Character counts to Rich Aubrey and the longtime Milligan women’s basketball coach has been recognized for his contributions on and off the court.
Aubrey was selected Wednesday as the receipent of the NAIA Coach of Character Award, given to the head coach who has been outstanding in embracing the five core values of the NAIA Champions of Championship initiative (integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership).
It came one day after his team was honored by the Tennessee General Assembly for winning the Appalachian Athletic Conference championship and finishing with a league record of 16-2.
“It’s a reflection of our team, our program and our school,” Aubrey said. “I feel like I’m really blessed to coach at a place which attracts individuals with high character. Milligan is a place that not only encourages, but helps us pursue character development and spiritual development.”
In 20 years as head coach, Aubrey has led the Lady Buffs to seven AAC regular-season championships and five trips to the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championships including this past season.
He’s been named AAC coach of the year eight times and under his leadership. Milligan has been awarded the AAC Champion of Character Award eight times.
“When I look back over the years, many times it’s been my players who have called me to higher standards of character,” Aubrey said. “I think that happens as often as the other way around. I’ve been blessed to coach some great kids. I’m really glad to share the award with a lot of people who have been responsible for what I’ve experienced at Milligan.”
Among those, he counts his assistant coach Mike Sampson and his niece Kelly, who has served as team manager for the past four seasons.
Besides a coaching career which has produced 385 career wins, Aubrey serves as adjunct instructor of human performance and exercise science at Milligan. He previously served as director and associate professor of teacher education.
At Milligan, he stressed there are truly student-athletes, and academics come first.
“We have so many kids who balance so many important things in life, their spiritual development and academic development,” Aubrey said. “Yet, they’re able to invest themselves completely in athletics and make it a great experience for all of us..”
The best experience for Aubrey is when the Lady Buffs are winning. While he obviously places a big emphasis on the on-court success, it’s only part of his responsibilities.
“I think being a mentor and helping people grow is the No. 1 priority of the job,” he said. “I think basketball is a great vehicle for that. I have such a love for the game of basketball and it teaches you about life, how you’re part of something bigger than yourself, how you need other people to succeed and other people count on you.
“I do believe the more you pursue winning and excellence, the more chance you have to develop true sportsmanship and character.”
Those pursuits can make the relationship between players and coaches rocky at times. They see a coach after some of his greatest triumphs and after some of the toughest losses.
Even with the award, Aubrey admitted he’s far from perfect in handling every situation the right way. But, those failures can present an opportunity to teach character. It goes back to some of the core principals of admitting when you’re wrong and having the integrity to take responsibility for one’s actions.
“I’ve had players who have been patient and fair with me,” Aubrey said. “Your players see your mistakes more than anybody else. They see your failures because they are there every day, at practice and on the sideline at games.
“When you make a mistake, you have to accept it and talk about what you should have done and could have done better. Your players have to see a genuine effort on your part to get better. I’ve been fortunate to have players partner with me to try to get better. If I had to be perfect, I would have been gone a long time ago.”
Aubrey will be honored during the NAIA National Convention, set for April 19-23 in Kansas City, Mo.
n The Milligan College women’s tennis team re-entered the NAIA Coaches Poll at the No. 21 spot on Tuesday.
Milligan received 113 total points, placing them four points behind No. 20 Campbellsville University. The Lady Buffs who were ranked No. 25 for two weeks earlier this season, jumped back into the poll after receiving votes last week.
Milligan (17-2) has won six straight matches including victories over No. 20 Lee University and Reinhardt University last week.
n The Milligan College women’s soccer team recently added former Sullivan Central standout Tiffany Norris to its roster.
A three-time All-Conference selection, Norris recorded 31 goals and 25 assists for the Lady Cougars. She was selected as the Big Seven Midfield Player of the Year for the 2011 season.
In addition to her prep career, she played club soccer for HVFC in Kingsport.