When the call came, Randy Lambert was hesitant.
His son, Wes, had just been tabbed as Maryville’s new boys basketball coach, and he wanted his father on the bench with him. Randy, who had only been retired several years from leading Maryville College’s men’s program, felt uncertainty.
“It’s been a dream of ours, so moving back to Maryville and working under Coach (Mark) Eldridge and learning under him, I knew when my time was right that (my dad) was going to be my first call,” Wes told The Daily Times.
“It was a hesitant answer from him at first. He’s so involved that I think he was worried a little bit about taking that backseat or even if he could just handle it physically. After talking several times, it was the right decision.”
Randy didn’t have anything left to prove; his 39-year career as the head coach of Maryville College’s men’s basketball team made him a legend. He accumulated a 722-325 record, making 20 appearances in the NCAA Division III Tournament, and was inducted into the Tennessee Sports, Greater Knoxville Sports and Blount County Athletic Halls of Fame.
Even the court at Maryville College is named after him.
It wasn’t like he was bored with retirement, either, but the one person who could pull him out of it came knocking. Wes, who had played at Maryville and under Randy at Maryville College and had been an assistant with the Rebels, was being promoted to head coach.
“We’ve talked about it from time to time when he would become a head coach that I might step in and help him,” Randy said. “It came to fruition over the spring, so we talked. That would be the only thing that would bring me back, the opportunity to coach with my son.
“I was really enjoying retirement, playing a lot of golf and just having a good time, traveling and spending time with my grandkids and my wife. I felt like he could use the help. He’s got great assistants, but I also wanted to just help him where I could.”
Randy has been on the bench alongside Wes ever since, helping guide the Rebels to 15 wins already this season. He picks and chooses where he can help out; for example, he puts in work watching film so that Wes can spend time with his family.
It’s hard for Randy to sit still during games, though; 39 years of patrolling the sidelines will do that.
“I get told all the time that I’m supposed to be seated, and it’s just hard for me to do that,” Randy said. “I coach like my son does. We get involved. We try to create energy, so it is hard to sit there and watch the referees give me several warnings. I know most of them; over the years, they’ve either worked for me at team camps or worked some of my games.
“So that part of it has been trying, but I’ve got to let him run his program. It is his program, and I’m just in the backseat going along for the ride.”
Randy started his career as an assistant at Lenoir City in 1977. Three years later, he got the Maryville College job and began his prolific tenure there.
He says there are a lot of differences between coaching college ball and mentoring high schoolers. He’s been able to see both sides, with his career coming full circle in a way, having coached high school then and now.
“You have to repeat yourself a lot,” Randy said. “(High school players) are not quite as polished, obviously, as a college player. I think the mental part of it, they’re a little bit weaker because they’re younger. You just have to continue to encourage them. I’ve enjoyed that part of it as much as any. We’ve got great kids, and they listen and they respond, and I’ve had a lot of fun with them.”
“We’re best friends, have been my whole life. So it’s been pretty incredible being able to learn from him as a player, learn from him as a coach and now getting to share a coaching staff with him.”
Randy’s career may be wound down, but Wes’ is just getting started. He served as a graduate assistant at Nashville’s Belmont University and took an assistant role at Blackman High School. Then, he went to Nolensville, where he led the new program to two Class AA sectional appearances before coming back to Maryville to work under Eldridge.
He’s already set a solid foundation with the Rebels and hopes to lead his alma mater to newfound heights.
The other goal? To have his dad alongside him the whole time.
“I spent my whole childhood in the gym with him and in the locker room and listening to the stories he and the lessons he taught his players,” Wes said. “I have basically mimicked my coaching style to an extent after him. He’s an incredible role model and an incredible person to lean on, so having him here has just been a dream come true.”
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