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Texas announces the hire of Chris Beard

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The former student assistant to Tom Penders is returning to Austin in a major coup for Chris Del Conte.

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Beard is returning to his alma mater.

Six days after Shaka Smart left the Texas Longhorns to become the head coach of the Marquette Golden Eagles, athletics director Chris Del Conte pulled off a major coup — after a largely quiet week, the Longhorns moved quickly on Thursday to hire Beard, who leaves the Texas Tech Red Raiders following the most successful stretch in program history.

As Beard’s buyout within the Big 12 dropped from $5 million to $4 million, news broke on Thursday that Beard accepted the job to return to the school where he served as a student assistant under Tom Penders from 1991 to 1995.

“I’m thrilled and excited to be coming back to Austin and back to the Longhorn family. I can’t express how excited I am for this opportunity and the journey that lies ahead. I want to thank President Hartzell and Athletics Director Chris Del Conte for their trust. It’s time to get to work. Our top priority will be embracing our players as soon as we get to campus, and I look forward to starting this journey together towards our championship goals,” Beard said in a statement released by the school.

“It’s been a whirlwind of a day. It’s a difficult and emotional day in a lot of ways as I leave Texas Tech, a place where I’m very appreciative of not only my five years as a head coach but also my 10 years as an assistant. I owe so much to Texas Tech University. From the players and their families to the administration, students, alumni, season-ticket holders and the entire Red Raider Nation, we were able to build something incredibly special and unique. We took the program to new heights TOGETHER resulting in a Big 12 Championship, a berth on Monday night in the National Championship Game, an Elite Eight appearance and three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in school history. I am truly thankful for all the people of West Texas and their incredible support. Thank you, you have provided memories that will last a lifetime.”

As with the hire of Steve Sarkisian as the replacement for Tom Herman as the Texas head football coach, there was a quick consensus about Beard among the same Longhorns administrators who hired Sarkisian — Del Conte, UT president Jay Hartzell, and Board of Regents chairman Kevin Eltife.

“When we began discussing potential candidates to lead our men’s basketball program, Chris Beard’s name kept coming up,” Del Conte said. “He’s a highly-regarded coach and also a person who is so well thought of in his profession and beyond, and in our talks with him and those who know him well, we came away extremely impressed. We’ve all seen what he’s done in building Texas Tech into a national force, recognize his wealth of knowledge and experience, and his track record at every place he’s been is extraordinary. His success is well documented, and he’s a Longhorn at heart who cut his teeth in the business as a student assistant coach under Tom Penders. He’s family and loves the University of Texas.”

Beard arrives back on the Forty Acres after a winding journey through the coaching ranks that included numerous stops at numerous levels.

After leaving Austin, Beard served as a graduate assistant at Incarnate Word and then took assistant roles at Abilene Christian and North Texas before he received his first head coaching gig at Fort Scott CC in 1999. A year later, Beard ended his most itinerant coaching phase following a stop at Seminole State JC by becoming the associate head coach at Texas Tech under Bob Knight.

Beard served in that role under Knight and his son Pat until 2011, when the younger Knight was fired by the Red Raiders, sparking the second period of steady movement in Beard’s career. For one year, Beard coached the South Carolina Warriors in the reconstituted ABA, then spent a year at McMurray, two years at Angelo State, a year at Little Rock, and 19 days as the head coach at UNLV before returning to Lubbock to replace Tubby Smith at Texas Tech.

Back with the Red Raiders in 2016, Beard quickly turned around a program without much history of success — Texas Tech had losing seasons in five of the previous six years prior to his hire and hadn’t had an NBA Draft pick in more than a decade.

The first step was getting back on the right side of .500, which Beard accomplished in his first season with an 18-14 record.

Then Beard’s effort on the South Plains started to take off. Led by a roster that included five seniors, including guard Keenan Evans, who topped the team in scoring, as well as promising freshmen guards Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech finished second in the Big 12 to earn a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, beating Stephen F. Austin, Florida, and Purdue before losing to eventual national champion Villanova in the Elite Eight.

Smith departed for the NBA, becoming the second first-round draft pick in school history, but the development of Culver and the addition of three key transfers helped Beard avoid a rebuilding season. With Tariq Owens in the middle and Matt Mooney on the perimeter, Beard’s no-middle defense helped the Red Raiders become the best defensive team in the KenPom.com era with an adjusted efficiency rating of 84.1. Texas Tech went 14-4 in conference play, tying for first in the regular season, and embarked on the most magical run in school history, beating four straight top-15 opponents in the NCAA Tournament and nearly winning the national championship before falling to Virginia in overtime.

The last two seasons didn’t feature nearly as much success for Beard. After Culver became another first-round draft pick, Beard continued to retool his roster with transfers, but pursuing more highly-rated recruits didn’t necessarily work out for Beard, with Jah’mius Ramsey leaving after one season to become a second-round draft pick and top-40 prospect Nimari Burnett appearing in only 12 games before transferring.

Over those two years, Beard went 18-17 in Big 12 play, including a sixth-place finish this season and a second-round exit in the NCAA Tournament. But, even in a season that didn’t qualify as a success compared to Beard’s previous accomplishments, the Red Raiders still did something that the Longhorns haven’t done since 2014 — win a game in the NCAA Tournament.

“Chris is a teacher and really pays attention to detail, more so than most coaches. I sat in his meetings, and his preparation is exceptional. He could coach in the NBA and do well in the NBA, because he relates well to players and can adjust to any type of player,” Penders told Horns247.

“At Tech, he had to develop and recruit hard. He’s real. And when you’re real, you’re a good recruiter. He’s got a great sense of humor and knows how to deal with all kinds of different kids.”

The best decision that Beard made at Texas Tech built from a relationship formed as an assistant with the Red Raiders when he recruited the junior college National Player of the Year from Howard College. The coach at Howard College was Mark Adams, who became the architect of the no-middle defense that launched Texas Tech into the upper echelons of college basketball.

“I’ve always preached keeping the ball out of the middle, but it’s evolved,” Adams told NBC Sports two years ago. “We’re now much more aggressive. My belief is that offense has so many advantages over the defense, and we don’t want to be a victim. So we try to be as aggressive as we can, and try to make them uncomfortable and attack and push them to the sideline and baseline.”

It’s an approach that has spread in college basketball. After years of playing multiple zone defenses, Baylor now runs a version of the no-middle defense. So does Abilene Christian, which upset Texas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament this season in perhaps the worst loss in Longhorns program history.

Playing against it is difficult — it’s the type of approach that often defies the best preparation by opposing coaches. “We talked about it quite a lot in meetings and showed it on film, but it’s something you have to experience,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said after losing to Tech in the 2019 Elite Eight. Beyond ranking as the best defensive team in the KenPom.com era that year, Beard’s Red Raiders ranked in the top 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency in 2017-18 and 2019-20.

But while Beard is clearly a home-run hire for Texas as the obvious top candidate to replace Smart, there are two concerns.

The first is with the motion offense that Beard learned from Knight, which has never ranked higher than 25th in adjusted efficiency and as low as No. 50 in 2017-18. Under Beard, the Red Raiders played at a slow, deliberate tempo that never exactly registered as an exciting brand of basketball. Generally effective, but not exciting.

As Beard transitions to Texas and inherits the opportunity to recruit higher-level prospects, the second concern is whether he can succeed with those players. Beard’s ability to target and land top transfers and then integrate them into his culture and his offensive and defensive systems is unquestioned, a strong sign for a year that features an unprecedented number of players in the NCAA transfer portal. But his track record with top-rated recruits isn’t as solid.

Considering that Beard has won everywhere he’s been a head coach, those are relatively minor concerns — the bottom line is that Del Conte conducted another coaching search with a high level of professionalism and landed the top target.

“Beyond the immense success he’s had at every stop, the thing that really catches your attention with Coach Beard’s teams is how they play with such discipline, so much energy, and great passion and enthusiasm,” Del Conte said. “That’s a reflection of the relationships he has with his team, his leadership, and his ability to put his student-athletes in the best possible position to succeed. And on top of that, he’s just a great, charismatic coach and person who has a genuine love for his players and program. We couldn’t be more excited having him back home on the Forty Acres as our head men’s basketball coach.”

Happy Chris Beard Day, Longhorns nation.