Golden: Chris Del Conte delivered a slam dunk of a hire in Chris Beard
Beard replaces Shaka Smart, who left for Marquette after six seasons.
- Beard went 112-55 at Texas Tech and 49-40 in league play.
- Beard went 9-3 in the NCAA Tournament.
Chris Beard could have coached in Lubbock for the next 30 years.
He could have been the Coach K of the Hub City, but a bigger challenge beckoned from a place that was once his home.
Tom Penders’ former student assistant is back in the 512, and Texas fans are beyond giddy because they witnessed firsthand what he constructed at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are now a powerful brand because of the work Beard put into that program.
"I understand the standards and expectations of this program," Beard said at Friday's introductory press conference. "I'm not running from it. I'm not scared of it. It is the reason I'm here. We are going to win at the highest level; we're going to win sooner than later."
With all due respect to Tech legend Patrick Mahomes, who issued a late Twitter plea trying to persuade Beard to stay on the South Plains, the departing coach turned Tech into a basketball school in just a handful of seasons. He did it with graduate transfers and a couple of home-grown talents, and he turned Jarrett Culver, a three-star recruit, into the sixth overall pick of the NBA draft.
The biggest question is whether he can successfully construct great Texas teams with the same philosophy.
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This season’s Tech team featured a couple of transfers — guard Mac McClung and forward Marcos Santos-Silva — in a nice rotation that employed a physical brand of ball. The Red Raiders often gave opponents fits even though they didn’t boast the talent level they had two seasons ago, when they were 23 seconds away from winning a natty before falling in overtime.
In short, the Beard blueprint is to recruit a couple of stars, develop many others and fill in the gaps with complementary pieces.
It’s what Rick Barnes did at Texas, as did Penders before him. UT had stars in Kevin Durant, T.J. Ford and D.J. Augustin but needed others to make the whole machine go. Barnes surrounded those elite guys with enough talent to consistently make the NCAA Tournament and win when he got there.
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Shaka Smart coached three first-round picks — Mo Bamba, Jarrett Allen and Jaxson Hayes — and this season had Kai Jones and Greg Brown, who are projected to be first-rounders, but was unable to move the needle at tourney time.
In Beard, athletic director Chris Del Conte believes he just hired the man who can return the program to serious national title contention for the first time in more than a decade. He made a similar hire in Vic Schaefer, who guided the Texas women to upset wins in the NCAA Tournament over high seeds UCLA and Maryland before losing in the regional final to South Carolina.
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Beard is a winner. He went 112-55 at Tech and 49-40 in the Big 12, while Smart was 109-86 and 51-56 in the Big 12 in six seasons. Unlike Smart, Beard won a Big 12 regular-season title and made plenty of noise in the NCAAs, going 9-3 with a national championship game appearance.
The challenge is steep, given what Texas is losing. When Smart moved on to Marquette on the heels of an embarrassing NCAA first-round loss to Abilene Christian, he left Beard a team that won’t be anything like the 2021 group.
Texas was one of the deepest, most experienced teams in the country with senior point guard Matt Coleman III and experienced juniors Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey. Add in departing high-flying 6-foot-10 senior post Jericho Sims and 6-10 sophomore energy source Kai Jones, who has announced his intention to enter the NBA draft, and Beard has a rebuilding job on his hands.
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We know that Coleman, Sims and Kai Jones won’t be back, but it’s possible that Andrew Jones, who returned to have a banner season after battling leukemia, and Ramey, a tough-minded defender who led the team in 3-point field-goal percentage, will return. They have been mum on their plans, but the guess here is Beard would welcome an experienced backcourt rather than making his own pie crust. Good store-bought can work just fine with the right baker.
Guard Jase Febres and forward Brock Cunningham are expected back after coming off the bench this season, so experience in reserve is a comfort. Febres started to really round into form late in the season after microfracture knee surgery; Cunningham provided some needed muscle and toughness.
"This will not be a rebuild," Beard said Friday. "This won't be, 'Well, (wait till) Coach gets his own guys in here.' That's not how we roll. This will not be a 'First year doesn't matter. Put an asterisk on it.' We're going to win. We're going to win the right way, and we're going to win with urgency. You can quote me on that."
Beard isn’t being asked to be a miracle worker. Just being Beard should be enough to make the fans happy, even though the cupboard is missing some key ingredients. The Texas brand and resources, and being in the coolest city in the state, will get him into some living rooms he might not have had access to in his previous haunt, though he won more than Smart did by a mile.
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No one thinks it will be easy, but Beard is accustomed to building from the ground up. The Tech team he took over went 32-32 in Tubby Smith's final two seasons and had only two winning seasons under Smith and his predecessor Pat Knight.
"We're on a mission from God," Del Conte said he told UT President Jay Hartzell during the Beard courtship, in an ode to the classic Blues Brothers movie. Texas' new coach has only one gear, and he will drive these players hard until the wheels fall off, similar to what happened to the car that helped Jake and Elwood save that orphanage.
The Forty Acres got who it wanted. While Lubbock mourns, Del Conte just delivered Texas basketball one slam dunk of a hire.