The coaching carousel officially started on Friday when the Ole Miss Rebels and head coach Kermit Davis “mutually agreed to part ways effective immediately” after less than five season in Oxford. The Rebels last made the NCAA Tournament in the first season under Davis and were 2-13 in SEC play at the time of his termination.
Predictably, former Texas Longhorns head coach Chris Beard’s name quickly surfaced in connection with the opening as part of what was termed an extensive vetting process of Beard, who was arrested for felony domestic violence in December and fired with cause in January before the charge was dropped by the Travis County DA in February.
So now Keith Carter, a former Ole Miss basketball player, becomes the first athletics director to attempt to navigate the public relations disaster of hiring a head coach who was accused of strangling and biting his fiance in an altercation during which she said, “He just snapped on me and became super violent.”
Beard’s fiance, Randi Trew, later released a statement retracting her accusation of Beard strangling her while admitting that she initiated a “physical struggle.” Trew’s statement, as well as her desire that the Travis County DA not prosecute the felony charge, contributed to the decision by the office that it could not prove Beard’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In a letter to Beard’s lawyer, the UT vice president of legal affairs laid out the rationale for his termination.
“Chris Beard engaged in unacceptable behavior that makes him unfit to serve as head coach at our university,” James Davis wrote.
“It is his actual behavior that we consider, not whether some acts also constitute a crime. Whether or not the District Attorney ultimately charges Mr. Beard is not determinative of whether he engaged in conduct unbecoming a head coach at our university,” Davis continued.
“There seems to be an incorrect underlying assumption that the criminal process outcome dictates Mr. Beard’s employment outcome. But these are different processes, where different decision makers are weighing different factors.
“[A]gain, our evaluation of Mr. Beard’s fitness for service is not contingent on whether he is also convicted of a particular crime or whether those charges are dismissed at some point,” Davis wrote.
“Additionally, your letter this morning reveals that Mr. Beard does not understand the significance of the behavior he knows he engaged in, or the ensuing events that impair his ability to effectively lead our program. This lack of self-awareness is yet another failure of judgment that makes Mr. Beard unfit to serve as a head coach at our university.”
Perhaps Beard will demonstrate his understanding of the significance of the behavior he knows that he engaged in now that the charge is dropped and he’s officially trying to resurrect his career.
But Carter should consider more than whatever platitudes Beard utters now or Trew’s statement or Beard’s unquestioned ability as a basketball coach — he should recognize that Beard’s behavior embarrassed one university enough to fire him with cause after Beard engaged in a physical struggle that included allegations by Trew that weren’t retracted, like a bite mark and multiple other abrasions, that make Beard just as unfit to coach at Ole Miss as he was at Texas.
“Being a head coach at The University of Texas at Austin is about more than winning games,” Davis wrote. “The privilege of coaching comes with a great responsibility that goes beyond just avoiding improper conduct. A coach is a leader — a leader who develops student athletes’ positive character, supports their education, prepares them for success in lives after graduation, and represents the University of Texas with honor and respect. A coach’s influence is effected through both professional and personal interactions.”
Let’s hope there are things that matter more than winning in Oxford, too.