COVINGTON, Ga. — Since Rick Rasmussen let it be known Tuesday morning that he would be leaving his post as Newton’s head boys basketball coach after 14 years heading the program and 21 total seasons on the sidelines, plenty of adjectives have been thrown about to describe him.
But Newton athletic director Vincent Byams may win the prize.
“Rick Rasmussen is an institution,” Byams said in a Tuesday afternoon interview, just hours after Rasmussen announced his move to North Oconee. “What he’s done for Newton High School as a teacher and a coach and as a mentor for all the young men that’s come through his programs speaks volumes. Helping get all those guys on various levels of college ball. Whether its D-1, D-2. Growing up young boys to become young men. His impact is undeniable.”
And that’s what Byams is up against as the focus now begins to shift from a Rasmussen send off to finding Rasmussen’s successor.
Sports editor Gabriel Stovall took some time to chat with Byams shortly after the announcement was made to get the AD’s pulse on what he’s looking for in a new coach and how soon he’s looking to pull the trigger on a hire, among other things.
STOVALL: First, let’s just ask this general, no-brainer question: How do you feel about the current state of Newton basketball as a whole, right now?
BYAMS: “I know for certain for anyone who has a desire to get into coaching at a higher level, our basketball program is where it needs to be. Any time you have both your boys and girls basketball program last year in the Final Four and one program competing for the state championship, not to mention region championships back-to-back-to-back, and even this year, making it to the Sweet 16 with a team that, in the beginning of the year some people probably were not thinking we’d get as far as we did, I think it speaks for itself.
“The talent’s here. The talent’s always been here every year. This whole community, the Covington community for basketball, you know, we talk about football and being a football state, but we’re blessed to have some great basketball talent here as well, and this community loves its basketball. Part of that is because our program’s been performing at a top level for many, many, many years.”
STOVALL: From an AD’s standpoint, is it hard for you to know where to start as this is the first time in 15 years Newton’s found itself in this spot?
BYAMS: “Well really, coming out and looking at it, I was thinking about it today, it’s kind of like the Pittsburgh Steelers. You know, if you’ve got Mike Tomlin on the hot seat, it’s weird because there’s only been like three head coaches in the whole franchise’s history. And honestly here at Newton it’s been longer than 15 years because first you had Ron Bradley who’s just a state and nationwide high school basketball legend. He had 500 wins here. His first stint here he’s here for like 20-plus years. Then after his second stint, you get a guy in his coaching tree and under his branch who just slides right in.
“Rasmussen comes through and picks up where Bradley left off with another 300 wins. All that to say trying to find a new coach now is not going to be easy, but it is exciting, and I think we have a program that’s going to appeal to a lot of people.”
STOVALL: What type of coach is Newton High School looking for for this program?
BYAMS: “We’re looking for that guy who can come in and do the same thing that’s been done or even better. We don’t want things to go down in terms of wins and excellence. Standard already been set. The only thing we don’t really have in that trophy case (since 1964) is that state championship trophy. Does the new guy have to come in and be the next Rick Rasmussen? No. But he’s definitely gonna have to uphold the standard and tradition of winning, of building young men and growing boys into young men in and out of the classroom, and teaching life lessons basketball has to offer. It’s not just about the wins, but it’s also in the building and changing and keeping the culture and climate we have here now. That coach is also gonna have to come in and connect with our students, with our community and our parents and be able to communicate the vision it’s going to take to bring this thing to the next level.”
STOVALL: What kind of time table are you looking at for making this hire?
BYAMS: “It’s really a tough period because it’s coming to the beginning of that signing period where a lot of our big time guys are putting their names on the paper andmaking those commitments. And because we’ve got a strong crop of younger eighth graders coming in — the class of 2023 — and we’ve got a strong class of underclassmen already in the building right now, everybody’s asking, who’s gonna be our coach? Who’s gonna be the guy for the following year? Obviously, we just found out (Tuesday). The job posted the day after, and it’ll stay open for 10 days from the first day of the post. Anyone who wants it will have every opportunity to put their name in place. My job, along with my assistant athletic director — because I’m going to need some help to look through what I’m sure will be a large pile of applications — our job is to narrow it down and get a good, sizable number that I can interview in one day.
“I’m going to have a panel just like we did with the football hire, and we’ll work with them to narrow it down to a final three and look to get to that one. We’d really want to have this done around the second week of May.”
STOVALL: You may not answer this, but I’ll ask anyway. Are there any particular coaches out there that you wouldn’t mind seeing turn in a resume?
BYAMS: “Being around sports and basketball, I guess my experience, being on both ends of all of this, yeah, there are a couple of coaches I’ve had in mind, and I’m sure there are some coaches finding out in the basketball world and they know this is a really, really, really, really desirable position for anyone who wants to come in and compete immediately on a 7A level and compete for state championships. I do have coaches in mind, but obviously they’re gonna have to apply. At the end of the day I don’t think it’s a problem or issue for me as an AD to reach out to some coaches whom I feel would be a good fit for this program.”
STOVALL: Is it fair to say that out of all your athletic programs, many of them with awesome talent and the kind of coaching hires you’ve wanted here, is it safe to say that basketball is the one most equipped to immediately compete for state championships?
BYAMS: “Yes. You’re absolutely right. We’ve already talked about the young class coming in, the current guys we have, and more than anything, really, the support this program gets. We really don’t have a hard time selling out this gym. It’s an event on Friday nights even Tuesday nights. We’ve got the streaming coverage. Every year we’re coming out ranked. If we’re not ranked, something’s wrong. So I think all of that’s just a testament to the work that Ras has done and here and the talent he had in Covington, and as I said, that talent to win at this level and the next is still here.”