Spring 2021 Magazine

Liberty rewards basketball coach Ritchie McKay with contract extension: 'This place is pretty special'

The Liberty University men’s basketball program continued its run of success this season with a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. On Wednesday, the university made a commitment to keep head coach Ritchie McKay at the helm, rewarding him with a third contract extension in as many years.

McKay agreed to a contract to coach the Flames through the 2027-28 season.

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“I’m very appreciative of the commitment that’s been shown to my family and our basketball family. I understand that when success or a semblance of success is attained, options usually get presented,” McKay told the Lynchburg News & Advance. “I think we’ve had some opportunities to change addresses, and we’ve done that before in our career. I love where I am now and where we are, and the people that I’m around make this place pretty special.”

This season, Liberty extended its streak of 20-win seasons to five with a 23-6 record, despite playing a shortened schedule due to the pandemic. The Flames have won three straight Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament championships, and in 2019 they won the first NCAA Tournament game in school history, upsetting fifth-seeded Mississippi State as the 12-seed.

After missing out on the 2020 NCAA Tournament due to the pandemic, the Flames were knocked out in the first round this year by Oklahoma State.

Only Gonzaga, with 95 wins, has more wins than Liberty over the past three seasons.

Liberty University is located in Lynchburg, Va., and is one of the largest Christian universities in the world. The Christ-centered culture on campus is what attracts many of its students — and its coaches.

“I’ve always been unashamed of who I am in Christ,” McKay said in 2019 on the Sports Spectrum Podcast.

He has long been vocal about how his faith has guided him as a man, a husband and a coach. That was especially true this past season, when his team endured several tragedies and pauses due to COVID-19.

The past year took a toll on McKay, but he said he’s found his identity more in who he is instead of what he does. He’s spent a lot of time in prayer and in God’s Word.

“I think just knowing and believing God’s Word and what it says about me and the promises that if you are weary, He will give you rest,” he said last month in another appearance on the Sports Spectrum Podcast. “That the good work that He has begun in you, He’ll be faithful to see it through. I think that relying on that and trusting in that gives me a peace.”

McKay was named a finalist for three prestigious coaching awards this season — the Ben Jobe Award, which recognizes the country’s top minority head coach; the Hugh Durham Award, which recognizes the top Division I mid-major head coach; and the Jim Phelan Award, which recognizes the nation’s top Division I coach, an honor McKay received in 2019.

Liberty Athletic Director Ian McCaw told the News & Advance that the school has the right person leading its men’s basketball program, in large part due to McKay’s character and selfless nature.

“Obviously what he’s done over the last three years building this program into being among the winningest in the nation is really remarkable, and capturing three straight conference championships,” McCaw said. “We’re certainly excited about his success; we’re excited about his loyalty. He really, to me, embodies the term ‘selfless exceptionalism’ in how he goes about his business, and we’re very grateful and fortunate he’s leading our basketball program.”

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