Ricky Byrdsong

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Ricky Byrdsong
Biographical details
Born(1956-06-24)June 24, 1956
DiedJuly 3, 1999(1999-07-03) (aged 43)
Skokie, Illinois
Playing career
1976–1978Iowa State
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
?–1982Eastern Illinois (assistant)
1982–1988Arizona (assistant)
Head coaching record
Tournaments1–1 (NIT)

Ricky Byrdsong (June 24, 1956 – July 3, 1999) was an American college basketball coach and insurance executive. He served as the head men's basketball coach at the University of Detroit Mercy from 1988 to 1993 and Northwestern University from 1993 to 1997, compiling a career coaching record of 89–163. Byrdsong was the first African American head coach of the Northwestern Wildcats men's basketball program. On July 2, 1999, he was shot at 8:52 pm in a hate crime killing spree. He died at 12:42 am on July 3, 1999.


As coach for the Northwestern University Wildcats from 1993 to 1997, Byrdsong led them to a National Invitation Tournament berth in 1994, the second postseason appearance in school history.

He had also been head coach at the University of Detroit-Mercy and assistant coach at the University of Arizona, Eastern Illinois University, Western Michigan University and Iowa State University. After he left Northwestern, he worked as an insurance executive for Aon Corporation until his death.

'The Walk on the Wild Side'[edit]

On February 5, 1994, while coaching a game against Minnesota, Byrdsong abruptly left the game and joined the fans in the stands shaking hands, high-fiving the Minnesota Gopher mascot and taking an unticketed seat until removed by an usher. The team had started the season 9-0 but was at this point on a 9-game losing streak.[1][2]

On returning to Evanston, Byrdsong's wife requested a leave of absence for the coach, to which Byrdsong remarked, "My wife, after watching me, obviously got concerned, now, any time I'm going to take a walk on the wild side, I should let her know."[3]

Personal life and death[edit]

Byrdsong and his wife, Sherialyn, had three children: Sabrina, Kelley and Ricky Jr.

On July 2, 1999, while jogging near his Skokie, Illinois home with his son and daughter, ages 8 and 10, Byrdsong was murdered by Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, a member of the white supremacist Creativity Movement who went on a shooting spree. Smith was a disciple of Mathew Hale (leader of Creativity Movement) and his shooting spree took place two days after Hale was denied a license to practice law in Illinois. Over a span of a few days, Smith killed a Korean American student at Indiana University, injured two African American men in Springfield, Illinois, a Taiwanese man in Urbana, an African American minister in Decatur, and six Orthodox Jews in the West Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. Smith also attempted to shoot, but missed 9 other potential victims. According to eyewitnesses, Smith pulled alongside the unsuspecting Byrdsong and shot him multiple times. Smith was never brought to trial because he committed suicide on July 4, 1999, after he crashed his car into a metal post during a high-speed chase in Southern Illinois. [4]

Media coverage and public reaction[edit]

A fair amount[clarification needed] of media coverage was centered on the events of Byrdsong's death and his achievements as a former Northwestern basketball coach. In 2000, an award was created in his honor by the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative. Anya Cordell, Byrdsong's neighbor, wrote the anti-hate crime book Race: An Open and Shut Case. Cordell said that she was inspired by the urge to combat the hate that fueled Benjamin Smith's deadly shooting rampage. Byrdsong's children also received college scholarships from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, an organization which helps victims of families from hate crimes.

In 2009, a documentary about Byrdsong, entitled Fly Like the Byrd, was created by Northwestern students from the Medill School of Journalism. The 25-minute documentary examines race relations and how his legacy has lived on, ten years later.[5]

The Ricky Byrdsong Foundation[edit]

His widow established The Ricky Byrdsong Foundation. Its mission is to "arrest the growing epidemic of hate and violence in our society by and against our youth." The foundation holds a number of events in and around Evanston; the most well-known is the Race Against Hate, a 5,000-meter running race held annually in late June which race draws thousands from Evanston and surrounding areas. In 2009, a 10,000-meter running race was added in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Race Against Hate.

Head coaching record[edit]

Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Detroit Titans (Midwestern Collegiate Conference) (1988–1993)
1988–89 Detroit 7–21 4–8 T–2nd
1989–90 Detroit 10–18 3–11 2nd
1990–91 Detroit 9–19 2–12 1st
1991–92 Detroit 12–17 1–9 1st
1992–93 Detroit 15–12 7–7 T–3rd
Detroit: 53–87 17–47
Northwestern Wildcats (Big Ten Conference) (1993–1997)
1993–94 Northwestern 15–14 5–13 T–10th NIT Second Round
1994–95 Northwestern 5–22 1–17 11th
1995–96 Northwestern 9–18 4–14 10th
1996–97 Northwestern 7–22 2–16 11th
Northwestern: 36–76 12–60
Total: 89–163


  1. ^ Everson, Darren (December 15, 2010). "Chicago's Other Sports Curse". The Wall Street Journal.
  2. ^ HighBeam
  3. ^ Downey, Mike (July 7, 1999). "The Last Walk in the Short Life of Ricky Byrdsong". Los Angeles Times.
  4. ^ "Ex-College Basketball Coach Ricky Byrdsong Killed In White Racist's Shooting Spree, Mourned". Jet magazine. July 26, 1999. Retrieved April 25, 2008.
  5. ^ Fly Like The Byrd, Vimeo, Retrieved on January 23, 2018

External links[edit]