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While the head men’s basketball coach at Texas Tech, Chris Beard took the Red Raider program to heights it had never experienced. Not even legendary coach Bob Knight, for whom Beard was an assistant from 2001-08, could win the Big 12 regular season title in Lubbock.
Beard tread where no other basketball coach on the South Plains had before. He reached the Elite Eight in 2018 and followed it up with an appearance in the national championship game in 2019, falling to Virginia in overtime.
It was the first appearance in a major men’s sport title game in the history of the Red Raider athletic program. The NCAA title game is no place any Texas Longhorn basketball player has been to, but Beard threw down the gauntlet in his introductory press conference in Austin: it’s where he expects his program to be.
“This program is a Monday night program,” Beard said Friday. “We’ve got some work to do to get there, but I’m not afraid to talk about it from day one. That’s the game we’re trying to get to. Everything that we do, beginning last night and today when we get done with this press conference, will be about restoring us and getting us to the level where we can compete for national championships.”
Texas has believed itself to be a national title contender in basketball a few times this century. It was closest in 2003 with TJ Ford at the helm. Carmelo Anthony and eventual national champion Syracuse blocked their path to the finals.
It was two wins away from Monday in 2006 and 2008, but losses to LSU and Memphis in each respective year kept Rick Barnes from making it to the title game.
Even this past season, with Shaka Smart’s team reaching as high as No. 4 in the AP poll and earning a three-seed in the NCAA Tournament, had the college basketball world believing the Longhorns could make a deep run in March.
A first-round upset loss to Abilene Christian derailed those plans. It ultimately resulted in Smart taking the vacant Marquette job, giving UT athletic director Chris Del Conte the avenue to pursue the Red Raider head coach who once served as a student assistant for Tom Penders.
“To have a chance to coach at the University of Texas, where this challenge and opportunity and the power of this institution and fan base and history and tradition, when these things combine with the hunger that I have and our staff will have, and the players that we have, when these things combine special can happen,” Beard said. “To me, special is Monday night.”
Beard mentioned “Monday night” nine times during his introductory press conference. He also mentioned his six predecessors, from Leon Black to Penders to Smart. Even Bob Weltlich drew a shoutout from Texas’ new head man. Of the mentioned coaches, only Barnes was able to put Texas on the precipice of the final.
“Let me be really clear here, I understand the standards of the University of Texas,” Beard said. “I understand where our men’s basketball program is going to be and needs to be and deserves to be. Those expectations and standards don’t scare me.”
He later mentioned those standards and expectations are the reasons he is in Austin wearing burnt orange. He had to make what he called the “most difficult decision” in his life to leave Lubbock, a place where he spent 15 years coaching Red Raider basketball in some form.
In Lubbock, he had rabid fan support. He had the “Raider Riot” student section. He had a rowdy United Supermarkets Arena on a game-by-game basis. One of his first steps in recreating that success at Texas is the tall task of recreating those atmospheres in Austin. Not just in the Moody Center, the future home of the Longhorns, but in the program’s current home in the Erwin Center.
“We’ve got to make the Frank Erwin Center this year the toughest place to play in college basketball, and I’m going to work tirelessly in my role to make that happen, but I’m going to need your help,” Beard said. “We’re going to need student attendance to increase and improve, and I look forward to the challenge and the opportunity of that, and I’m very confident that we will be able to get that done.”
Beard laid out recruiting plans to help achieve the lofty goal of reaching a national final. He first mentioned the current roster and getting buy-in from them (and keeping them out of the transfer portal), calling them his “top priority.” There’s a level of understanding for Beard with the current group after coaching against them in-conference over the past few years.
As far as talent accumulation, Beard said he plans to recruit the best players in the world, starting within the state of Texas. The majority of his career has been spent within the bounds of the Lone Star State, whether at Texas, Texas Tech, Abilene Christian, McMurry, Angelo State, or Incarnate Word. Beard plans to use those deep ties to bring more of the state’s best hoopers to the Forty Acres.
To what type of philosophy is he recruiting those players?
“I’ll be really clear here,” Beard said. “Our style of play and our philosophy is one thing, winning. We’re going to do what it takes to win. We’re going to play the right way.”
He made sure to note he is not overtaking a rebuild. Beard intends to win right away. Why else would he move to Austin?
“We’re going to win sooner than later,” Beard said. “I look forward to everybody in this room and everybody on the Zoom today joining us on a Monday night in the near future when we’re playing in the last game of the college basketball season.”
Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images