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Texas Tech’s hero-turned-heel Chris Beard returns to Lubbock now coaching surging Texas

Beard unfazed by Tech fans vitriol: ‘You know, no regrets. I think we left the job better than we found it.’

Since Tuesday night’s game is being hyped as if it’s Wrestlemania, it makes perfect sense to have wrestling legend Ric Flair work the mic before Texas faces Texas Tech in Lubbock.

Chris Beard was once himself the limousine riding, jet flying, kiss stealing, wheelin’-dealin’ son of a gun, as far as Tech fans were concerned. That was until Beard’s heel turn in burnt orange last April. The coach who guided Texas Tech to the 2019 national championship game — and lifted the Red Raiders’ program to astonishing heights — left Lubbock for his alma mater in Austin.

For some in West Texas, it was unforgivable.

In Tech fans’ minds, Beard abandoned them. Then last July, Texas tried to ruin Tech’s fortunes by announcing a move to the SEC. Mix in the old-school hatred for everything UT and, well, it’s quite an angry concoction.

Texas coach Chris Beard holds up the "Hook ’em" hand sign after UT's 52-51 win over Tennessee at the Erwin Center on Saturday. On Tuesday, Beard will return to Texas Tech, a program he built into a national power and led to the 2019 national championship game. He left Tech for Texas last year.

“I like Ric Flair. But I'm more of a Von Erichs and Freebirds,” Beard said Sunday. “I grew up in Dallas, Texas, and Saturday night wrestling at 10 o'clock.” 

As a fan of the old Sportatorium and World Class Championship Wrestling, Beard loves his nostalgia. Texas fans would love nothing more than to see the 23rd-ranked Longhorns (16-5, 6-3 Big 12) slap the iron claw on the No. 14 Red Raiders (16-5, 5-3) until they submit.

“Had a black-and-white TV in the bedroom,” Beard said. “We'd plug it in, so I love the Von Erichs and Michael Hayes, the Freebirds, and all that. I stood in line at Irving Mall at Sound Design music store for about two hours to buy the Badstreet USA album by Michael Hayes. Of course, I was a Von Erich guy, too.

“I remember when they took the wrestling to (Texas) Stadium and I wanted to go to that so bad,” Beard added. “And then my old man looked at the ticket prices and said, ‘That ain’t gonna happen.’ So I didn't make it in there.”

Texas head coach Chris Beard speaks to fans after a 68-48 win over Alabama State in December. On Tuesday, he'll coach the Longhorns against Texas Tech in Lubbock. "When I had the pleasure and the honor to lead the (Texas Tech) program as a head coach for five years, I gave it everything I had every day,” Beard said Sunday. “Our success together is real. It's well-documented. But I can only control what I can control now. "

Not many casual fans will make it inside United Supermarkets Arena, either. Beard’s return has been a red-hot ticket for months. On the secondary market, prices ranged from $235 to $1,859 for the 15,000-seat venue. 

After Saturday’s win over Tennessee, Texas forward Timmy Allen said the players knew there was “a lot of hate, a lot of rah-rah going on” about Beard’s return. The Horns have won three straight and feel like things are starting to click.

“We’re ready. We’re prepared for this moment,” Allen said. “We’ve got a great opportunity with these next games coming up. We look at it like it’s crazy, but we want that. And that’s what we came here for. So we'll be excited. We'll be ready to do that.”

Part of the Tech fervor and ticket demand is Beard’s own doing. He’s the one who started the full-throttle push to get Tech fans to embrace basketball. He understood everything about the Hub City’s DNA. Beard is now doing a lot of similar things at Texas to energize the UT fan base.

Beard was an assistant under Bob Knight and then Pat Knight from 2001 to 2011. After bouncing around lower-level head coaching jobs, he was hired by Tech as the head coach in 2016. He went 112-55 in five seasons and became one of the hottest names on the market.

Texas guards Marcus Carr, left, and Courtney Ramey celebrate a basket during Saturday's 52-51 win over Tennessee at the Erwin Center. The Longhorns will play at Texas Tech on Tuesday, then will face Iowa State and Kansas.

Texas had no backup plan when it parted ways with Shaka Smart after last season. Athletic director Chris Del Conte was going to hire Beard, pay Tech the required $4 million buyout and call it a day. There was nothing Tech could do to stop it. Not even the offer of a “lifetime” contract could sway Beard from leaving.

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

“We’ve been in the fight for five years, and the fight’s not over,” Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said after Beard departed Lubbock. “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.”

Message board speculation ran wild as to how Beard left, but in the end, it’s merely speculation. Assistant coach Mark Adams probably could have come with Beard to Austin but chose to stay and interview for the vacant Tech job. 

Tech fans were apoplectic. 

Let’s see how Beard does without his defensive mastermind! 

Well, Texas has the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense. Texas Tech ranks 16th nationally.

But Beard can’t recruit!

Not only did the Horns assemble a talented roster for this season, but UT’s two newest signees were just named McDonald’s All-Americans.

In the end, Beard got to coach his alma mater, and so did Adams (Tech class of 1979). At Big 12 basketball media day in October, both Beard and Adams told the American-Statesman this idea that they now hated each other was ludicrous.

Texas Tech coach Mark Adams was Chris Beard's assistant in Lubbock and now will coach against him in Tuesday's Texas-Texas Tech game in Lubbock. "We’ve got to remember, Texas Tech and Texas has always been a great rivalry,” Adams said last October. “Maybe this will add a little more fuel to the fire, because the fans like to do that.”

“We’ve got to remember, Texas Tech and Texas has always been a great rivalry,” Adams said in Kansas City, Mo. “Maybe this will add a little more fuel to the fire, because the fans like to do that.”

More:Long hair, wild energy: Avery Benson brings his Texas Tech passion to Texas with Chris Beard

More:Former Texas G Jaylon Tyson, who wanted to be a Red Raider, commits (again) to Tech

Asked if he was surprised by the Tech fan vitriol, Beard said Sunday, “No, not surprised. Part of it, man. Change happens in life; change happens in sports. You know, no regrets. I think we left the job better than we found it, and that's no disrespect to Tubby Smith because we found it in a really good spot, too. But worked really hard there. No regrets at all. 

“Chose to come back to my alma mater and try this challenge, and all of us have the right to make choices,” Beard added. “But wish Coach Adams and those guys nothing but the best. Look forward to the competition of the game. Have nothing but respect for the fan base and everybody there. A lot of really good people there that I love. Look forward to the game.”

Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard celebrates Tech's 61-51 win over Michigan State in the 2019 Final Four in Minneapolis. “All I can do is speak for myself,” Beard, now the coach at Texas, said Sunday. “I was there 15 years, and I gave it everything I had. I didn't take one day off mentally or physically in those 15 years, with Coach (Bob Knight) and Pat (Knight). Ten years of just everything I had."

What’s ironic is that Tuesday’s reception in Lubbock will be a total opposite of what Texas fans just showed former UT coach Rick Barnes. 

The Horns bent over backward to honor their all-time winningest coach, who guided Texas to the 2003 Final Four and had 13 straight 20-win seasons. Barnes even agreed to film a short YouTube “Fireside Chat” video with Beard at the Tennessee team hotel the night before the game. 

Barnes' return:Thriving at Tennessee, Rick Barnes gets the chance to see former Longhorns, Texas fans

Saturday's game:Texas scores one point in the last 5:32 but it was the game-winner vs. No. 18 Tennessee

Beard doesn’t expect any such appreciation Tuesday. None at all.

“All I can do is speak for myself,” he said. “I was there 15 years, and I gave it everything I had. I didn't take one day off mentally or physically in those 15 years, with Coach (Bob Knight) and Pat (Knight). Ten years of just everything I had. 

“And when I had the pleasure and the honor to lead the program as a head coach for five years, I gave it everything I had every day,” Beard added. “Our success together is real. It's well-documented. But I can only control what I can control now. It's just like I tell the players, so I don't spend a lot of time thinking about things I can't control.”

Might as well embrace the opportunity, embrace being the heel.

“Need tickets for the game?” Adams tweeted Sunday night. “Contact @ChrisBeardUT.” 

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