Lady Buffs basketball’s Rich Aubrey was named the AAC’s Coach of Character following his 27th and final season this past semester. In addition, the school’s vice president for athletics and student development, Mark Fox, received recognition as the league’s athletics director of the year.
"I'm so thankful to the AAC and to Milligan for the on-going commitment to helping us all develop character as we try to compete at a high level," Aubrey said. "I'm especially thankful to this year's team for a great journey. We all learned from each other, and they'll always have a special place in my heart."
Fox was equally appreciative.
"Thanks to all the coaches, staff and student-athletes at Milligan for making my role at Milligan such an enjoyable one," he said. "We continue to work hard to achieve excellence on the field of play and in the classroom. Our world is one that is based on competition, and we are able to do that with a group of schools in the AAC that continue to push us and keep us on our toes."
Aubrey, the 2013 NAIA national coach of character, modeled what it means to be a coach of character in the face of adversity. His team lost two starters to preseason injury, then endured five concussions, two serious knee injuries and two more serious ankle injuries. A third starter missed half the season. Despite this adversity, Aubrey led his team with perseverance as the Buffs went on a winning streak of six games in January before ending the season on a high note with a run in the postseason tournament. There, Aubrey's team knocked off top-seeded Bryan, which had not lost to a conference opponent in 56 games, and advanced to the championship contest.
Aubrey and his team also were active off the court, completing several annual service projects and fulfilling duties that benefit the community. They visited local hospitals, including Niswonger Children's Hospital — where they made room-to-room visits to encourage children and families.
They also took part in Night to Shine, part of the Tim Tebow Foundation — which is committed to celebrating people with special needs. Additionally, the team put on basketball clinics for adults and children with special needs. This year, senior Hannah Rodgers initiated Valentines for Veterans, a project that involved delivering notes of encouragement to patients at the VA hospital.
Members of Aubrey's team consistently model the behavior of champions of character. The team received no ejections or technical fouls throughout the course of the season, modeling respect and sportsmanship, and Aubrey's players performed several of their own servant-leadership projects.
Finally, Aubrey's team dependably stands near the top of the academic list, with six players earning AAC All-Academic, co-leading the conference in that category. Following the 2018-19 season, the team ranked No. 1 at Milligan with a 3.53 team grade-point average.
After missing much of last spring due to illness, Fox returned to lead Milligan athletics in one of its most successful years in recent memory. He led the athletic department in contributing to Milligan's record enrollment, a result of good recruiting and retention numbers across the board — as well as the addition of Milligan's Esports program.
Incoming student-athletes maintained an average GPA of 3.74 and an average ACT score of 24.4. Milligan's student-athlete population last fall, which was 448 student-athletes, made up 34% of Milligan's overall student body.
"In addition, thanks to President Dr. Bill Greer and all of the Milligan community for doing such a great job in creating an excellent institution where students can continue their athletic pursuits while getting the invaluable academic training to launch their professional careers,” Fox said. “I am especially grateful that our student-athletes can do this within the context of the Christian faith. That is what makes Milligan unique and fill a niche where demand is growing.
“Finally, I appreciate all of the athletics directors in our conference for this recognition, and for their support and friendship."
In addition to leading a department that contributes to the size and strength of the academic community, Fox has led the department to excellence in athletic competition as well. At the unfortunate and abrupt ending to the 2019-2020 athletic year, Milligan stood at No. 12 in the NAIA Learfield IMG College Directors' Cup standings with 352 points. The next closest AAC institution ranked No. 49 with 168 points.