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April 1 is Chris Beard Day for Texas and Texas Tech

As the buyout drops for the Red Raiders head coach, there’s a report of a key meeting set to happen between Beard and the Longhorns.

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

Will Chris Beard return to the Forty Acres?

Since Shaka Smart left the Texas Longhorns for the Marquette Golden Eagles last Friday, that question has largely defined the coaching search in Austin for athletics director Chris Del Conte.

Over recent days, there’s been a remarkable lack of information coming out from the Longhorns program and the Red Raiders program.

Other than Del Conte interviewing Brooklyn Nets assistant Royal Ivey on Sunday and the initial positive connections between Beard and Texas on Friday, things have largely remained quiet.

Out on the South Plains, Beard hasn’t denied interest in the Texas job or announced that he’s staying in Lubbock. There isn’t any chatter about another contract extension or raise for Beard. In fact, there’s even some message board talk about Beard and athletics director Kirby Hocutt not communicating at the moment.

Look for the quiet period to end on Thursday, when Beard’s buyout for moving to another Big 12 school drops from $5 million to $4 million.

There’s also a report that Beard will meet with the Texas administration wanting a set of questions answered.

  1. Without knowing what type of freedom Beard wants, this is probably the most difficult question to speculate about. Is Beard just talking about the money needed to hire the assistants he wants — defensive guru Mark Adams is one of the highest-paid assistant coaches in the country — or is it about other aspects of program management?
  2. The Moody Center is set to open next year with protected dates for basketball games and other school events, but it’s possible that access to practice times could at times be impacted by concerts scheduled at the venue. The replacement for Cooley Pavilion will be a four-story, $60 million facility with training space for rowing as well as men’s and women’s basketball with completion originally set for around the same time as the Moody Center. Both projects should help the Texas facilities exceed those on the Texas Tech campus currently.
  3. Before pandemic-related reductions, Beard was set to make a little over $5 million this year as part of the six-year, $27.4 million contract extension that he signed less than two years ago. In order to convince Beard to leave Lubbock, Texas would almost certainly have to give Beard a raise. New football head coach Steve Sarkisian’s contract is for $5.2 million in 2021, so hiring Beard probably makes him the highest-paid coach on campus. Is Del Conte willing to make that move?

Other factors could also influence Beard’s decision.

Texas is turning over much of its roster this season, with the possibility of having as many as nine new scholarship players for the 2021-22 campaign. Texas Tech, on the other hand, has a solid young core of talent recruited by Beard.

Job security could play a role, too — Beard has taken Texas Tech to an Elite Eight and the national championship game in the NCAA Tournament, representing the most successful era in the history of the basketball program and earning him the ability to go 18-17 in conference play over the last two seasons without any grumbling from fans or reduced fan support at United Supermarket Arena.

Quite the opposite, actually, as Red Raiders fans have spent the days since Smart left speculating about what it means that Beard changed his Twitter cover photo, making shrines, and begging him to stay, like Pat Mahomes, or trying to bribe him to stay, like numerous local businesses, including this one.

The experiences of Rick Barnes and Shaka Smart at Texas provide some insight into what could happen to Beard in Austin.

Like Beard, Barnes presided over the most successful period in school history, but fan support quickly dissolved when Barnes failed to match that success and then spent years trying to get him fired.

Support for Smart ebbed after an 11-22 season in Smart’s second year on campus when there was heavy roster turnover following the 2015-16 season. Fans then seemed unwilling to place the 2017-18 season in the context of the leukemia diagnosis for Andrew Jones or late suspension of Kerwin Roach II or the suspension of Eric Davis, Jr., instead focusing on an overtime loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to a Nevada team that was not only higher seeded, but likely under seeded, as well.

Given the need to completely reshape the Texas roster upon arrival, will Longhorns fans have patience with Beard if he has a season like Smart’s second season or if he goes .500 or worse in conference play? Would frustration about the lack of NCAA Tournament success since 2008 bleed into the Beard era like it did into the Smart era?

Even with excitement for the start of the Beard era in Austin, attendance may not match Texas Tech’s during the 2019-20 season, when the Red Raiders averaged a little over 14,000 fans per game, No. 20 nationally and well over 90 percent of capacity.

When Smart arrived, attendance increased by 14 percent. The same increase for Beard over pre-pandemic attendance would put Texas at around 11,000 fans per game next season, three thousand fewer than in Lubbock last year and about 66 percent of capacity.

That increase would roughly match the average per-game capacity for Texas during the Final Four run following the 2002-03 season. So, even at the height of success under Barnes, the Erwin Center was one-third empty. The next season, when the Longhorns eventually made the Elite Eight, attendance declined following the departure of TJ Ford.

The Moody Center will solve some of those issues with a much lower capacity — 10,000 for basketball games instead of close to 17,000 — but it’s not only about how many fans are present, it’s about their level of engagement, too, an area where Texas Tech also has an advantage.

Assuming that the meeting between Beard and Texas does happen on Thursday and even if Del Conte can answer the questions Beard reportedly has for him, advantages in roster construction, job security, and fan support are all compelling reasons for Beard to remain in Lubbock.

If Beard does end up taking the Texas job, it seems reasonable to argue that it would be because he really wants to come back to Austin and take on the rebuilding challenge at his alma mater.

On Chris Beard Day, there should finally be some movement in determining whether that’s the case.