Courting success

Lambert influence as MC athletics director far-reaching

There were signs it was time to go.

Take the time softball coach Danny Fish came to him, pleading for money for new equipment.

“I said, ‘Don’t buy bats. You don’t use them anyway,’” outgoing Maryville College athletics director Randy Lambert said.

Then there was soccer coach Pepe Fernandez, who’d grown weary of transporting his men’s and women’s teams to games in the school’s “little bus.”

“I told him, ‘Take eight mini vans — and let the students drive!’” Lambert said.

The beloved, wise-cracking athletics director drew laughs all around when he relayed the story of telling an alumni who’d come to complain about no lifeguard in the pool to “go jog in the commuter lot.”

“I knew it was time to give it up,” he said.

Jokes aside, Lambert’s 22 years as the school’s athletics director are unparalleled. With his decision to step down and hand the reins to former associate athletics director Kandis Schram at the end of the school year, Maryville held a reception to honor Lambert on Tuesday in the refurbished alumni gymnasium.

Lambert will stay on as the school’s men’s basketball coach in hopes of realizing a life-long dream of winning Maryville its first national championship.

Schram, among several speakers Tuesday, told the crowd she expects no less.

“Thank you,” she said, “but I really want a national championship now. Now that all you have to do is coach basketball, I’m expecting that Final Four no later than next year.”

Schram, who doubles as women’s volleyball coach, captured the mood for all on the day. Lambert is much more than a winning basketball coach and athletics director.

His basketball teams have won better than 500 games. This past season, the Scots won a school-record 17 consecutive games, along the way compiling a record 24-3 finish.

Over the last eight years, Maryville sports teams have won 60 percent of their games, 79 percent in the Great South Athletic Conference, including 38 Great South championships and eight Presidents Cups.

Twenty-nine student athletes have claimed All-American honors during his tenure, during which time five varsity sports have been added. Maryville has seen countless teams qualify for their respective NCAA tournaments, including men’s basketball, which reached “the Big Dance” for the 10th consecutive year this past season.

A banner recruiting class, which includes Lambert’s son Wes from nearby Maryville High, indicates the basketball Scots have no intentions of slowing down.

Those are the numbers, though, Maryville president Gerald Gibson said. Lambert is so much more than a coach and an administrator, he said. Among other things, he’s a real stickler for detail.

“I remember the first moment I found out who Randy Lambert was,” Gibson said.

The meeting took place years ago, when Gibson was interviewing for the Maryville post. Toward the end of the interview, a long arm went up in the back of the room, he said, asking one last question.

“He (Lambert) said, ‘How many basketball games did you attend last year?’” Gibson said.

The answer was three. Lambert said he was soon to learn Gibson preferred to spend his spare time growing wild flowers and writing poetry.

“I knew we didn’t have a lot in common,” Lambert said.

Since taking the Maryville post, Gibson rarely misses a Maryville home game. The success of Lambert’s teams, he said, only carries over to his duties as athletics director.

“Maryville College couldn’t have ordered one off the shelf who could have distinguished his alma mater more,” Gibson said.

Among many honors paid Lambert Tuesday was naming the hardwood Maryville teams play on as “Randy Lambert Court.”

“They caught me off guard with that,” Lambert said. “It’s an honor. I’m humbled by the whole event.”

Former Maryville coach Boydson Baird, for whom Maryville’s gymnasium inside Cooper Athletic Center is named, said he doesn’t mind sharing the billing.

“It’s fitting,” Baird said.

Former Scot Adriel McCord, Blount County president of SunTrust Bank, read a proclamation on behalf of state representative Doug Overbey Tuesday, commemorating Lambert’s 500th win, a victory claimed in McCord’s hometown of LaGrange, Ga.

“Even though all my student loans are paid, I’m still indebted to coach Lambert,” McCord said.

“He was always straight forward with you,” McCord added. “You always knew where you stood with coach Lambert. As a freshman, I rode the bench. I had to work hard to be able to play for him.”

So did former Scot Don “Sticks” Kirkpatrick, who credited Lambert for much more.

While a freshman college student in Florida, Kirkpatrick’s mother was killed in Miami. After transferring to Maryville, Lambert proved a refuge for which, like McCord, he will forever be indebted.

“I just wanted to get away from it,” Kirkpatrick said, “and Randy made that time so much easier. I could never repay him for that. He kept me together.”

Former Maryville student athlete Heather Mathis gleaned more from Lambert’s tutelage than many. Through interaction with him, the former Scots soccer standout was first appointed to the NCAA’s advisor committee for Division III athletes — as a sophomore — later taking a full-time post with the association after graduation.

“What’s most impressive is his passion for athletics and concern for student athletes,” she said, adding, “I saw coach Lambert as a role model. I think I even told him I one day wanted to replace him at Maryville.”

Lambert credited the Maryville staff that has been with him for most of his tenure for much of his success, including sports information director and former baseball coach Eric Etchison, athletics department office manger Janice Braum, Fernandez and Schram. At the same time, Maryville dean of students Vandy Kemp expressed thanks to Lambert’s wife Alane, daughter Kami and sons Jason and Wes for providing the support staff that made it all possible.

“Thank you for the sacrifices you made to let us have so much of him,” she said. Tuesday was somewhat awkward, Lambert said, considering he’ll remain as much of a presence as ever.

“I do want to emphasize I’m not retiring,” he said.

Schram will perform ably in his stead, he said.

“The only difference is the athletics director will wear a dress every now and then,” Lambert said, “and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Making Maryville sports teams a success despite tight budgets hasn’t been easy, Lambert said, but he’s had a lot of help. One of his favorite stories was being called on the carpet by an administrator for spending what she thought was too much for basketballs.

“She said, ‘Why do you spend $50 on a basketball when I bought one the other day at Wal-Mart for $6.95?’” Lambert said.

Quick to retort, he responded: “‘You got a good buy, didn’t you?’”

Twenty-two years ago, Maryville sure did, and he’s not going anywhere.

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