With six NCAA Tournament appearances, five All-Americans and three WNBA Draft picks in seven seasons, there is no denying the success head women's basketball coach Rick Insell has brought to Middle Tennessee. In his seven years, he has established a track record unlike any other in the Blue Raiders' rich women's basketball history, while also creating lofty expectations by taking the program to the next level.
When Insell was introduced as the seventh head coach in program history in May 2005, he told a packed house that his hire proves "dreams come true," during his press conference.
"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 at the press conference. "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 enters his eighth season in 2012-13 with a remarkable 174-54 (.763) ledger, collecting more wins than any other coach in school history over the same timeframe. He needs only eight additional victories to tie the school career mark, closing in on the standard set by Lewis Bivens over a 10-year span.
His 100th victory came in the 2009 Sun Belt Tournament Championship game, as the Blue Raiders clinched the title over UALR. Insell has also amassed an impressive Sun Belt ledger, posting a 122-15 (.891) mark during his tenure, including the league's last undefeated marks of 16-0 this past season and 18-0 during the 2006-07 campaign. In seven Sun Belt Tournament appearances, he has lost just three times in 19 tries.
During the regular season against conference opponents, Middle Tennessee has won the last 37 inside the historic Murphy Center and improved its home SBC ledger to 61-1 under Insell during his seven seasons.
He has added five Sun Belt regular-season championships and four Sun Belt Tournament titles to his mantle. The four tournament crowns have led to NCAA Tournament appearances, and with an at-large NCAA selection this past year and a Postseason WNIT berth in 2008, have put Insell-led teams in the postseason in each of his seven seasons.
Middle Tennessee has won at least 20 contests in each of his seven years, including a school-record 30 during the 2006-07 campaign, which saw it own the nation's longest winning streak at 27 games and not losing for over 100 days. This past year’s 20-game winning streak was the second longest in program history, as the top-four runs have come under his watch and each been at least 16 games. Insell has also been the coach for three WNBA selections during his seven seasons, including most recently Alysha Clark, who was chosen 17th overall by the San Antonio Silver Stars in the 2010 Draft. She joined Amber Holt, selected ninth overall by the Connecticut Sun in 2008, and Chrissy Givens, picked 31st overall by the Phoenix Mercury in 2007.
The Blue Raiders were one of just 13 programs nationally to produce at least one player in three of the four WNBA Drafts from 2007-10, joining Connecticut, Stanford, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Baylor, Texas A&M, Duke, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Purdue and Vanderbilt.
The trio also comprises the beginning of the All-American list in school history, starting with Givens in 2007 and Holt a year later. Clark became the first player in the MT record books to garner All-America accolades in more than one season when she collected honors in 2009 and 2010. Most recently, Ebony Rowe was tabbed a Freshman All-American, becoming the first player in school history to receive the nod, in 2011.
Middle Tennessee also produced the nation's leading scorer in three-consecutive seasons, the longest run in NCAA women's basketball history with Clark topping the country in 2009 and 2010 and Holt serving as the pace setter in 2008. Clark's back-to-back reign made her just the third women's basketball player in NCAA history to accomplish the feat and the first in almost a decade.
Through the conclusion of the 2009-10 campaign, Insell had tutored a player in the nation's top 10 in scoring during the last 99 NCAA reporting periods, dating back to January 18, 2007. Since taking the reins of the program through 2009-10, Insell placed a player in the top 10 114 times in 121 reporting dates, with 85 of the 114 among the top five. Clark (935 points in 2009) and Holt (930 points in 2008) currently rank fifth and sixth, respectively, on the NCAA's single-season scoring list.
As a team, Middle Tennessee has ranked among the national leaders in scoring offense and steals per game in each of Insell's seven seasons. The Blue Raiders have placed as high as second in the country for 3-pointers made per game, while Kortni Jones earned the same ranking this past campaign after hitting a single-season school and Sun Belt record 115 from behind the arc. Her total places her in the top 10 all-time in NCAA history.
Middle Tennessee has earned a national reputation for not being afraid to play any opponent. Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime. That is the mantra Insell and his program employ and may be one of his biggest impacts on the program. Evidence of that mindset can be found in last year's schedule, which included eight 2011 NCAA Tournament participants, including four at home. MT made trips to Penn State, James Madison, ETSU, Tennessee and Xavier out of conference, while welcoming South Dakota State, Arkansas, Georgia Tech and Kentucky to the historic Murphy Center.
Highlighting the 2009-10 slate was a home game just before Thanksgiving with perennial power Tennessee which drew a Murphy Center women's record crowd of 11,802. The Blue Raiders also faced Arkansas, UCF, Xavier, Georgia Tech, USF, South Dakota State, Kentucky, James Madison, St. Bonaventure and Kansas State in the non-conference schedule.
The 2008-09 performance was also strong as MT faced four opponents who were ranked or received votes in the national polls, including eventual national runner-up (then-No. 13) Louisville at home and at then-No. 2 Oklahoma, a Final Four participant.
Middle Tennessee made its first trip to Baton Rouge, La., to face LSU in 2008-09 and defeated the Tigers for the second-straight campaign. On Dec. 28, 2007, the Blue Raiders pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the nation, defeating then-No. 8 LSU inside the Murphy Center, 67-56, in front of the third-largest crowd in school history (7,858).
The squad has also knocked off then-No. 8 Georgia on the road, 70-62, during the 2006-07 season and welcomed defending national champion and preseason No. 1 Maryland to the historic Murphy Center for the 2006-07 season opener.
Other notable national programs who have been on the slate since the Insell era began include Tennessee, Penn State, Virginia, Minnesota, Old Dominion, Arizona, Indiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Xavier, USF, James Madison, Kansas State, St. Bonaventure, UNC Wilmington and South Dakota State.
Middle Tennessee has won the Sun Belt Tournament four times in his seven seasons, advancing to the NCAA Tournament each time. In 2007, the Blue Raiders earned their first NCAA Tournament victory under his guidance with a First Round triumph over Gonzaga. In 2006, MT faced Utah. In 2009, Middle Tennessee battled Michigan State before they faced Mississippi State in 2010. In 2011, MT garnered the second at-large bid in program history and faced Georgia during the First Round. This past season, the team was fortunate enough to collect a second-straight at-large berth and remained close to home, playing in Nashville at Vanderbilt. The close proximity allowed a large contingent of fans dressed in blue to make the trip and cheer on the squad.
The 2007-08 campaign saw the Blue Raiders playing in the Postseason WNIT, defeating Western Carolina in the opening round before falling in overtime at Kentucky.
Insell believes the tough non-conference scheduling prepares the team well for postseason action and allows his players to travel into hostile environments without fear.
Middle Tennessee has reached the top 25 rankings three times under his watch, including the first preseason ranking in school history with a No. 24 listing by the Associated Press prior to 2009-10.
The Blue Raiders also entered the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Top 25 just prior to tip-off of the Sun Belt Championship game against UALR that same season. The highest ranking in school history came during the 2006-07 campaign, when the Lady Raiders reached an unprecedented height of No. 16 in both the Associated Press and coaches polls.
No other program in Sun Belt history won more regular-season conference games over a four-year span than Insell's Blue Raiders. MT has captured 66 wins during the four-year stretch from 2006-07 to 2009-10, setting a new conference mark and bettering its own league mark and topping the Louisiana Tech teams from 1997-98 to 2000-01.
This past season, he molded a squad that had lost just one senior into a 16-0 Sun Belt regular-season mark, and was awarded as the Sun Belt Coach of the Year by his peers for the third time in his tenure. Only two programs in the last 20 years of the conference have earned undefeated league records: Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech. And the Blue Raiders own the last two to set the standard, since the Bulldogs no longer are SBC members.
Highlighting the year was a 70-58 home win over No. 6 Kentucky, arguably the biggest triumph in school history. It marked the fourth victory over a nationally-ranked opponent in the program’s 37 seasons, matching the highest ranking by a foe in the four-game set. Three of the four wins against nationally-ranked foes have come under Insell’s watch and all three have been against Southeastern Conference schools.
Jones and Rowe were voted to the All-Sun Belt First Team, while junior Icelyn Elie put together her best season-to-date with a Second Team selection. All three players also garnered All-Sun Belt Tournament Team accolades. Rowe joined the school’s 1,000-point club in the regular-season finale at Western Kentucky, becoming just the second of the 26-member group to accomplish the feat by the end of her sophomore season. She added four more Sun Belt Player of the Week nods, raising the team’s total to 21 in the last four seasons.
The 2010-11 campaign may have been one of his more impressive coaching jobs, as he guided a squad featuring 11 sophomores and freshmen to the Sun Belt East Division title for the third-consecutive year despite many preseason predictors indicating otherwise. Senior Anne Marie Lanning, who became the 25th member of the school's 1,000-point club on her way to earning All-Sun Belt First Team accolades, led Middle Tennessee. Rowe, in addition to becoming the first player in school history to receive Freshman All-America honors, was picked as the league's Freshman of the Year and joined Lanning on the First Team. Rowe also set a Sun Belt record for freshmen with four conference player of the week plaudits.
The 2009-10 Middle Tennessee squad, led by a veteran core of five seniors, four of whom each scored at least 1,000 points in their Blue Raider careers, finished 25-6 and reached the NCAA Tournament after Clark netted the game-winning basket against UALR in overtime with 1.8 seconds left in the SBC final. The four players scoring their 1,000th point in the same season made Middle Tennessee just the sixth team in NCAA women's basketball history to accomplish the feat.
Insell led his team to a 28-6 record in 2008-09, and he captured his second Sun Belt Coach of the Year award along the way. He previously was named the league's best following the 2006-07 campaign.
The Blue Raiders participated in the 2008 Preseason WNIT and matched a school record with a 15-1 (.938) mark inside the Murphy Center. The Blue Raiders won 18 in a row at one point, with all but one of the conference wins being by double-digit margins.
In 2007-08, the Holt-led team finished 22-12, including 14-4 in the Sun Belt. The previous season, Insell guided the Blue Raiders to a 30-4 record and their fourth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance and Sun Belt Tournament title, tying school records for both achievements. During Insell's first year on the bench, 2005-06, MT posted a 20-11 (10-4 SBC) mark.
Insell's system churns out top scorers, including the top-four single-season leaders in school history: Clark, 935 (2008-09); Holt, 930 (2007-08); Clark, 824 (2009-10) and Givens, 768 (2006-07). With the addition of Clark, Brandi Brown, Chelsia Lymon and Jackie Pickel to the 1,000-point club in 2009-10, the group now includes 25 former and one current Middle Tennessee greats.
His mark has also been noticed on the recruiting trail. His first class ranked No. 10 nationally and included 2010 graduates Brown, Lymon and Pickel. The 2009-10 five-player class, all hailing from Tennessee, was rated as high as No. 27 by ESPN HoopGurlz and No. 38 by Blue Star Basketball's Chris Mennig.
His other significant impact has been attendance at home games. 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. A high of 10,010 passed through the turnstiles for the Maryland season opener the next year, ranking among the top 50 nationwide for a 2006-07 game.
The Blue Raiders are consistently ranked among the top 35 programs nationally in attendance; an average of 3,585 turned out for the 15 home games this past season to rank No. 30 in the country.
Middle Tennessee has also given back to the community during his tenure, holding three jersey auctions of the team's pink uniforms as part of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's Pink Zone initiative. The auctions raised over $18,000 each of the first two times, with the money split and given to the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund and Middle Tennessee Medical Center. The 2010 auction raised a record $23,597.05.
The Blue Raiders are also active in the community, participating in the March of Dimes walk, assisting with Habitat for Humanity and tutoring local elementary school students.
Insell recently served on the WBCA's committee for the Maggie Dixon Division I Rookie Coach of the Year Award.
He also paired with former Riverdale High School coach Micheal Burt in co-authoring The Anatomy of Winning - How to REWIRE People to Win. The book was released March 1, 2009, as the Blue Raiders closed the regular season with a home victory against Western Kentucky on Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast (CSS).
A 1977 Middle Tennessee graduate, Insell built a high school girl's basketball dynasty at nearby Shelbyville Central High School, just a 30-minute drive from the MT campus. He guided the Golden Eaglettes to a record 10 Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) Class 3A state championships and two USA Today national championships (1989, 1991), compiling a sparkling 775-148 (84.0 percent) ledger during his 28-year tenure.
He was named the USA Today National High School Coach of the Year following both national titles and was also tabbed the Converse National High School Coach of the Year in 1990 and 1992.
A name synonymous with high school girl's basketball in the state, Insell's teams hold the Tennessee state records for consecutive wins (110), consecutive state titles with four (1989-92) and most state championships for a coach with 10 (1986-89-90-91-92-95-2000-01-03-04). The 110 straight triumphs are seventh in the national record books.
His 1991 Golden Eaglette squad was selected as the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Team of the Year, the first high school team to be recognized.
Insell was elected to the National High School Hall of Fame in February 2007 and was one of 12 members of the 2007 class. He is one of only six Tennesseans, including just the fourth coach, elected to the hall of fame.
He was voted the 2010 recipient of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame's Morgan Wootten Award for Lifetime Achievement for High School Girls' Basketball, an award he was presented with by Wootten personally at the McDonald's All-American Game festivities in late March 2010 in Columbus, Ohio.
A fourth career hall of fame honor was bestowed upon him this past year, as it was announced in December 2011 he would be one of 10 inductees of the 2012 class into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. The annual banquet and reception was held in May 2012 in Nashville.
Shelbyville Central won 23 district championships, 16 regional titles and appeared in the Class 3A state championship game a remarkable 15 times during his career at the school. He developed six Tennessee Class 3A Miss Basketball award recipients, 15 high school All-Americans and 57 of his players either received athletic or academic scholarships to continue their careers at the collegiate level.
The Woodbury, Tenn., native's first hall of fame honor came in 2003 when he was elected to the TSSAA Hall of Fame. His 775 career victories at Shelbyville Central ranks him 20th in the nation and sixth in the state in the all-time high school charts.
Additionally, Insell's Shelbyville Central team received a special invitation to the Oval Office from President George H. W. Bush for its academic and athletic achievement. His teams have also been honored in the United States Senate and House of Representatives, the Tennessee State Senate and House of Representatives and by two Tennessee governors.
On the court success is not the only concern of Insell, as he has made sure his players get the job done in the classroom as well. His Shelbyville Central teams received the TSSAA Distinguished Award for Academic Success from 1989-to-2000, an award based on team grade point average. The lowest cumulative GPA during that timeframe was 3.4 and the highest was 3.98.
Insell's success during his time at Shelbyville Central was not limited to high school. He won three AAU national championships (1988, 1998 and 2004). He was the first coach of the Kodak High School All-American Game in 1992 and served as coach of the South Team at the 2002 Olympic Festival, the first Youth Development Festival by USA Basketball.
Insell is married to the former Deborah Spry of Woodbury, Tenn. The couple has three sons - Tom, Kyle and Matt. Tom is married to the former Sarah Stewart of Shelbyville and they have two daughters, Carter and Caroline.