Chris Beard just broke one of the most important rules of coaching: Never leave a place where they’re probably going to build statues and name streets in your honor. That’s what he had at Texas Tech, and that’s what he’s unlikely to ever have at Texas.
Through five seasons in Lubbock, Beard achieved a status almost unheard-of in this high-velocity era of social media and endless bellyaching. Fans loved him, alumni worshipped him, administrators catered to him—he had it all.
When Beard begins his new life in Austin, the tone will be different: What have you done for us lately, buddy? That’s the mantra at Texas, which showed the door to its most successful basketball coach (Rick Barnes) and one of its two most successful football coaches (Mack Brown), despite them elevating their programs to heights that seemed unimaginable when they first arrived.
It wasn’t just that Beard took over a decrepit Tech program and led it to the Elite Eight in his second season and the National Championship Game in his third; it was how he did it. Beard’s first Red Raiders team wasn’t built around heralded recruits. It was a bunch of guys playing with defensive fury, diving for loose balls, rebounding like crazy, and fearing no one. Upsets of number-four Baylor and number-seven West Virginia laid a foundation for everything that followed.
Beard was the right kind of control freak—the one who had a sense for when to let go and when to skip calling time-outs at the end of games because he trusted his players. “I’ve always tried to put the game in the player’s hands,” he said after one contest. “Those are situations we practice, we call them ‘chaos.’ We knew the objective.”
He was a coaching nomad in the best sense of the word, having been on the sideline in seemingly every gymnasium from Amarillo to Beaumont to El Paso in his 48 years. He established his chops at community colleges, Division II and III schools, and even with the semipro South Carolina Warriors. That resume, filled with tiny gyms, endless bus rides, and winning teams constructed of leftover recruits, surely built Beard’s confidence and toughness.
Tech fans appreciated his journey, that he arrived in Lubbock as an end-of-the-bench assistant in 2001 and worked his way up. He spent ten years at the school, working for Bob and Pat Knight, and fell in love with the South Plains. Unlike some Texas Tech coaches, especially some Texas Tech football coaches, Beard embraced all that was Texas Tech. He preached the gospel of Lubbock as a great place to live and build a winning program. That he loved Willie and had the Whataburger menu committed to memory contributed to his charm.
Beard recruited players from everywhere, used the NCAA transfer portal brilliantly, and created cohesive units from diverse parts. In return, Texas Tech gave him, well, everything. He was one of college basketball’s five highest-paid coaches and had a huge say in the design of a practice facility that will be as good as any. He was involved in discussions about downsizing United Supermarkets Arena to create more intimacy, more noise, and more of a home-court advantage.
Beard was such a perfect fit that Tech fans had begun to think he might not be interested in moving on to a higher-profile coaching position. He might never land the one-and-done NBA lottery pick in Lubbock, but recruiting website Rivals.com ranked his last three recruiting classes as seventh, thirteenth, and eighth in the nation.
He left anyway. He couldn’t resist. If you’re a Red Raider, this stinks to high heaven. He saw Texas as a better job. Is that even the case in 2021? It’s not as clear as it once was. If you believe in the power of untapped potential, it might be. Might be. Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt seemed stunned at Beard’s departure, but he was playing for the cameras. When a coach waves off what amounts to a lifetime contract—which Beard did some time ago—he’s looking around.
In the end, he wanted a new challenge, and no amount of money and no amount of fanfare were going to keep him at Texas Tech. Nor was this about returning to his alma mater (as an undergrad at UT in the early nineties, Beard was a team manager for the Longhorns under head coach Tom Penders).
Beard just felt the itch that coaches have always felt. When he and Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte huddled Thursday at a McDonald’s in Plainview—two Egg McMuffins, two coffees—Beard didn’t need to be sold.
Once, when Rick Barnes was at Clemson, he reportedly told a friend he’d never been happier. Weeks later, he took the Texas job. What gives?
“You know coaches,” he said, “we run from happiness.”
Beard believes he can tame the monster that is the University of Texas at Austin. That he can deal with the expectations and the entitlement that come with high-profile coaching jobs at the flagship state university. That he can fill that new 10,000-seat, $388 million arena.
Maybe he’s the guy to do it. Maybe he’s better suited to the role than all the well-regarded coaches who have come before him. Maybe he’s flat-out better. But it’s also fair to wonder how a coach like Chris Beard, who has molded teams in his own image, will do at Texas, where he’ll land five-star recruits who might not be as quick to buy into his demanding, defense-first style.
This is silly talk. Other coaches—Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Self, John Calipari—have done just fine with blue-chip prospects. One of the things that separates great coaches is the ability to communicate with and motivate players regardless of their backgrounds or pedigrees—to understand what drives them and cultivate whatever qualities allow them to maximize their talents.
Beard’s life experiences may have prepared him for this career moment. He was a student assistant under Penders, a graduate assistant at Abilene Christian, and a full-time assistant at North Texas. His head coaching stops include Fort Scott Community College, Seminole State, McMurry, Angelo State, and Arkansas–Little Rock.
Like both Bob and Pat Knight, Beard does not suffer fools and is relentlessly focused on the things that impact winning. To succeed at Texas requires the thickest of skins and an ability to tune out the noise, of which there’ll be plenty. And that’s why the Longhorns may finally have a coach capable of fulfilling insane expectations. Beard’s predecessor, Shaka Smart, is a good man who could not have represented the program better. He also won zero NCAA Tournament games in six seasons.
Beard has less polish and more rough edges, and maybe that’s what Texas needs. He may never get his own street or statue, but he doesn’t seem much interested in those things, anyway.