Year Inducted: 2009
William M. Baird spent 28 years at Rhode Island College as an athletic director, head men’s basketball coach and a professor. During his illustrious career guiding the Anchormen basketball program, Baird won five NESCAC Southern Division Championships, four conference titles and captured the NCAA Div. III Regional crown in 1976-also advancing to the National Quarterfinals that year. He also led RIC to the NAIA semifinals twice.
Baird’s career record was a glittering 168-97 (.634). Moreover, he expanded the scope of the basketball program; whereas the Anchormen seldom played out of New England, Baird sent them against college and university division teams from such states as Alabama, North Carolina, Maryland, Florida, Louisiana, Virginia and Texas.
In his final season as head men’s basketball coach in 1975-76, Baird went out a winner as the Anchormen won a second straight New England State College Athletic Conference championship and the NCAA Division III Regional Championship. Baird was also responsible for the recruiting and development of the school’s first All-American, guard Rick Wilson ’72, who still holds numerous RIC records.
Baird was appointed head basketball coach at RIC in 1965 and, in February of 1967, also assumed the role of Director of Athletics.
RIC’s best season ever came in 1968-69 as the Anchormen were 24-2 and reached the finals of the NAIA District 32 playoffs for the first of what would be three consecutive times. He was voted “New England Small College Coach of the Year” by United Press International following that season and, in February of 1970, Words Unlimited, the organization of Rhode Island sportswriters and sportscasters, named him the “Rhode Island Coach of the Year” for his accomplishments in that season. That team was the second selection to the Rhode Island College Athletic Department’s Team Hall of Fame in 2009.
Baird was responsible for some major decisions affecting the basketball team and the athletic program as a whole. In early 1975, for example, RIC severed its connection with the NAIA and went strictly NCAA Div. III. Now, all RIC teams have a realistic goal to shoot for during each season–postseason competition against schools on the same level.
After stepping down as head men’s basketball coach, Baird brought in the first full-time athletic trainer the school has ever had plus the first Associate Director of Athletics who was in charge of the women’s program.
He stepped down as Director of Athletics in June of 1993. During his tenure at the college, Baird took an 18-month leave of absence from his role in athletics to serve as the college’s first Development Officer and Legislative Liaison.
A native of Union City, N.J., Baird enrolled at the University of Rhode Island and when he graduated in 1953, he had tossed in 1,534 points and stood third on the Rams’ all-time scoring list. Twice he was named First Team All-Yankee Conference and, for three years, he finished among the conference’s top five scorers. He captained the Rams in his senior year and, in 1974, was inducted into the URI Athletic Hall of Fame.
Baird entered the U.S. Army as an officer in 1953 and it was at Fort Dix, N.J. that he was given his first coaching opportunity. His team won the First Army title and represented the area in the national playoffs at Fort Benning, Georgia.
After being discharged from the service, he worked for a year at the Pratt-Whitney Aircraft Corporation and also played basketball for the company, which participated in a strong industrial league throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts.
He returned to Kingston as an assistant varsity coach under then head mentor Jack Guy in 1956 and, when Guy resigned the following year and Ernie Calvery succeeded him, Baird assumed the additional duties of scouting and recruiting. During this stretch, he earned a pair of master’s degrees, in 1960 from URI in educational administration and in 1963 from Southern Connecticut in physical education. Soccer was initiated at URI in 1960 and he was named to coach the first team.
The Cranston, Rhode Island native is a member of six Athletic Hall of Fames: University of Rhode Island, Hudson County (NJ), Union Hill High School, New England Basketball Coaches, National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletic and the RIC Athletic Hall of Fame.