A lot has changed at Liberty University over the past six years. There are probably quite a few people reading this that were not even fans of the Flames yet in 2009. Buildings have been built, stadiums have been constructed, and new sports have been added. Students, players, and coaches have come and gone. The campus has grown in ways that most of us could never have imagined just six years ago. Yet, for many Liberty basketball fans over these past six years, a thought has stuck around: “What would be different had Ritchie McKay not left for UVA?”
We can never know the answer of course. The Dale Layer era had its high points, most notably a trip to the NCAA tournament, but was filled mostly with dreadful basketball. Just two seasons into the McKay regime at Liberty, he seemed to have the program going in the direction everyone wanted. The Flames were playing exciting basketball, and gaining national attention thanks in large part to a Freshman phenom who would go on to transfer at the end of the season. And then Coach McKay left.
Many fans have objected not so much to the fact that he left, but how he left. It seemed the coach had just uttered something to the effect of “Liberty is where God wants me to be”, yet here he was leaving to join his close friend Tony Bennett at University of Virginia. Count me among those who was embittered by the experience of seeing him take the trek to Charlottesville. However, time has a way of both healing wounds and adding perspective.
Not only was Ritchie McKay doing exactly what he felt called to do, which was serve a brother in Christ who asked him to help, but he was going away to become exactly the man Liberty needed on the bench. That Ritchie McKay was a good coach. He had an exciting, albeit incomplete brand of basketball that had a lot of offense, but not much defensive bite. Thankfully, the man he was going to work with was a defensive mastermind, and six years later Coach McKay is more prepared than ever to lead Liberty’s program to places it has never been.
A lot of coaches came up in the search for Dale Layer’s replacement. Some exciting, some, well, not as exciting. Some of us knew McKay was quite interested all along, but felt he was somewhat of a long shot to get the job. However, I could not be more excited about what has transpired. Coach McKay will not only bring an exciting brand of basketball back to the Vines Center, but he is going to win games on both ends of the floor. He is committed to changing the lives of young men for God.
Make no mistake, this is a rebuilding job. There will be ups and downs on the way to his vision of what Liberty basketball can become. However, for the first time in years, there is good reason to be truly excited and optimistic about Liberty hoops. The old Ritchie McKay was a good coach. Our Ritchie McKay is no doubt a better one. So as he said in his press conference, “Give us a chance.” I hope those of you holding out will do just that. Welcome back Coach. Fall cannot get here soon enough.