March 23, 2012
Written by: Christine Flood '12, Communications Assistant
Before Randy Lambert '76 celebrated his 600th win as the head men’s basketball coach at Maryville College last month, Chris Cannon ’12 knew that Lambert was a legend on the court bearing his name.
And he knew others knew.
But what did fans of Scots basketball know about Lambert, the person?
Cannon, a writing/communications major from LaFollette, Tenn., wanted to tell that story in his Senior Study.
One of the distinctive features of a Maryville education, the Senior Study requirement calls for students to complete a two-semester research and writing project that is guided by a faculty supervisor. According to the College’s catalog, the Senior Study program “facilitates the scholarship of discovery within the major field and integrates those methods with the educational goals fostered through the Maryville Curriculum.”
Cannon’s Senior Study is a compilation of the 32-year history of Randy Lambert’s basketball coaching career at Maryville College. During this time, he has accomplished the longest streak of winning seasons in the history of MC athletics and recently celebrated his 600th win following a game against LaGrange College on Feb 18.
The win placed him sixth in career victories among active coaches in the NCAA’s Division III.
Cannon said he wanted to portray Lambert, “not just for his wins or losses, but as a person, too.”
“Upon interviewing Lambert and his players, I’ve found that it’s not all about basketball. Instead, it’s more about life,” Cannon wrote in the abstract for his Senior Study. “The number of lives that Randy Lambert has touched in his career would parallel with his winning percentage. A player of Lambert’s becomes his son.
“Turning the program around from a slow, sputtering program, Lambert has set the bar high at Maryville College,” the abstract continues. “In talking with his players, he’s the kind of coach that any young man would be proud to play for. He’s a life changer and a person builder, while excelling on the hardwood. His success follows his pursuit for a nationally ranked program.”
The senior knew Lambert prior to starting his thesis since he had worked in the College’s Sports Information Office and recorded statistics for the basketball games. He had also taken Lambert’s PHR233: Athletic Coaching class, through which the two developed a friendship.
When Cannon shared his idea with Lambert, the legendary coach was, for once, caught off guard.
“It surprised me. A Senior Study with me as the subject was one of the last things I expected,” Lambert said, but he added that he also felt honored.
Kim Trevathan, assistant professor of writing/communication and Cannon’s advisor for the Study, said the thesis explored “how daily journalism differs from trying to give people a sense of decades and success.”
The work is considered a creative thesis, Trevathan explained, but Cannon’s first chapter had to be analytical in nature and demonstrate a scholarly study of a relevant subject. Cannon focused on the basics of writing a sports story, reading and citing two recent University of Tennessee sports histories: Seven: The National Championship Teams of the Tennessee Lady Vols by Alan Ross; and Vertical Leap: Inside the Rise of Tennessee Basketball by Dane Bradshaw. He also cited the works of MC alumni Ken Kribbs ’68 and Deangelo McDaniel ’85 (another former player for Lambert), who have both written about the history of Maryville College athletics.
(Cannon extensively pulled from Kribbs’ own Senior Study, History of Athletics at Maryville College, 1866-1968, when writing the preface of his thesis, which covered the College’s basketball program from the early years of the 20th century up to 1980.)
For his Study, which he eventually titled “The History of Maryville College Basketball: The Randy Lambert Era,” Cannon broke Lambert’s career at Maryville College into two chapters, starting in 1980. Chapter Two deals with Lambert’s coaching tenures in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) and in the era when the College’s athletics department had no conference affiliation. The Third Chapter chronicles Lambert’s coaching in the Great South Athletic Conference, which he helped form in 1999 with four other NCAA Division III schools.
The chapters are a blend of game recaps, player and team statistics and personal stories that illustrate Lambert’s coaching style and personality. More than 30 photos are interspersed throughout the text.
Cannon talked a lot with Lambert and conducted archival searches for published stories in The Highland Echo, the Maryville-Alcoa Daily Times, the Knoxville News Sentinel and other publications. Several of Cannon’s 280 sources were former players. The student conducted more than 30 interviews, mostly by phone.
“For the most part, everybody was gung-ho,” the student said. “They said this was something that needs to be done.”
What Cannon learned was that Lambert was not simply a coach with impressive statistics, but a friend, “a father-figure” to his players. Acquiring scores of stories that originated on and off the court, Cannon learned that Lambert “likes to have fun” – even at his own expense.
One story, told by Greg Gheen ‘83 involves a pair of hideous plaid pants that Lambert wore during big games to divert the attention of the opposing teams’ student sections, which could be particularly brutal to Scots players.
“‘During a timeout, these [fans from opposing team] were just raising Cain, and he was just laughing,’" Cannon quotes Gheen as saying. “‘We were almost laughing.’ That’s when Lambert revealed his intentions behind the pants.”
Trevathan said Cannon’s Senior Study was unlike any other thesis he’d overseen in his 10 years on the faculty of the College and thought it would help his advisee land a job in journalism after he graduates in May.
“If I were an editor looking over Chris’ resume, seeing a Senior Study like his listed on the page would impress me,” Trevathan explained. “It’s unique.”
Not only is the physical end product something that Cannon can show off after graduation, the skills involved in completing the Senior Study have significant applications in the workplace.
“Just the logistics of calling people up is a very practical exercise in journalism,” the assistant professor said.
In the beginning of the process, Cannon said that Lambert joked with him about his thesis being, “as close to a book as [he’d] ever get.”
But he may get closer.
Because of the enthusiastic response Cannon received from those he interviewed, he and Trevathan agree that there would be significant interest in a book on Lambert’s career at Maryville College.
What Cannon turned in to Trevathan last fall to fulfill his Senior Study requirement is more than 200 pages long and very comprehensive, but it doesn’t include everything that Cannon would envision for a book, namely full coverage of some years and an index of statistics.
So he’s thinking about continuing the research and publishing it. Trevathan and Lambert are supportive.
“He’s still hearing back from people,” Trevathan pointed out. “I want him to keep working on it.”
Lambert read Cannon’s Senior Study cover-to-cover on road trips this past season.
“It helped me recall several of the fun times I’ve had with my players,” he said. “I’ll probably appreciate it more in my retirement years because it will help me with the memories.”
The coach admitted that he does have one objection to the Senior Study – its cover.
“You have to know the story behind it,” he said. “When the College hired a photographer to take some faculty and staff photos recently, I was asked to bring along a basketball and a whistle. Standing there for the photo, I jokingly asked the photographer if he wanted me to ‘look like this’ and put the whistle in my mouth and blew.”
“But maybe that’s the way I should be remembered,” he added with a laugh.
Despite the qualm about the cover, Lambert said he’s extremely pleased with the end product.
“I hope Chris got a good grade out of it, because it sure meant a lot to me.”
Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state‘s third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for its academic rigor and its focus on the liberal arts, Maryville is where students come to stretch their minds, stretch themselves and learn how to make a difference in the world. Total enrollment for the fall 2012 semester was 1,093.