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Williams: Tech fans need to understand there was no keeping Beard from Texas

Don Williams
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

LUBBOCK — The very week the Texas Longhorns came to Lubbock for a football game in October 1988, Texas Tech athletic director T. Jones had the McWilliams Tarp put up over the southeast tunnel ramp at Jones Stadium.

At the time, Jones said folks had been crossing the line for unruly behavior, that Tech had been "having major problems with fans along the visitors’ ramp for some time."

But we all knew better. If fans had been throwing ice and drinks at the kids from North Texas and Baylor, as Jones asserted, who knows what terror might have been rained down upon a Texas-turned-Texas Tech-turned-Texas coach who returned to Lubbock for the first time? Thus, up went the McWilliams Tarp. 

More:Guns drawn, Horns up: Texas steals coach Chris Beard away from Texas Tech

The reception David McWilliams received before that game in 1988 — I don't remember much more than the predictable booing — might be tame compared with what another Texas coach receives next January or February at United Supermarkets Arena.

Chris Beard was beloved in Lubbock until he decided to give up his job as Texas Tech coach to guide rival Texas.

Chris Beard ditched Texas Tech for Texas on Thursday, and many people will never think of him in the same way. 

Beard was enormously, uniquely popular here: More hip than Spike, not weird like Mike, more connected to the kids than anybody, winning more often than everybody else — if not always on the court, then in Tech fans' hearts. 

People loved him playing the unpaid pitch man for Whataburger. They tuned in as he put his sports spin on Roosevelt's fireside chats. He made folks believe that he, not Ben Hogan, coined that phrase about the secret being "in the dirt." Lead a team to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament one year and to the championship game the next, mix in a double scoop of personality, and a guy can do whatever he pleases. 

Until he decides to pack up and take the show down the road.

Now they'll never forgive him.

More:Golden: Chris Del Conte delivered a slam dunk of a hire in Chris Beard

Using his incredulous voice at a Thursday afternoon news conference, Tech AD Kirby Hocutt said, "The fight's not over, and you have somebody that then walks away to go to an in-conference school, an in-state school? Absolutely, that frustrates you. Heck, yeah, it does."

Still, what went down should not — and this is no indictment of Beard — be particularly surprising. To disillusioned Red Raiders fans, I offer this: Never believe that any coach isn't open to listening on a job he perceives to be a more comfortable fit or a better chance to win or more lucrative or more whatever. Spike Dykes, good ol' loyal Spike, coached in 12 places.

And Spike's last contract was for 10 years. 

Chris Beard wanted no part of that.

Tech made Beard one of the five highest-paid college hoops coaches in America, built a $30 million practice facility for basketball, let him have a say in its features and even put his mural on the building. (How awkward is that going to be when everybody finally moves in?)

But you can't keep a man from doing what he's going to do, going where he's going to go. 

In a press conference set up to address the coach's departure, Hocutt said Tech began internal discussions in October and November about how to continue investing in the basketball program, then formally presented a continuous rollover contract that would amount to a lifetime deal for Beard.

"It became obvious in the months ahead," Hocutt said, "that there was not an interest in that type of lifetime agreement or rolling contract."

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

Bottom line: Beard left because he wanted to be at Texas more than he wanted to be at Texas Tech. Simple as that. 

Red Raiders fans are slack-jawed because, as many suggested this week, the Tech job appears at the moment to be a better one than the Texas job. I don't disagree, but that was a misread. In the mind of Beard, and driven coaches cut from the same cloth, the best job is the one where he goes to work each day. If not right away, he has no doubt he'll make it so.

Relative to each school's peers, Beard made Angelo State the better job and Arkansas-Little Rock the better job and Texas Tech the better job and the South Carolina Warriors the better job.

More:How will Chris Beard's salary at Texas compare to the highest-paid NCAA basketball coaches?

And now, Texas' recent NCAA Tournament failures aside, he'll make Texas the better job. In his eyes. He need not tell me that. That's what makes him special.

For all the gossip peddled and all the unfounded rumors spread on social media, the truest words spoken were those Hocutt related from his last talk with Beard: "He shared with me today he was ready for another challenge. I don't fully understand it. It obviously wasn't for better fan support or better facilities. He told me it was not for financial reasons."

Here's something else it wasn't about: discontent over a shoe contract, another rumor trotted out. 

Chris Beard said yes to Texas on Thursday. Not even a shoe deal for Chuck Taylors was going to keep him from doing that.