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If not Chris Beard, then who? A look at possible Texas coaching candidates

It’s not a slam dunk Beard would leave Texas Tech, so Texas AD Chris Del Conte should keep all options open

Speculation has run rampant about whether Texas Tech coach Chris Beard would leave Lubbock for the Texas job should it come open. Tech fans are about to find out now that Shaka Smart has left UT for Marquette.

In typical Texas fashion, speculation about Shaka Smart’s successor ran wild Friday afternoon and only accelerated Saturday when national TV know-it-alls weighed in.

Texas should hire this coach! No, this guy! Some of the names mentioned generated laughter among two UT sources reached by the American-Statesman.

Last anyone checked, John Wooden and Dean Smith are unavailable. Only facsimiles need apply. 

Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte made a football coaching change in one full day in January. Hiring a new men’s basketball coach will take slightly longer. There are realistic candidates other than Texas Tech’s Chris Beard, although many believe the search starts and ends in Lubbock.

First, Del Conte met with the current UT players Saturday morning to talk about Smart’s departure after six seasons and 109 victories. Then he issued a statement — thus far his only public comment about the entire situation.

“I’m so grateful for all coach Smart did for Texas basketball, our university community and our athletics department,” Del Conte said in the statement. “I’ve enjoyed our time together, really appreciate the passion he has for his team and student-athletes, and I learned a great deal from him during our many conversations. 

“I will miss coach Smart and his family and wish him the very best.”

Del Conte and other UT officials are keeping quiet for now about who’s next. So here’s a look at some realistic candidates, along with their chances of becoming the next Texas coach:

Chris Beard (112-55 in five seasons at Texas Tech)

It’s easy to say Beard would “want” to come back to his alma mater. Raised in Irving and a student assistant under Texas coach Tom Penders, Beard has long been connected to the UT job, should it ever come open. But is that what he truly wants? 

Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt has bent over backward for Beard with a $5 million annual salary and top-tier facilities. The Red Raiders went to the Elite Eight in 2018 and reached the national title game in 2019.

If Texas stole Beard away today, UT would owe Tech $5 million in buyout money. That drops to $4 million on April 1, which is Thursday.

In facilities, Tech is way ahead of Texas right now. But that will change once UT’s new arena and practice facility are finished in 2022. 

As for money, it’s hard to believe UT would pay the men’s basketball coach more than the football coach. Steve Sarkisian is scheduled to make $5.2 million in his first season in 2021 and escalate from there. It might take anywhere from $5.5 million to $6 million to sign Beard away. 

Austin has plenty of Whataburgers, and Beard’s weekly #FiresideChat would be epic. But does he see Texas as a step up from what he already has?

Landing Beard would be a major coup for Del Conte, energize a dispirited UT fan base and totally infuriate Red Raider Nation. Thus, Beard becomes the perfect candidate — should Texas be able to get him.

John Calipari (339-93 in 12 seasons at Kentucky)

What? Cal? Really? If you’re dreaming big, why not? 

Several national basketball pundits floated Calipari’s name Friday as a possibility only because the Wildcats were 9-16 this season. Calipari’s frustration was obvious at times as a team that started 10th in The Associated Press Top 25 only went down from there.

Kentucky coach John Calipari has gone through a frustrating season in Lexington. What's his commitment level to the Wildcats these days?

In Lexington, the Sweet 16 is a failure. In Austin, the Sweet 16 would be a godsend.

He’s the highest-paid coach in men’s basketball, though. Calipari earns $8 million annually, according to USA Today’s coaching salary database. That’s too much to pay for the Texas men’s basketball job given the program’s history and fan base.

Dana Altman (280-109 in 11 seasons at Oregon)

Altman has won at least 21 games every season in Eugene, but it’s been bumpy off the court. Altman’s program was implicated in the FBI corruption investigation in 2018. “We don’t pay players; we never will,” he told reporters at the time.

Also in 2017, Sports Illustrated reported that Altman was more active in the school’s response to a rape allegation against an Oregon player than the coach had disclosed. The coach denied any wrongdoing, and the university ultimately kept him in place.

Would Texas hire a coach who forces some uncomfortable questions at the opening press conference?

Royal Ivey, Brooklyn Nets assistant

Ivey would be an out-of-the-box hire, no question. And a gamble, too.

Ivey played for former Texas coach Rick Barnes in 2001-04 and spent 11 seasons in the NBA, several with Texas ex Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City. Then he began his NBA coaching career, working for the Thunder, the Knicks and currently the Nets.

Juwan Howard’s success this season at Michigan shows that a well-known former player, when surrounded by a strong support staff, could work. Ivey also has Durant’s stamp of approval, according to a report from Stadium.

Mike Boynton (72-58 in four seasons at Oklahoma State)

Anyone who isn’t impressed with Boynton’s work in Stillwater hasn’t been paying attention. The Cowboys had two uneven years but went 21-9 this season with Cade Cunningham, an easy NBA lottery pick for someone this summer. But as far as head coaching experience goes, that’s it — just four seasons. Would that be enough?

Eric Musselman (44-18 in two seasons at Arkansas)

Musselman was on the Nevada sideline when the Wolf Pack led a second-half surge to sink the Longhorns in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. He logged four years and 154 wins at Nevada before getting the Arkansas job. Solid résumé, but would that be exciting?

John Beilein, Big Ten Network analyst

It didn’t work out too well when Beilein went to the NBA, because he’s a college coach at his core DNA. His name is being floated for the Indiana opening. 

Beilein turned 68 in February, but his college résumé is still impressive. He went 278-150 in 12 seasons at Michigan in 2008-19 and has been to two Final Fours.

At Texas, Beilein would garner instant respect. Still, recruiting is a young man’s game. How long could he sustain the high energy level required?

Rick Pitino (12-6 in one season at Iona)

As long as we’re spitballing, why not Pitino? Two-time national championship winner, seven Final Fours and 782 career wins. He brings instant cachet and a white-hot spotlight, something Pitino thrives in. Think he wouldn’t like one more bite at the apple after resurfacing at Iona? 

Texas fans just want one successful bite at the NCAA Tournament. The coach who comes to Austin is inheriting a program that hasn’t won in the NCAAs since 2014. 

Contact Brian Davis via phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.