When Rick Insell was introduced as the seventh head coach in program history in May, 2005, he told a packed house that this hire proves "dreams come true," during his press conference.
It has taken just three short years for the man who has coached at almost every level of women's basketball to not only fulfill his dreams, but also to create lofty expectations at Middle Tennessee and for its women's basketball program.
"I'm a coach and it's all I've ever done, from elementary to junior high to junior pro, AAU and high school," Insell said. "To be able to come on board at Middle Tennessee, that's a dream come true. It says if you stay in there long enough and dream big enough, one day it will eventually happen."
Insell continues to dream big and the Middle Tennessee's women's basketball program has enjoyed unparalleled success under his tutelage, posting three consecutive 20-win seasons and a school-record 30 victories in 2006-07. Insell enters his fourth year at the helm of his alma mater with three consecutive postseason appearances, two WNBA draft picks and a pair of All-Americans during his short tenure, including the only First Team All-American in program history, Amber Holt in 2007-08.
Insell has continued the championship tradition of the Blue Raider program, leading Middle Tennessee to a pair of Sun Belt Tournament titles and an SBC regular season championship. The Woodbury, Tenn., native has compiled a 72-27 overall record in his three seasons in Murfreesboro, an impressive .728 winning percentage. His win total is the best three-year stretch in program history, eclipsing the total of 65 victories posted from 1982-84.
As a team Middle Tennessee has ranked in the Top 25 nationally in scoring offense and steals per game in each of the last three seasons. The club has also ranked fourth in the country in 3-pointers per game in 2006-07 and 2007-08, and had a player finish in the Top 10 nationally in scoring individually three straight years.
The Blue Raiders pulled one of the biggest upsets in the nation last season, defeating No. 8 LSU at Murphy Center, 67-56, in December in front of the second largest crowd in school history (7,858). Middle Tennessee was also a part of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's "Think Pink" initiative in 2007-08, donning pink uniforms before a crowd of 6,968 against rival Western Kentucky in February. The team auctioned the jerseys after the game, raising almost $20,000 for the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund.
Middle Tennessee has produced a pair of WNBA selections over the past two years. Holt was selected ninth overall by the Connecticut Sun in 2008 and Chrissy Givens was taken 31st overall by the Phoenix Mercury in 2007.
Middle Tennessee won the Sun Belt Tournament in each of Insell's first two seasons at Middle Tennessee, falling to Utah in the first round of 2006 before defeating Gonzaga in the opening round in 2007. The Blue Raiders reached the WNIT in 2008, posting a victory over Western Carolina in the first round before dropping an overtime decision at Kentucky.
Last year's team used the production of the nation's leading scorer - Holt - who averaged 27.4 points per game, to post a 22-12 overall record, including a 14-4 mark in Sun Belt action. It was the fifth consecutive season in which the Blue Raiders had double-digit conference victories and the fifth straight 20-win campaign for the program.
Holt produced the fifth best single-season point total in NCAA history along the way, registering 930 points for the year, behind only Jackie Stiles (Missouri State), Cindy Brown (Long Beach State), Genia Miller (Cal State-Fullerton) and Sheryl Swoopes (Texas Tech). Holt was also a finalist for all three national player of the year awards - the Wooden Award, Naismith Award and Wade Trophy - and received First Team All-America honors from CBSSports.com as well as Third Team accolades from the Associated Press, Honorable Mention honors by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and recognition on the 10-member U.S. Basketball Writers Association All-America team.
Insell has helped elevate the program into the national spotlight, as well, showcasing the program with a victory at then eighth-ranked Georgia in December of 2006. The triumph 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 program also enjoyed unprecedented heights in 2006-07 in the national rankings, reaching as high as No. 16 in both the Associated Press and USA Today after winning 27 games in a row, the longest streak in the nation at one point. The Blue Raiders did not lose for more than 100 days during the stretch.
Middle Tennessee eclipsed the school record for victories that season, posting a 30-4 overall record, and won its fourth straight Sun Belt Tournament title, tying a school record for consecutive conference tournament championships. The squad also tied the record for consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with four.
Fans have also taken notice of the team'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 in the Top 30 nationally and the crowd for the Maryland game was one of the Top 50 for attendance in the nation in 2006-07.
Fans continued their match through the turnstiles last season, with Middle Tennessee again ranked in the Top 30 nationally after averaging 4,150 for 13 home dates.
Insell's biggest impact on the program may have come with scheduling, as the Blue Raiders have ranked in the Top 10 in nonconference strength of schedule the past two seasons. Middle Tennessee has taken on Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Kentucky from the SEC, Maryland and Virginia from the ACC, Louisville from the Big East, Arizona from the Pac-10, Houston and UAB from Conference USA, Penn State and Minnesota from the Big 10, Utah from the Mountain West, as well as tradition-rich Old Dominion.
Insell has developed the two most prolific single-season scorers in program history, with Holt and Givens accounting for 2,932 points (1,497 for Holt; 1,435 for Givens). In just two seasons Holt ranked ninth on the all-time scoring list at Middle Tennessee and Givens played her final two seasons in the up-tempo offense and ended her career fifth all-time in scoring.
Insell made a huge splash in his first year at the helm of the program, guiding the Blue Raiders to their third consecutive Sun Belt Tournament title at home in the Sun Belt Championships. Middle Tennessee overcame a 14-point deficit to defeat Western Kentucky, 84-73.
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. Holt became the program's fourth 1,000-point scorer during Insell's tenure this past season.
With the first conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance under his belt, Insell's recruiting class was ranked 10th nationally and included current players 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 Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) Class AAA state championships and two USA Today national championships (1989, 1991), compiling 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.
For his accomplishments at Shelbyville, Insell was elected to the National High School Hall of Fame in February 2007 and was inducted with a class of 12 in July 2007. Insell is one of only six Tennesseans, including just the fourth coach, elected to the National High School Hall of Fame.
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.
Insell was elected into the TSSAA Hall of Game in 2003. His 775 career victories at Shelbyville ranks him 17th in the nation for career wins and No. 5 in the state of Tennessee.
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 have posted five semesters with a GPA of 3.14 or above. The squad was recognized with the Sun Belt Academic Award for 2006-07 after posting a cumulative 3.22 GPA for the academic year. The six returning players for 2008-09 carry a cumulative 3.31 GPA into the fall semester.
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's success during his time at Shelbyville was not limited to high school. He won three AAU national championships, claiming titles in 1988, 1998 and 2004. He was the first coach of the Kodak High School All-American Game in 1992 and was the coach of the South Team at the 2002 Olympic Festival, the first Youth Development Festival by USA Basketball.
Insell is married to the former Debbie Spry of Woodbury, Tenn., and the couple has three sons, Tom, Kyle and Matt. Tom is married to the former Sarah Stewart of Shelbyville, Tenn.