as many as 14 points in the first half.
The 2005-06 campaign also saw another first in program history as three players - Givens, Tia Stovall and Krystle Horton - all joined the 1,000-point club. It marked the first time in school history three current players all were represented on the prestigious list, and the Blue Raiders were one of only four teams in the 2006 NCAA Tournament to boast such an honor.
Middle Tennessee notched one of its biggest wins of the season when the Blue Raiders defeated Big 10 powerhouse Penn State, 79-65, in the UAB Blaze Tournament in December.
With the first conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance under his belt, Insell's recruiting class was ranked 10th nationally and included current standouts Jackie Pickel, Brandi Brown and Chelsia Lymon.
A 1977 graduate of Middle Tennessee, Insell built a high school girls basketball dynasty at nearby Shelbyville Central High School, just a 30-minute drive from the Middle Tennessee campus. He guided the Golden Eaglettes to a record 10 TSSAA Class AAA state championships and two USA Today national championships (1989, 1991), as he compiled a sparkling 775-148 worksheet during his 28-year tenure.
Insell was named USA Today National High School Coach of the Year in 1989 and 1991 and he also was named Converse National High School Coach of the Year on two occasions (1990, 1992).
A name synonymous with high school girls basketball in Tennessee, Insell's teams hold the Tennessee state records for consecutive wins with 110, consecutive state titles with four (1989-1992), most state championships for a coach with 10 (1986, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004), and his 1990 Golden Eaglette squad was named the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Team of the Year, the first high school team so honored.
Under Insell's guidance, Shelbyville Central won 23 district championships, 16 regional championships and appeared in the Class AAA state championship game a remarkable 15 times, winning 10. He developed six Tennessee Class AAA Miss Basketball Award recipients, 15 high school All-Americans and 57 of his players received either athletic or academic scholarships to continue their careers at the collegiate level.
For his accomplishments at Shelbyville, Insell was elected to the National High School Hall of Fame in Febrary 2007 and was inducted with a class of 12 in July 2007. Insell is one of only six Tennesseeans, including just the fourth coach, elected to the National High School Hall of Fame.
While Insell built a basketball dynasty at Shelbyville during his time there, he also made sure his players got the job done in the classroom, as evidenced by his teams receiving the TSSAA Distinguished Award for Academic Success from 1989-2000, an award based on team grade-point-average. The lowest cumulative GPA at Shelbyville from 1989-00 was 3.4 and the highest was 3.98. The academic emphasis has continued during his tenure at Middle Tennessee, as the Blue Raiders posted a cumulative 3.22 GPA in Fall 2006.
Additionally, Insell's Shelbyville team received a special invitation to the Oval Office by President George H. Bush for academic and athletic achievement and his teams also have been honored in the United States Senate and House of Representatives, the Tennessee State House and Senate and by two Tennessee Governors.
Insell had high praise for the head coaching position when he accepted the position at Middle Tennessee.
"Dreams do come true," Insell said after Director of Athletics Chris Massaro announced his hiring on May 18, 2005. "It's something you think about. I'm a coach and it's all I've ever done, from elementary to junior high to junior pro, AAU and high school. To be able to come on board at Middle Tennessee, a Division I school, that's a dream come true, not only for me, but for all of the high school coaches and junior high coaches across the country. It says if you stay in there long enough and dream big enough, one day it will eventually happen."
Insell said Middle Tennessee will be a pressing basketball team on defense and force the issue, and he added that the Blue Raiders would back down from no one on the recruiting trail.
"We are going after the best players in the state of Tennessee every year," Insell said. "If Tennessee or Vanderbilt is after them, then Middle Tennessee is going to be after them, too. We will recruit alongside of them. We are not going to be intimidated, nor will we back down because they are in the Southeastern Conference. We are Division I and they are Division I. We are going to use all of our contacts."
Insell is married to the former Debbie Spry from Woodbury, Tenn., and the couple have three sons, Tom, Kyle and Matt. Tom is married to the former Sarah Stewart of Shelbyville, Tenn.