Oct. 30, 2013
By Jerome Boettcher | Subscribe to Commodore Nation
For Melanie Balcomb, the wins and years go hand in hand.
With 259 wins, no women's basketball coach has won more games at Vanderbilt than Balcomb, who begins her 12th season. She broke Jim Foster's mark at the end of last season.
Men's coach Kevin Stallings also is about to take his place in Vanderbilt history. Entering his 15th season with the Commodores, he has won 277 games. He needs two wins to surpass the late Roy Skinner as the all-time leader in school history. It is a mark that has stood since Skinner left in 1976.
When Stallings leaps Skinner, he and Balcomb will be in elite company as the only current men's and women's coaching pair in the Southeastern Conference to be their school's all-time wins leaders.
Balcomb says it is no coincidence; they also are the league's second-longest tenured coaches.
"I think that says a lot for our commitment to Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt's commitment to us," Balcomb said. "In today's age there is not a lot of loyalty. Really it is based on winning and what you've done lately. It is so competitive. I think that we both have continued to be successful at a very high level. Consistency and maintaining is a lot harder than having one great season or one great team."
Both have definitely put their fair share of great teams on the court.
All 11 years, Balcomb's teams have won at least 20 games and reached the NCAA Tournament. They've also made the Sweet 16 twice and won three SEC Tournament championships.
Under Stallings, the Commodores have posted seven 20-win seasons, reached six NCAA Tournaments, made the Sweet 16 twice and won the program's first SEC Tournament championship in 61 years.
"I know winning always enhances the experience," Stallings said. "So the pressure I feel to win is that I want these guys to look back on their four years and say it was four of the greatest years of their life. Putting them in positions to be successful is a primary criteria of that."
Both Stallings and Balcomb were fortunate enough to be tutored by coaches who put them in the best positions.
Stallings played high school basketball for one of the most respected coaches in Illinois, the late Virgil Fletcher. At Purdue, he learned tough love from Gene Keady. He also was an assistant at Kansas under current North Carolina coach Roy Williams.
Balcomb was born into a basketball household. Her father, Alan, coached high school boys basketball for more than 30 years in New Jersey. He also spent four years on the staff of Princeton under Pete Carril and passed down a half-court philosophy.
But when Balcomb took her first Division I head coaching job at Xavier in 1995, she leaned heavily on the advice of a coaching peer. Skip Prosser was the men's basketball coach at Xavier for six years while Balcomb was in Cincinnati. She soaked up his insight and remained friends with him when he left to coach at Wake Forest and up until his sudden death in 2007.
"I was extremely blessed. I miss him," Balcomb said. "He was a teacher of the game, a coach, a mentor. Just a really good person for me to work side by side with when I was young and had my first head coaching job. I took a lot of his advice."
Stressing excellence in the classroom also has been a staple for both Vanderbilt coaches.
Balcomb points out with pride that she has graduated 100 percent of her four-year players. No fifth year is necessary. Hillary Hager and Christina Wirth have both been named SEC Scholar Athletes of the Year. All 44 seniors Stallings has coached at Vanderbilt have earned or are currently working on earning their degree. Plus, the Commodores have earned Academic All-SEC selections 41 times under Stallings.
"I know Coach Stallings and I have really good records off the court," Balcomb said. "A lot of that in today's world is not just what is happening on the court but what is going on off the court. I think we've been a really good match for Vanderbilt with our high standards with integrity, our high standards in the classroom, our high standards socially.
"Vanderbilt stands for more than just wins and losses. I think that's what Kevin and I value."