As the Texas Longhorns set out to replace Shaka Smart, athletics director Chris Del Conte joked to UT president Jay Hartzell, “We’re on a mission from God,” echoing the line from “The Blues Brothers.”
Del Conte, Hartzell, and Board of Regents chairman Kevin Eltife had already zeroed in on the target — Texas Tech Red Raiders head coach Chris Beard, who had served as a student assistant on the Forty Acres in the early 1990s under Tom Penders.
The question at hand was whether the Texas administration could convince Beard to come home.
“I don’t know,” Del Conte told his superiors about his ability to land Beard. “We’re not trying — go get it done,” Eltife responded.
By Thursday morning, Del Conte found himself at the Comfort Inn in Plainview, Texas in the early morning hours meeting with Beard. The two picked up breakfast sandwiches and coffee from McDonald’s and sat down to talk about the Longhorns program and Beard’s vision of winning national championships at Texas. Three hours later, Beard and Del Conte had worked out a seven-year, $35 million deal and Beard got in his car to inform the administration, coaches, and players at Texas Tech about his decision to return to Austin.
“He came back an emotional wreck,” Del Conte said. “I knew what we are getting in a human being — someone that cares deeply about people.”
On the plane ride, Del Conte sat and watched the emotion pour out of Beard as he talked with his fiancee, Randi, about what Beard had accomplished at Texas Tech and the future at Texas after making what he called the most difficult decision of his life. “We got it right. We got it right,” Del Conte thought to himself as he was overwhelmed with emotion, too.
Friday morning, Eltife, Hartzell, and Del Conte introduced Beard in a Zoom meeting with reporters. Even virtually, Beard’s energy and intensity came through as the new Texas coach discussed why he sees the Longhorns in a Monday night game “sooner than later.”
“Expectations don’t scare me — it’s why I’m here,” Beard said.
Beard’s plan at Texas includes first uniting the Longhorns basketball family, including the former players like Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge who advocated for the hire of Brooklyn Nets assistant Royal Ivey, and then focusing on the players.
The motion offense that Beard runs is a direct legacy of his time as an assistant under Bobby Knight at Texas Tech. His no-middle defense is the result of uniting with Texas Tech associate head coach Mark Adams at Little Rock. But Beard also described the playing style he wants as a throwback to the program’s glory years in 2000s.
“Coach Barnes’ teams were exactly the way we’re gonna win at Texas — grit, toughness, hard work, and obviously talented, talented players. The best players in the NBA is what we need, but keeping that edge and that chip [on the shoulder] for me is what Texas is,” Beard said.
Beard wants his teams to play with a mental and physical toughness and without entitlement or fear.
“I’ll be really clear here. Our style of playing, our philosophy is one thing — winning. And we’re going to do what it takes to win, we’re going to play the right way,” Beard said.
That identity starts in recruiting. Beard wants to target the best players in Texas first and then expand out to the rest of the country and beyond. Those recruits need to fit a certain mold because Beard wants players who already understand how to compete at a high level. He believes it’s possible to shape players in pushing towards greater energy and more consistent motors, but it all starts with a baseline identity of playing hard.
Beard is going to coach his players hard, too, understanding that the basis of pushing players is building strong relationships with them first, beginning with the recruiting process. At Texas Tech, that hard coaching meant a regular level of roster turnover with players transferring, but Beard was mostly able to overcome that attrition through regularly adding transfers and effectively integrating those experienced players into his program culture.
“Our culture is who you are when no one no one’s looking,” Beard said. “Culture is what you’re all about in the good times and the bad times. Culture has to be real to me to be defined as a culture. Ours is all based on the things I mentioned early — unselfishness, toughness, discipline, talent, but above all, you have to have relationships to have a culture.”
The first priority for Beard is to reach out to current players individually to start building relationships with them since a handful have an opportunity to return or make the jump to professional basketball, including guard Matt Coleman, forward Jericho Sims, and forward Greg Brown III.
“I’m going to do the best I can to keep those guys here if they want to be here and if they understand that we’re trying to win a national championship,” Beard said. “Now, not when a new arena is built, not down the line, not let’s strive for it, now. I don’t know why you would ever work to try to do something in the future.”
With one 2021 signee having already requested out of their National Letter of Intent and two players in the NCAA transfer portal, Beard needs to add a number of pieces to the current roster, even in a best-case scenario of players unexpectedly returning. So it wasn’t surprising that at one point in the press conference, Beard’s mind admittedly wandered to the phone calls he needs to make to recruits.
A handful of those targets will be transfers — Beard places a priority on keeping up with changes like the impact of the transfer portal after success with transfers like Mac McClung, Matt Mooney, and Tariq Owens.
“I do think there’s a relationship between experience and winning,” Beard said. “I think that we’ve executed that as well as anybody in college basketball.”
After coaching at the small college level, in junior college basketball, and at the semiprofessional level, Beard is used to his roster turning over. He’s comfortable with the demands that puts on him as a head coach.
“It’s never been out of my comfort zone — it’s always been something that I’m experienced with.”
Beard ended the press conference by echoing the words of former football coach Mack Brown, who was himself echoing the words of the legendary Darrell K Royal. It’s all about putting the BBs back in the box.
“Being the caretaker of this program, I don’t take it lightly and I’ll do everything in my power every day to get this done,” Beard said. “I would say in terms of a hunger from the fan base, nobody can match my hunger. I love being around people that have high expectations and I love challenges and I love proving people wrong quickly.”