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Texas Tech’s Chris Beard rapidly emerging as top choice for Texas

The Texas alum nearly won a national championship in Lubbock two years ago and has long been discussed as a replacement for Shaka Smart.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Texas Tech at Arkansas IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

The tension drifting down from the South Plains through Hill Country to Austin almost feels palpable late Friday evening.

That’s because Texas Tech Red Raiders head coach Chris Beard is rapidly emerging as the top candidate for the Texas Longhorns to replace Shaka Smart, who departed the Forty Acres on Friday after six seasons to take over as the Marquette Golden Eagles head coach.

A source told that Texas athletics director Chris Del Conte is in “active pursuit” of Beard, who just finished his fifth season as the head coach in Lubbock with a record of 112-55, including a trip to the national championship game against Virginia two years ago, a game the Red Raiders lost in overtime.

Brad Townsend, the NBA reporter for the Dallas Morning News, received a call from a college basketball source that those talks are already in an advanced stage.

Just don’t expect an imminent announcement — Beard’s buyout with Texas Tech drops to $4 million on April 1 if he’s hired by another team in the Big 12 Conference, a clause in Beard’s contract widely viewed as an attempt to impeded the former Texas student assistant under Tom Penders from returning to Austin.

But with Smart leaving for the Marquette job without collecting the $7.1 million owed on his contract if Texas terminated him, paying the buyout for Smart’s replacement suddenly looks much more reasonable for Del Conte.

If Beard is the choice, he still won’t be cheap. Two years ago, Beard signed a six-year deal worth $27.4 million that paid Beard over $5 million during the 2020-21 season before pandemic-related reductions. So if Texas does hire Beard, he could become the highest-paid coach on campus and remain in the top five nationally.

To land coach who quickly turned around the Red Raiders program, in part by landing impact transfers, something that Beard would likely try to replicate with the Longhorns only returning a handful of players next year, the move still makes financial sense for Texas with the Moody Center opening in 2022 — hiring Beard is the realistic best-case scenario for the Horns.