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Texas coach Chris Beard made all the right offseason moves, but now come the actual games

Beard believes the Longhorns are a ‘Monday night program,’ but it’d be OK to mix in a conference title, too

Texas head coach Chris Beard looks out from a huddle during last week's exhibition win over Texas Lutheran at the Erwin Center. The Longhorns, who are No. 5 in the preseason poll, open their season Tuesday night against Houston Baptist but face No. 1 Gonzaga on Saturday.

Not many organizations take a bullet train back to relevancy.

Typically, teams must first earn respect, find comfort in close losses, win games they’re not supposed to and then turn multiple corners along the multi-year journey. Not Texas. 

It’s been more than seven months since Chris Beard was hired away from Texas Tech. In that time, the Longhorns’ radical transformation has been eye-popping.

Now comes the intrigue. At some point, No. 5 Texas must win some real games, starting with Tuesday’s season opener against Houston Baptist.

Men's preview:No. 5 Texas vs. Houston Baptist

Exhibition win:Texas rolls out the burnt orange carpet for Mike Wacker, then steamrolls Texas Lutheran

“It's like when John McKay took over the Tampa Bay Bucs in the 1970s,” ESPN’s Jay Bilas said. “He said it’s going to be a four-year process. They said why four years? He said, "I've got a four-year contract. If I had a five-year contract, it would be a five-year process.’

“But Chris doesn’t operate that way.”

UT regents gave Beard a seven-year contract worth a minimum of $35 million. But Texas fans will learn in less than seven days whether all this fuss was worth it. 

Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte introduces new men's basketball coach Chris Beard at Beard's introductory press conference. Beard has signed seven transfer players to remake the UT roster. “You put a team together, you think about your strengths, you think about your weaknesses," he said. "You think about your weapons, and you think about your threats. So with us, there’s some concern."

Texas should have little trouble with Houston Baptist, but then Beard’s troops travel to face No. 1 Gonzaga on Saturday in Spokane, Wash. The Longhorns are 0-11 all-time against the nation’s No. 1 team. 

Sports Illustrated put out its own preseason rankings with Gonzaga No. 1 and Texas No. 2. But even the magazine noted about the Horns, “Now comes the hard part: making everything fit.”

Beard has made a series of moves that, on paper, appear to give the Horns every leg up. He tore apart the transfer portal and signed all-conference-caliber players from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and one of the best rebounders in the SEC. Texas can easily start five players who averaged double figures last season at their various schools.

Preseason rankings:After Chris Beard’s busy offseason of recruiting, Texas jumps to No. 5 in AP Top 25 preseason poll

The sum total of Texas’ roster has 12 veteran players with 896 career games and 612 collegiate starts. It’s a dozen players, mostly upperclassmen, who have scored 9,510 points and grabbed 3,672 rebounds. 

Freshman Jaylon Tyson, who was initially committed to Beard at Texas Tech, is the green newbie. “I treat every day like I’m a zero star,” said Tyson, who was somewhat under-recruited. “I do have a chip on my shoulder.”

Beard hired one of former Texas coach Rick Barnes’ trusted lieutenants and one of Kansas’ best recruiters. He’s assembled a behind-the-scenes staff that trumps anything UT had before, including a marketing director assigned solely to men’s basketball. 

More:‘I wanted to be a part of that’: Texas assistants talk about jumping on board with Beard

Former UTEP coach Rodney Terry went 163-156 in 10 seasons as a head coach before joining Chris Beard's staff as an assistant at Texas, where Terry former coached under Rick Barnes.

So how might this all go wrong?

“I think that’s a question every coach thinks about all the time,” Beard said. “You put a team together, you think about your strengths, you think about your weaknesses. You think about your weapons, and you think about your threats. So with us, there’s some concern. 

“The first is just inexperience playing together,” Beard continued. “Yes, we’re an experienced group of players. You put us on a roster, it looks pretty good. But we’ve never played together.”

Beard said during the 96-33 win exhibition win over Texas Lutheran, “there were times when guys think they’re in spots and they’re not.”

Texas forward Jimmy Allen looks for an open teammate during last week's 96-33 exhibition win over Texas Lutheran at the Erwin Center. Allen is one of seven new transfer players on this year's team.

“I mean, there’s a value in basketball in playing together,” Beard said. Even Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen needed time together for the 1990s-era Chicago Bulls to get past the Detroit Pistons, he pointed out. “More times than not, year one is tough.”

But these Longhorns have serious talent. 

“I know we have enough talent. A lot of coaches shy away from saying that. I don’t,” Beard said. “We’re not trying to scramble for a last-minute trade. This season won’t have an asterisk to it. This season might come down to a few different things, but it won’t be talent.”

More:Texas has jumped into the men's basketball transfer portal. Will the Horns find success?

Beard has coached at every level imaginable in college basketball. He started out as Tom Penders’ student assistant and graduated from UT in 1995. He has worked at junior colleges, small schools, big ones and led Texas Tech all the way to the national championship game in 2019. His teams rode busses, ate Whataburger and won. His teams have flown private jets and slept in comfort while he was named national coach of the year. 

There’s not much in this game Beard hasn’t seen before. 

But funny things happen when the lights come on and referees throw the ball up at center court.

“I’d love to get to a point where I say I know our toughness is going to be there. But I don’t know that right now,” Beard said. “Will our poise be there? I don’t know that right now. There’s not a lot I can deliver on. I can tell you have a lot of confidence in our guys, a lot of faith, but do I know it? No. But I do know we have enough talent to compete.”

Texas Hellraisers member Kerae Jones paints the chest of Jake Wolfe before last week's Texas-Texas Lutheran exhibition game at the Erwin Center. The Longhorns open their regular season on Tuesday.

No matter what happens in Spokane, the Longhorns have plenty of talent to blow through the balance of a rather cupcake-ish nonconference schedule. Nobody’s going to lose sleep before games against California Baptist, UT-RGV or even Arkansas-Pine Bluff. 

Seton Hall and Stanford, two specific made-for-TV matchups, will be challenging. And Rick Barnes’ return with Tennessee on Jan. 29 will tug at the heartstrings. 

Tom Penders:Having waited more than 20 years, coach Tom Penders joins Texas legends in Hall of Honor

Bohls: Former Texas coach Leon Black left a legacy of admirers of his integrity, decency

But in the end, Texas must beat Kansas and defending national champion Baylor. The Horns have two games against the Red Raiders, including one hairy night in Lubbock on Feb. 1. Trips to West Virginia and Oklahoma State won’t be much fun, either. 

Beard talks openly about Texas being a “Monday night program.” He fully believes the Longhorns have all the tools necessary to compete for a national title. 

But is it too much to ask for a conference championship while everyone waits for March? Texas hasn’t won a regular-season title since 2008. The program won the Big 12 tournament last season, but getting a semifinal COVID-19 bye against Kansas sure helped move things along.

How about winning just enough games to avoid the NIT? 

That’s the beauty of Beard’s arrival. He came onto the scene in April at time when there were low expectations. Texas had just gotten smoked by Abilene Christian in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and Smart had been “encouraged” by school officials to look for another job. Quickly. He jumped for Marquette.

Beard has radically changed everything.

“He's got a really good roster,” Bilas said. “They're going to be top ten, top five right away, and I have no doubt they'll be competitive not only to win the Big 12 but to win the whole thing. He's proven that.”

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