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In Rodney Terry, Texas fans have an easy guy to pull for

TJ Ford (left) with Rodney Terry on Tuesday
Wescott Eberts

Rodney Terry turned 55 on Monday. His family sat down to a birthday dinner when his mother pulled out her phone. She had ESPN notifications turned on and this one was important. It was about her son.

“It has your name on it!” she said.

The notification was one he had been waiting for since early December. Really, it’s one he’s been waiting for his entire coaching career.

On Monday afternoon, Terry signed a five-year contract, worth about $3 million annually, to be the next Texas Longhorns head basketball coach. The St. Edward’s University alum, whose head coaching resume at both Fresno State and UTEP doesn’t necessarily jump off the page, had secured the UT head coaching position after leading the Longhorns to their first Elite Eight since 2008.

During his 45-minute remarks at his opening press conference inside Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium on Tuesday morning, Terry hit all the right notes.

He spoke about his father, whose passing in August served as a source of continued inspiration during the season.

“I know my father is up in heaven today with his Horns up high,” Terry said. “They’re really high today.”

Terry credits his father, a high school coach for more than 40 years, for seeing more in him than he saw in himself. He would tell Terry, still an assistant, that he was capable of being a high-major coach.

“When the Villanova job opened, [my dad] said, you should go get that job!” Terry said smiling.

He thanked his staff, calling assistant coaches Bob Donewald Jr., Chris Ogden, Brandon Chappell, special assistant Steve McClain, and strength coach John Reilly “elite coaches,” while emphasizing his hope that they all return next season to facilitate another run.

“We’re a Monday night program,” Terry said. “And we’re going to get there sooner than you think.”

Terry’s history with basketball in central Texas is rich with experience. He started his career in the early 1990s at Austin Bowie High, working for former Texas State coach Celester Collier. With summers free, he’d drive around the state coaching at different college basketball camps.

Eventually, his efforts paid off. He broke into the Division I ranks as an assistant coach, a role he’s served for the majority of his coaching career since 1996.

Winning press conferences doesn’t really matter like it did in the past. But Terry knocked Tuesday’s introductory press conference out of the park.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Terry is such a strong communicator. He’s been a silent architect the last few years, quietly assembling the most talented and balanced Texas basketball roster in more than a decade.

It was a roster that showed up in full force to support the man who guided them through one of the strangest college basketball seasons you could dream up, ending seconds away from a trip to the Final Four in Houston.

Senior Brock Cunningham even grabbed the media mic to ask the final question —“What’s going to be the first thing you do as head coach?” Cunningham asked.

Terry laughed and said he planned to meet with the whole team to share how much he appreciates them. Then he was planning to do the same with his staff.

Texas has lived and died by the unlikeable coach in recent seasons — across multiple programs. That’s not a bad thing, oftentimes it’s necessary and works out fine. But Terry brings a sincerity and genuine likability to a program that is often considered college athletics’ most notorious and gluttonous villain.

The challenge now comes, as Terry acknowledged, with the craziness of an offseason in college athletics, re-recruiting his own guys and evaluating transfers to fill gaps. Unlike previous head coaching stops, however, he will not have to fully rebuild a program from the ground up. He’s taking the keys to a program he’s been building for the last two years. Now he gets to drive.

Five-star signee Ron Holland even thanked Texas for hiring Terry so he could keep his commitment to the program.

While Texas loses a lot of production and senior leadership, it also has the opportunity to return a lot of talent. Guys like Tyrese Hunter, Arterio Morris, Dylan Mitchell, Brock Cunningham, and even Dylan Disu are eligible to return, two five-star incoming freshmen remain committed, and the transfer portal is already cooking with areas to fill gaps.

Whether or not it works, and I believe it will, Texas hired a guy who has earned the job without question.

“You had a very long job interview,” UT President Jay Hartzell told Terry. “And you nailed it.”