PHOTO: Scott Corley cracks a smile during his introductory press conference in June 2016. // Images courtesy of Belmont University Athletics
By RUSSELL VANNOZZI
Belmont athletic director Scott Corley knows his career path hasn’t been a typical one.
After a 25-year stint in the banking and finance world, Corley traded his corporate lifestyle to get back to leading his alma mater to athletic success – in a much different way than he did in the late ‘80s.
The Brentwood native and Hendersonville resident was named to his current post with the Bruins on May 31, 2016. The opportunity to return to Belmont was simply too big of a chance for him to pass up.
“Belmont is the only place I would want to be the AD, because I love the school and I’m passionate about what we’re doing,” Corley said. “It’s easier to sell a product if you truly believe in it.”
Corley was a standout athlete at Brentwood High School from 1982-86. That success earned him a basketball scholarship at Belmont. The shooting guard went on score 2,000 collegiate points and led the Bruins to their first-ever NAIA tournament berth in 1989. He holds the school’s record for three-pointers with 420 was inducted to the Belmont Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000.
Following his college career, Corley obtained an MBA from Samford University and began his banking career at SunTrust in 1991. He later served as managing director for corporate banking at Regions Bank and most recently worked in senior leadership at FirstBank before taking the Belmont job.
Getting back to his roots
But Corley never put his Bruin ties aside. He served as president of the school’s alumni board and kept in contact with then-Belmont athletic director Mike Strickland. When Strickland announced his retirement in March 2016, Corley reached out to express his interest in the opening.
“I picked Mike’s brain and asked him if I had what it takes to do the job,” Corley said. “When Mike told me his was retiring, he said I should go for it.”
Corley’s story similarly mirrors that of Lipscomb University’s Philip Hutcheson, who was a basketball star for the Bisons in the late ‘80s and stepped aside from his family paving business in 2008 to become the school’s athletic director. The two played against each other in college and remain friends despite the storied Battle of the Boulevard rivalry between their respective schools.
“I’ve known Philip for a long, long time,” Corley said. “When he made the move, it kind of put the spark in my mind that if that opportunity came up (at Belmont), I should consider it. I even met with him and said, ‘hey, tell me about your career change and your role as AD.’ He’s been helpful ever since I’ve gotten this job.”
A successful career change
After two years as athletic director, Corley said he is enjoying every moment of his new role. There are challenges, yes, but nothing that he wasn’t expecting to come with the job.
“Every bit of (this job) has been a blessing,” Corley said. “Time management can be a challenge with all of the meetings I have. But it’s been a fast two years and I’ve learned a lot.”
Corley said he believes that many of the skills he learned in business world have translated well to his role as an athletic director. His connections have also proved to be helpful when looking for new donors and sponsors to partner with Belmont.
“I tell people all the time that I think Nashville is the smallest big city in America,” he said. “I have made many connections because I’ve been here for so long. I’ve reached out to former clients and friends and many of them were interested in investing in what we’re doing (at Belmont).”
Life has come full-circle for Corley, who was the first-ever signee for legendary Belmont basketball coach Rick Byrd in 1986. Three decades later Corley is technically Byrd’s boss, although Corley admitted that he still refers to Byrd as “Coach.”
“Coach Byrd sets the tone for the entire department and he’s helped instill the culture that makes Belmont successful and admired,” Corley said. “I jokingly tell people that I’ve got to find a way to get payback for all those 6 a.m. workouts. But he helped me become the man that I am today, so it’s pretty neat to get to work with him.”
Byrd and his Bruin squad have fallen short of the NCAA basketball tournament in each of the last three seasons, but Corley said he remains optimistic about where the department is heading. He also noted the challenge of getting fans to come to games in a crowded Nashville entertainment scene and the growing revenue gap that exists between mid-major and Power Five schools. However, he said he still believes the Bruins are “in a good spot.”
“We do things the right way here,” Corley said. “The vision is to get better every day, make sure we’ve got the right staff, and bring in the right talent to give our athletes the best possible college experience they can have.”
Corley may not be the most seasoned administrator in college athletics, but his business acumen and Belmont pedigree have substituted nicely as he continues to prove himself.
“I’ve tried to attack it like I needed to win people over, because you never know how people might view not having athletic department experience,” he said. “I got very lucky.”