For Tom Byrum, the opportunity to join Jim Melton's staff at Monroe Central figured highly into a "perfect storm" of events that led him to resign last month as Union City's varsity boys' basketball coach.
"That was maybe the biggest reason," explained Byrum, who said there were other factors as well – one being having more responsibility at his regular job, which would make it a bit more difficult to spend the time needed to run a varsity program.
Byrum had hoped to bring a sectional banner to his hometown in Union City for the first time since 1984, but couldn't quite get it done. The Indians put a scare into eventual champion Blue River in the opening round of the Class A sectional this past March. Byrum's boys had a chance to tie things up in the final minute before ultimately falling in an exciting affair, 61-54.
The Indians ended last season 6-14 and they are 17-52 over Byrum's three years at the helm. It doesn't sound great, but the Indians were just 13-56 the previous three season. The last winning season at Union City was in 2013-14 when the team finished 13-12 under Dustin Baldwin. That's been the only winning season in the past 14 years.
With respect, Union City is a relatively small single A school, which means a smaller pool of talent than most other schools. There are some good players, but depth through the ranks, or the lack of it, makes matters more difficult.
Byrum leaves with the cupboard far from bare as the Indians will return two of their top three scorers in big man Camden Lafuze (13.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Conner Walser (11.3 ppg, 5.7 ppg) among others. A new coach has not been named as of Wednesday.
Prior to his stint at Union City, Byrum coached for five years at Randolph Southern with a 30-86 mark, but he inherited a Rebels' team that had won just six games the previous two years and with Byrum in charge the Rebels ultimately won a sectional in 2018-19 and finished with 12 wins, matching their most in decades.
Before Randolph Southern, Byrum was the head coach at Monroe Central for a year and coached the Bears to a 15-9 mark.
Byrum is a big believer in Melton
At Monroe Central, Byrum will lead the junior varsity and help out Melton as needed for the varsity squad.
Melton was hired to replace the departed Justin Ullom, who left one MC for another, accepting the head coaching post at Muncie Central.
"Jim is going to do a great job at Monroe Central," insists Byrum, who said he has always wanted to coach alongside him but until now did not have an opportunity. "He's won everywhere he's been and he's got a great system."
Melton hopes to continue a winning tradition at Monroe Central, but no one could expect the Bears to duplicate their memorable 23-0 undefeated regular season of 2021-22. The Bears won a sectional championship a year ago, their ninth in history.
But key losses, including Jackson Ullom and his 1,603 career points, as well as starters Gavin Smithson-Burciaga and Josiah Ullom, and top subs Brayden Matheny and Gavan Patterson, leave some big shoes to fill.
The Bears season opener is at Northeastern. on Nov. 26. Union City is at Randolph Southern on Nov. 2.