Kirby Hocutt tried to put a brave face on it. He tried spin it.
Call the Texas Tech Red Raiders athletics director 0-for-2 on that count. And that’s not even including the real reason for Hocutt’s sad press conference on Thursday — discussing the massive loss of head coach Chris Beard, who is now the new coach of the Texas Longhorns.
Hocutt started off by trying to describe losing the most successful basketball coach in program history to an in-state rival as a change in direction instead of a setback. The number of people who buy that is somewhere close to zero and almost certainly does not actually include Hocutt in any other capacity than his Thursday press conference.
From the Texas perspective, the schadenfreude isn’t enough reason to write about a sad press conference on Hocutt’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day — the Texas Tech athletics director did actually provide some relevant information about how Beard’s departure went down.
The story really begins last fall as the Red Raiders remained proactive in trying to keep Beard in Lubbock by offering him a lifetime or rolling contract on top of the lucrative extension that Beard signed in 2019, making him one of the highest-paid coaches in all of college basketball.
“It became obvious in the months ahead that there was not an interest in that type of lifetime agreement or rolling contract,” Hocutt said.
The Texas Tech administration remained persistent, continuing discussions into the NCAA Tournament, during which Hocutt and Tony Hernandez, Hocutt’s chief operating officer, sat down with Beard’s agent “to continue to talk about future opportunities.”
Those conversations continued in a different vein over recent days after Texas athletics director Chris Del Conte called Hocutt to ask for permissions to interview Beard as a professional courtesy. During a conversation in Beard’s office on Wednesday afternoon, Hocutt and Beard discussed the future of Texas Tech basketball. Late in the evening, Beard called Hocutt.
“I could tell that he had a decision to make and I could tell it was weighing very heavily on him, and he wanted to take a night to sleep on it and to make his final decision at some point today,” Hocutt said.
About twelve hours later, Beard’s mind was made up — he called Hocutt to tell him that he was returning to Austin. And Beard’s mind was truly made up, as the now-former Texas Tech coach declined to allow the Red Raiders to provide a counter offer, leaving Hocutt somewhere between angry and dejected.
“Frustration? Absolutely. Disappointment? Absolutely.”
Having ineffectually spun Beard’s departure, Hocutt was left echoing Beard’s words to summarize the day.
“To use a term that Coach Beard uses every day — you get in the fight,” Hocutt said. “We’ve been in the fight for five years and the fight’s not over, and you have somebody that then walks away to go to an in-conference school, an in-state school, absolutely that frustrates you, heck yeah does, if we’re honest and loyal and sincere about talking about getting in a fight, and you’re in the fight every day. Yeah, frustration, would be a kind word to summarize.”
Hocutt was not immediately sure whether that frustration would continue with more departures to Austin — Beard offered his staff the opportunity to join him on the Forty Acres, but at least one assistant coach isn’t coming to Texas in the same role with the addition of UT-Arlington head coach Chris Ogden before Beard’s hire became official.
The most consequential assistant for Beard at Texas Tech is Mark Adams, the architect of the no-middle defense that made him one of the highest-paid assistant coaches in college basketball. Hocutt said Adams was still in Lubbock on Thursday and it’s possible that after serving as a head coach for 23 seasons at lower levels, Adams could take over for Beard in Lubbock.
Having to consider Adams for that role is something that Hocutt was still having difficulty comprehending as he held what was likely the saddest press conference of his career.
“He shared with me today he was ready for another challenge, so I don’t fully understand it,” Hocutt said. “It obviously wasn’t for better fan support or better facilities. He told me it was not for financial reasons.”
Beard just wanted to come home to the Forty Acres.