COLUMN: Wins best way to fight Insell’s words

COLUMN: Wins best way to fight Insells words

Zach Greenwell

You’d be hard-pressed to find a coach in the Sun Belt Conference more fiery than Rick Insell.

The man who’s taken Middle Tennessee women’s hoops to four NCAA tournament appearances in five-plus seasons accompanies a lot of winning with a lot of talking.

And it usually makes for some really great sound bytes.

As it does every year, Insell’s ribbing turned toward the Lady Toppers this week as MTSU visited Diddle Arena Wednesday night.

Insell fired the first shot early, commenting on the radio after a home win last weekend that the Lady Raiders had a “great paying crowd unlike a conference school up north.”

The dig was a reference to WKU’s “Education Day” game last week, when more than 6,000 elementary school students attended a Lady Topper game for free.

But WKU almost made Insell swallow his words in front of 462 fans Wednesday. Almost.

The typically large crowd the rivalry draws was stymied by the snow in Bowling Green, but those in attendance watched the Lady Toppers claim a three-point lead at halftime before falling 72-66.

The win was MTSU’s 20th of the season and sixth straight over WKU — even more reason for Insell to feel comfortable twisting the knife in the Lady Toppers’ side a little more.

But after the game, he made it clear that there’s respect for WKU below his jabs.

“I say a lot of things to get the people up here stirred up, but I have more respect for Western than any other program that we go play because of the fans here,” Insell said. “I know the fans don’t like me, and that’s why I like them — because they don’t like me.”

Insell’s comment about Education Day wasn’t the first time he’s tried to get under the skin of WKU fans, and it certainly won’t be the last.

He’s claimed numerous times — including this week — that he won’t allow the Lady Raiders to spend money in Kentucky on the trip to WKU. He may have said it best on Wednesday when he declared with a smile, “I don’t like red.”

“I had a red Corvette, and I burnt it,” Insell joked. “Got me a blue one.”

Insell said he likes to “get in the heads” of WKU fans because he knows it eats away at them. The stronghold he’s held on the rivalry during his time at MTSU only makes the sting worse for the Lady Topper faithful.

But Insell won’t be stopping anytime soon. And honestly, it’s questionable whether or not it’s better if he does.

The heat he generates between the two teams, even if lacking taste at times, is rare in women’s basketball. It brings some hype to the games, some emotional investment for all involved.

And WKU nearly had the best comeback of all to Insell’s jokes on Wednesday — a win to break MTSU’s grasp on the series.

But a near win isn’t a win. And that’s all that matters to Insell.

It’s also all that matters to WKU coach Mary Taylor Cowles. When asked about Insell’s poke at Education Day, Cowles dismissed it.

Cowles knows crying foul won’t slow down Insell or the Lady Raiders. But you can bet she knows taking MTSU to the brink slowed the skid slightly.

It’s best that all Lady Topper fans learn to shrug off the unkind words like Cowles has learned to do, because Insell’s not changing.

But a few losses to his biggest rival would make it harder to slip those comments through.

WKU has held the upper hand in this rivalry before. Now it decisively belongs to MTSU.

And that’s the first thing that needs to change for the Lady Toppers — not Insell.