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Bohls: Chris Beard's arrival confirms Texas is serious about basketball

  • Chris Beard's hiring signals a transformational time for Longhorn basketball.
  • Beard and Vic Schaefer both rank among the top 10 coaches in the nation.
  • Coaching hires and new Moody Center confirm Texas' desire to be a strong basketball power.

Move over, football.

There’s a new sport in town.

And we’re not just talking Major League Soccer.

Texas Tech’s Chris Beard just put Lubbock in his rearview mirror and accepted the Texas basketball job Thursday, and he’s a man in a hurry. He was Texas' Plan A, B and C in the search for a replacement for Shaka Smart. Royal Ivey got a cursory interview, but Beard was the sole target.

Above all else, know this about the 48-year-old Texan: Beard is all about championships. Now. Not later.

He’s into mad-dog defense and the transfer portal and total control. He’s blunt. He’s colorful. He’s polarizing.

But mostly he’s about winning.

Chris Beard, left, greeting Shaka Smart at a UT-Texas Tech game, accepted the job as the Longhorns' head coach after Smart left for Marquette. Beard comes to Austin after a successful run with the Red Raiders.

“Hey, he’d go to North Dakota if that was his best chance to win big and win national championships,” a close friend of Beard’s told me.

Fortunately, he came to Texas instead. Beside, it’s warmer here. And not sure North Dakota has Whataburgers.

Beard’s hiring is a signpost for the future at Texas: Football’s finally got serious company.

The school that brought us Darrell Royal and the wishbone and 30-game win streaks and Earl Campbell and Tommy Nobis and four national championships now has finally recognized basketball on equal footing with football.

More:Texas Tech basketball coach Chris Beard hired by Texas

At least in the school’s investment in terms of resources and money and want-to. And coaches.

Of course, some would say Texas hasn’t been a football school in ages — and say it with some degree of certainty. A Sugar Bowl win over Georgia doesn’t mean as much as it used to. 

Chris Beard directed Texas Tech to the 2019 NCAA Tournament championship game, a close loss to Virginia. And the year before that, his Red Raiders fell to eventual NCAA champion Villanova in the Elite Eight.

The Longhorns have had only one season with double-digit wins in football since 2009, and it’s up to the new guy in town to make over a distressed program. 

Steve Sarkisian has been on campus for only three months and is already enduring a COVID-19 pause in spring practice, but he too should celebrate the ascent of UT basketball. A premier athletic program raises all boats. Not that the recent commitment to basketball excellence will strip football of any focus or scrutiny.

That said, Texas is in the middle of transformational change. Dare say it could well become a basketball school. Texas is a player on the national stage. Or can be. It has taken the necessary steps.

True, that.

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There are a lot of sleeves that have to be rolled up and long work days ahead, but the Longhorns have made it clear that the school is finally serious about basketball. Deadly — and richly — serious.

Texas clearly cares about basketball now and has shown obvious signs that it can become a player alongside the Kansases and Dukes and Kentuckys. We must add parenthetically that it’ll take some doing to make fans equally care and bring commensurate passion. Don’t be surprised if Beard reminds the faithful a time or 10,000, as he should.

In his first season at Texas, Vic Schaefer directed the women's basketball team to 21 wins and an NCAA Tournament run to the Elite Eight. Before coming to UT, he directed Mississippi State to a pair of NCAA runner-up finishes.

Kevin Durant, remember, couldn’t fill the Erwin Center, and the spectacular successes of Tom Penders and Rick Barnes couldn’t wave a wand and make the Forty Acres hoops-centric. Texas has been very good in basketball at times but had issues sustaining long-term, consistent success.

By hiring Beard away from a fellow Big 12 rival, Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte has now brought to campus in less than a year two Final Four coaches; women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer is the other. (And Sark, too, can flash the national championship ring he earned as Alabama’s play-caller.)

Keep this up, and Del Conte might someday see his own statue on campus.

Beard and Schaefer are no run-of-the-mill coaches, and they both have Lone Star roots. Interestingly enough, Beard graduated from Texas and has coached at seven stops in the state, and Schaefer was born in Austin and got back as soon as he could.

“He’s one heck of a coach,” Schaefer said of Beard. “His teams are always tough, disciplined and physical. I think he coaches the fundamentals like I do, from what I can tell from afar. His teams are always defensively prepared and are very tough and physical on that end of the floor.”

It says here that in their sports, both Beard and Schaefer rank among the top 10 in the nation, if not the top five, if you’ll excuse some overexuberance. Beard is in the conversation with the Bill Selfs and Mike Krzyzewskis and Jay Wrights and Mark Fews and John Caliparis and is one of the hottest coaches in America. Schaefer is an elite coach, just lower than the top tier of Geno Auriemma, Kim Mulkey, Dawn Staley and Gary Blair.

Beard and Schaefer are two dynamic, driven coaches who have been to three Final Fours in the past three NCAAs between them. Both have played in the final games of the year for national championships. 

Beard came within 23 seconds of upsetting Virginia in overtime and cutting down the nets in 2019. Schaefer knocked off mighty UConn in the NCAA semifinals at his last gig at Mississippi State. He led his first Longhorns team to a 21-win season and an Elite Eight finish just this week after only 11 months on the job during a pandemic.

Besides Beard’s close brush with a national title two years ago, there was an Elite Eight loss to eventual national champion Villanova the year before, all without a horde of five-star players. He’ll have better access to the Mo Bambas and Kevin Durants and T.J. Fords in Austin.

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And Beard and Schaefer both will have a shiny new home to boot, come 2022, in the smaller, more intimate (read: better home-court advantage) $388 million Moody Center, which will seat 10,000.

All the elements are in place for instant excellence.

The next decade, in fact, could be the heyday for Texas basketball. If not, the Longhorns are at least saying, hey, look at us.