Lenoir-Rhyne University Bears Club will host its annual dinner Tuesday, Aug. 7, at Moretz Mills in Hickory. The event will feature three accomplished coaches all with unique ties to the University – Rick Barnes '77, Mike Houston, and Ryan Odom – who are driving forces in the collegiate coaching ranks.
The annual dinner, which will also celebrate the life and legacy of former director of intercollegiate athletics and executive director of the Bears Club Neill McGeachy, will commence at 6 p.m. with a cash bar and buffet dinner. The program format will be unique and different from past years in that it will include all three legendary speakers participating in a fireside chat moderated by McGeachy's children – Ashley Fox and Rod McGeachy.
"Our annual dinner is a special event because it brings together a collection of people who share a deep passion for and allegiance to Lenoir-Rhyne – folks who want to see LR continue to grow and flourish," Barnes said. "This year's dinner takes on an even deeper meaning because we have an opportunity to honor the spirit of Neill McGeachy. If anyone personified the Bear to the Bone mantra, it was Neill. This year's dinner is a fantastic way for Bear Nation to honor his tremendous impact and legacy on Lenoir-Rhyne."
Barnes, one of the most accomplished collegiate basketball coaches, recently led the University of Tennessee men's basketball team to the 2018 regular-season Southeastern Conference Championship. Barnes was named the 2018 SEC Coach of the Year and was runner-up for Naismith National Coach of the Year. A native of Hickory, North Carolina, Barnes was a standout player at LR, where he lettered for three seasons and won the Captain's Award for Leadership as both a junior and senior. He earned a bachelor's degree in health and physical education in 1977 and was named LR's Distinguished Alumnus in 1997. Barnes was inducted into the LR College Hall of Fame in 2002, and received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from LR in 2005.
Houston said his positive experience at LR was also reflective of McGeachy's leadership.
"Neill McGeachy and Lenoir-Rhyne University believed in me and gave me an opportunity to be a head coach, and for that I am forever grateful and will always do anything I can to support LR and Neill's legacy," Houston said, "Go Bears!"
Houston, former LR football head coach for three seasons, is currently head coach at James Madison University. In his first year at JMU, Houston led his players to the NCAA Division I national championship with a 28-14 win against Youngstown State. JMU made a return trip to the national title game in 2017, falling 17-13 to North Dakota State. Houston accumulated a 29-8 record at the helm and directed the Bears to three consecutive South Atlantic Conference championships, a stretch that included a school-record 13 wins in his final year. He was named SAC Coach of the Year each season and was also the Don Hansen Super Region II Coach of the Year in 2013. In his final season at LR, the Bears advanced to the NCAA Division II national championship game and ranked No. 2 in the final polls. Before his elevation to head coach, Houston served as LR's defensive coordinator and secondary coach from 2007-10.
Odom, former LR basketball coach, is the men's basketball head coach at University of Maryland Baltimore County, where he coached his team to college basketball history March 16, 2018, when UMBC defeated Virginia 74–54 in the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament. It was the first time in tournament history that a No. 16-seeded team defeated a No. 1-seeded team.
"I'm so excited to be a part of the stellar dinner honoring Neill," Odom said. "It is no secret how much Neill has meant to so many in the Bears family. I will forever be grateful for the positive impact that he had on my life."
Odom served as head men's basketball coach at LR for the 2015-16 season. The Bears, with a 21-10 record that season, advanced to the NCAA Division II regional finals for the first time in school history and won 20 games in a season for the first time in eight years. LR improved by 10.5 games from the previous campaign, led the nation in 3-point field goals made per game (12.4), and finished ninth in the country in scoring at 90.1 points per game.
"We are fortunate to have all three of these former LR Bears and coaches of their caliber speak in one evening," he said. "During their tenure at LR, they each had defining moments that attributed to athletic success."
Bears Club president Ryan Edwards agrees with Whitt and said this year's event will be memorable.
"Our annual dinner has always been a great opportunity for the Bears Club members to reflect on previous years and look forward to the future," stated Edwards. "This year's event will be extremely special, and one you will not want to miss as we honor the great impact of Neill McGeachy on our University and announce new exciting goals and initiatives that will further establish ourselves as one of the premier athletic programs in NCAA Division II. Our future is brighter than ever."
With a limited number of tickets for the event, individual seats cost $50 per person. For more information, please contact Terri Livingston, managing director of the Bears Club, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828.328.7130. Online registration will open up on July 2 to accommodate electronic purchase of tickets for this special event through lrbears.com.
The annual dinner highlights the Bears' accomplishments of the past school year and helps usher in a new season for all 22 of Lenoir-Rhyne's athletic teams.