Mar 27, 2007

Liberty picks McKay as new men’s coach

by Jared Pierce, Asst. Sports Editor
After 26 days of diligent searching, Liberty University Athletic Director Jeff Barber announced on Monday that he had found his man — former University of New Mexico Head Coach Ritchie McKay, who becomes the seventh head basketball coach in Liberty’s history.

McKay — the first black head coach of any athletic team for Liberty — brings 11 years of major college head coaching experience to Liberty, with stints at Portland State, Colorado State and Oregon State.

“We wanted a coach with major Division-I experience,” said Barber. “The candidate pool was deep and talented.”

He arrived at Portland State to revive the Viking program after 16 years, and he was the youngest head coach in Division-I basketball at the tender age of 30.

The team, which plays in the Big Sky Conference, posted a 24-29 record during his two seasons with the Vikings.

He used the success to grab the job at Colorado State, which just hired a new coach of its own.
At Colorado State, McKay posted two straight winning seasons and an appearance in the NIT, where his Rams lost in the semifinals to eventual champion California.

McKay then moved on to Pac-10’s Oregon State, which proved to be his least successful stop.
His Beavers posted two straight losing seasons with depleted rosters and young, inexperienced teams. McKay then returned to the Mountain West Conference with the University of New Mexico Lobos.

It proved to be his longest stint, as he posted an 82-69 record over five seasons. In the 2004-05 season, McKay and the Lobos won the Mountain West and participated in the NCAA Tournament.
His final days at New Mexico were tenuous at best. The program had been to the NCAA Tournament seven times during the 1990s, but only the one time under McKay.

He and his staff were told in late February they would be fired at the end of the season according to ESPN.com. The effect was devastating on the Lobos.

At the time of the firing, the team was 15-13, but they ended the season with three straight losses and a first-round ousting in the Moun-tain West Tournament.

New Mexico’s loss was Liberty’s gain. It was McKay, however, who sought out Barber.

“Once I heard the Liberty job was open, I waited on Jeff to call,” said a smiling McKay. “I got tired of waiting, so I called him.”

Barber did some checking around and heard nothing but good things about McKay.
“Everything we heard was extremely positive,” said Barber.

Liberty gives McKay the “opportunity to feel freedom of expression and belief” about his faith.
“I was chastised for openly sharing my faith (at other schools),” said McKay.

He hopes to bring Liberty to “Gonzaga-like success,” though he has only seen the team 4-5 times on film and once yesterday during a team workout.

His style of basketball? “Whatever style helps us win,” said McKay.

Sophomore Anthony Smith, who has two years of eligibility left, is excited about the opportunity to play under a “big time coach” and not worried about the potential of changing systems.
“Basketball is basketball,” said Smith.

McKay currently has only one staff member, but he already has ideas on where to look. He was scheduled to meet with the team later on Monday afternoon.

Contact Jared Pierce at jpierce2@liberty.edu.

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