Basketball

In Chris Beard, Chris Del Conte gets his man

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Back in January of 2019, when Shaka Smart was 11-8, including embarrassing losses to his former school, VCU, and Radford, Inside Texas reported, “Chris Beard would be #1 on UT’s wish list, and we’ve heard that interest runs both ways. He signed an extension last March that pays him handsomely. We don’t know what his buyout is off-hand and after a short Google search, but we do know money is playing a factor here as well.”

In May of 2019, after finishing that season 21-16 and missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years, IT wrote of Michigan’s interest in Shaka Smart, “with Smart having the same agent as Chris Beard I’d bet Del Conte has had conversations about coordinating a deal there. Del Conte would have to navigate Beard’s new $6 million buyout but with no Smart-related exit costs that would be easy to do. The potential hang-up there would be the contract UT would have to commit to Beard. I suspect that would be in the neighborhood of $5 million per year, or a little more, over 5-7 years. That would be a very aggressive move — you can’t be wrong on that deal — but with a new arena looming he may push his chips in. I think Beard would be receptive.”

This would become the template for what would eventually happen.

Smart went on to survive the 2018-2019 season, as well as the Covid-shortened 2019-2020 affair in which Texas struggled. But after yet another first-round exit from the NCAA tournament this March, it was time to test how genuinely interested Chris Beard was in coaching at his alma mater.

Before things could progress with Beard, Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte had one issue to resolve — he didn’t have a job vacancy.

After a post-season discussion with Shaka Smart where it was relayed his contract would not be extended, it was clear a parting of ways would be best for Smart and Texas.

Smart’s run of success at VCU, his recruiting ability at Texas, along with winning the Big 12 Tournament this season, made him attractive to Marquette. In many ways, Marquette got its man, too, after trying to hire Smart from VCU in 2014.

Smart and his agent David Just, essentially the Jimmy Sexton of college basketball and also Beard’s representative, made the prudent move and Smart returned to his home state of Wisconsin. In the process, Texas saved nearly $7 million and created the opening Del Conte needed.

The Texas Tech contingent is a proud bunch who didn’t want to lose Beard to anyone, much less UT. Beard’s buyout was specifically structured to make things more difficult for UT or any other in-state or Big 12 program to hire him away. His buyout dropped from $5 million to $4 million on April 1st.

Tech had two big problems, though: Texas had the job opening it needed, and Beard‘s decision whether to stay or go wasn’t driven by compensation, it was driven by where he wanted to be. Del Conte knew this and kept a very narrow focus in his search. In some respects, the search was over before it started.

Kirby Hocutt, who is unjustly taking heat from Tech fans for the loss of Beard, was essentially powerless at this point. Said the Texas Tech athletic director on Thursday, “Obviously I can’t speak for Coach Beard, so you will have to ask him. 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. I know that Red Raider Nation was ready to invest. I appreciate our supporters who have called me and offered their willingness to help to continue this investment into our basketball program, but we were not given an opportunity to provide a counteroffer or even know what he was offered.“

For Chris Del Conte, signing Chris Beard wasn’t a matter of money, it was a matter of time.

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