In sports, we all love stories about the hometown boy making good. Or the veteran coach who calls it quits but wins a championship on his way out the door. Former Vienna High School softball coach Mick Byrd fits into both categories.
A Vienna native, Byrd was a three-sport athlete for the Eagles before going on to pitch for College of the Ozarks. He returned home and spent the next 40 years building a legacy of success and championships, winning softball state titles in 1983 and 1984, then waiting 36 years to win his third in 2020 in what proved to be his final season.
In total, he won more than 500 softball games, capturing 27 conference championships, and 11 district titles in addition to the three state crowns, and impacting countless lives. The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Byrd with the Class of 2023.
“It was the only job I ever really wanted,” Byrd said. “The years flew by.”
But coaching softball was not in Byrd’s initial set of plans.
“When I graduated from College of the Ozarks my plans were to coach baseball and basketball,” he said. “Vienna had an opening for a junior high Language teacher, and several different coaching opportunities. I needed a job and thought living in my hometown would be cool. It has been and still is.”
The next year, he moved to high school and started coaching softball, basketball and track. Success soon followed.
Byrd’s 1983 team defeated Mercer in the state championship game, winning Vienna’s first state title in any sport. The Eagles took the top spot again in 1984, edging state power Westran in the title game for their second straight crown.
And while it took another 36 years to reach the top again, Byrd remained steadfast in his approach.
“Every year is a challenge,” he said. “Every inning is a challenge. Every pitch is a challenge. Every year I told the media that we were cautiously optimistic about the season. Our goals were always the same: enjoy the season, represent our school in the best manner possible, and try to win every game.”
As the years went by, Byrd and Vienna had some good teams and some good years, but they weren’t quite able to recapture the magic of those first few years, though the 1998 team did reach the state Final Four. That is, until Byrd decided the 2020 season would be his last.
He had been wavering for a few years about when he wanted to stop coaching. His daughter, Ellie, was his assistant coach and she was wondering when he’d move on, because she wasn’t leaving until he did.
“Ellie and I had agreed before the season that it would be our last,” he said.
The Eagles responded by storming their way to a 22-4 record, and edged Jefferson (Conception) in the championship game by a 1-0 score, giving Byrd his third and final state title, 37 years after he’d won his first.
“Not too many people get to go out on top,” he said. “It was really fun.”
As with any successful program, community and administrative support is a major key.
“Our school and our Booster Club helped us achieve what we achieved every year,” Byrd said. “Dads and grandads helped me work on our field. The City of Vienna generously allowed us to play on the city ballfield. People were great to us.”
Once retired, Byrd was able to devote more time to his other passion – music.
“Music really helped me be grounded as a person,” Byrd said. “I don’t think coaches who are totally consumed with coaching do themselves or their players any favors. At the end of the day a game really is a game, isn’t it? My go-to behaviors were, after a tough loss, to come home, go for a long run and pick up the guitar when I was finished. It worked for me.”
Nowadays, the former three-sport coach is a respected musician who plays up to 20 dates per month. He’s toured all over the country and parts of North America. He’s been a regular performer at the legendary Bluebird Café in Nashville for over 20 years.
Through it all, Byrd’s family has played a large role in his coaching and musical success.
“My wife, Debbie, and our kids, Ellie and Curt, were immersed in our community, just as I was,” he said. “I am really proud that both our kids inherited that ‘fire in the belly.’ We will always be Eagles – all of us.”