It’s been exactly 10 weeks since Chris Beard agreed to leave Texas Tech for Texas — to move 380 miles southeast, from one Big 12 school to another, in a development that was probably the biggest coaching hire of the year even though it was completely overshadowed nationally on the day it was announced by Roy Williams’ retirement at North Carolina
And if you’re wondering just how occupied Beard has been with recruiting, connecting and everything else, understand that he finally moved out of a hotel just last Friday night.
“These job-changes are just crazy,” Beard told me this week.
And he’d certainly know.
Will Chris Beard be the best hire of the 2021 cycle? That and much more on the latest episode of Eye on College Basketball.
In the past 10 years, the 48 year-old has technically held nine different jobs — specifically associate head coach at Texas Tech, head coach of the ABA’s South Carolina Warriors, head coach at Lamar State College-Port Arthur (for only six days), head coach at McMurry, head coach at Angelo State, head coach at Little Rock, head coach at UNLV (for only 19 days), head coach at Texas Tech and, now, head coach at Texas. The man has changed jobs a lot, largely because his path to coaching stardom has been an unusual and slow climb highlighted by Beard getting an opportunity and mostly being great at it very quickly, at which point better opportunities quickly presented themselves.
Step by step, he’s just been moving up.
But there’s now reason to believe Chris Beard is done moving because, back on April 1, he landed the top-shelf destination job for which everybody penciled him in years ago. For one reason or another, most believed Shaka Smart would eventually exit Texas and be replaced by Beard. So while it’s no surprise that that is precisely what happened, what’s wild is that, 19 days before it happened, almost nobody would’ve predicted it would happen this year, because 19 days before it happened, Smart was in Kansas City cutting nets after leading the Longhorns to their first Big 12 Tournament championship in history. In other words, Smart’s seat had cooled considerably. So it seemed unlikely that the Texas job would be opening in 2021.
“You know, Shaka and I are friends — about as good of friends as you can be in this business competing against each other,” Beard said. “I’m not saying we go to church together and golf every Sunday, but there’s a lot of respect between us two, and I do consider him a friend. So this one, to me, kinda came out of left field because they had just won the Big 12 championship in Kansas City, the postseason tournament. So when this happened, everything kinda happened quick.”
As you likely know, after winning the Big 12 Tournament, Smart’s Longhorns, as a No. 3 seed, were upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Abilene Christian just one day after Marquette fired Steve Wojciechowski. The byproduct of those two developments was Texas fans again souring on Smart while, at basically the same time, a great job in a great league in his home state opened. So when it was offered, it was sensible for Smart to parachute out of Austin in pursuit of fresh expectations, which is exactly what he did. And though there was a push by some Texas alums, most notably Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant, for the school to replace Smart with former Texas player Royal Ivey, the no-brainer move was always athletic director Chris Del Conte giving Beard whatever it took to get him to leave one Texas school with good resources for another Texas school with great resources, which is exactly what he did.
Texas moved quickly to hire Chris Beard after Shaka Smart left for Marquette.
In the subsequent 10 weeks, Beard has retained some key players, added some key players and assembled what can reasonably be called college basketball’s best staff. He brought Ulric Maligi and Bob Donewald Jr. with him from Texas Tech, lured Jerrance Howard from Kansas, and convinced both Rodney Terry and Chris Ogden to resign their positions as head coaches at Division I institutions. If it’s not the most expensive staff in the country, it has to be close. And it’s the latest bit of evidence that shows Texas is all-in on men’s basketball. The school will open a new $400 million arena next April, it just spent $35 million to get Beard, and millions more to let him create the staff he wanted to create.
“If we’re gonna do this, let’s do it,” Beard said while explaining his mindset and appreciation for his administration’s financial support. “At Texas, the expectations are what they are, and I embrace that. That’s when I’m at my best. I don’t want to be anywhere where second place is rewarded. I got into coaching a long time ago to try to coach the best players and coach on the biggest stage — and Texas gives you an opportunity to do that. So we all understand the expectations and what comes with the commitment that [Del Conte] and President [Jay] Hartzell and the University of Texas has made for men’s basketball, and we’re excited about that. We welcome the challenge. We’re here. And we’re gonna get it done.”
“At Texas, the expectations are what they are, and I embrace that. That’s when I’m at my best. I don’t want to be anywhere where second place is rewarded.”
Texas coach Chris Beard
I’d bet on that prediction becoming true.
Obviously, there are few sure things in college athletics other than, say, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Rick Pitino and John Calipari, each of whom has shown over long periods of time that they can win basically anywhere. So nothing is guaranteed here. But it would be foolish to assume Beard won’t flourish at Texas.
This is his third Division I job.
His first was at Little Rock — where he inherited a 13-18 program and finished 30-5 in his first and only year while winning the Sun Belt regular-season title, Sun Belt Tournament title and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament while setting a record for wins by a Sun Belt school. After doing all that, he bounced to his second Division I job at Texas Tech, where, in just his second season, he became the first coach to take the Red Raiders to the Elite Eight before, in his third season, becoming the first coach to take the Red Raiders to the Final Four and national title game.
He literally did unprecedented things at his first two DI jobs.
He exceeded all expectations.
So the track record is splendid. And that’s why it’s reasonable to think that, with time, Chris Beard will also do unprecedented things at Texas, and, maybe just maybe, bring the school its first national championship in a sport that has been prioritized and is now set up for success in every meaningful way.