Chris Beard’s long, winding road has led him to the Final Four. Now can Texas Tech keep the country’s hottest coaching commodity?Rhea Gonzales April 3, 2019 0 COMMENTS
By Kevin Sherrington
The Dallas Morning News
Chris Beard is the nation’s hottest coaching commodity after just three years at Texas Tech, a statement as improbable as it is misleading. Lubbock is Beard’s 10th stop. That’s only if you don’t count Las Vegas, where he lasted 20 minutes, as well as a previous stint in Lubbock and a curtain call in Abilene, too. It’s not an up-and-comer’s resume; it’s a bus route. Keep up if you can.
From Austin, where he was a student manager under Tom Penders, Beard moved on to San Antonio and Abilene and Denton. Then it was Fort Scott, Kan., and Seminole, Okla.
West to Lubbock to work for Bob Knight. East to Myrtle Beach, S.C., to coach a semi-pro team.
Back to Abilene.
Down to San Angelo. Over to Little Rock. Side trip to Vegas.
Back to Lubbock.
Everywhere he goes, he wins, and not a little. Most of his sideways sojourn — coaching “schools you never heard of,” as he told ESPN — the coaches on the other bench weren’t in his league. Same goes for some he met on the way to Minneapolis.
The question is, after the Final Four, will he keep on moving, especially if UCLA calls?
Or is Lubbock finally the end of the road?
No matter how Tech fares in the Final Four, Kirby Hocutt will have to tear up that extension he gave Beard last spring. He’s averaging a little better than
$3 million a year through 2024. A new deal would probably take him closer to the $3.9 million of West Virginia’s Bob Huggins and the $4.1 million of Kansas’ Bill Self. No sense taking chances. Wouldn’t want a coach who’s put together the greatest run in school history to wonder what he might do in Westwood.
Because that not only would be a catastrophic loss for Tech, it might be a mistake for Beard, too.
Consider another coach who compiled the same kind of going-nowhere-fast travelogue. Frankly, that’s not the only similarity with Billy Gillispie. Doesn’t take much imagination to see the parallels between a couple of divorced, down-home Texas gym rats elbowing their way onto a national stage.
And then there’s this, too, a bit of self-reflection from Beard last week at the Sweet Sixteen that sounds like it came out of Billy Clyde’s mouth:
“Every day I feel like I’m an underdog.”
A basketball coach can win with that self-deprecating image in Lubbock or College Station. He can use the connections built up at all those out-of-the-way places to find underrated players who fit his work ethic. Players who don’t mind a little tough love. Players such as Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver, who graduated two years ago from three-star prospect to potential top-five lottery pick this summer.
Blue-collar instead of blueblood, which was all Gillispie found at Kentucky, the beginning of the end.
Before you get the wrong idea, this isn’t necessarily intended as a cautionary tale. Beard has earned a shot anywhere. He might be better at preparing for a game than any coach in the nation, as TNT’s Reggie Miller intimated last week.
He’s not on the same road to ruin as Gillispie, either. Billy Clyde’s demons have been well-documented. His career might have come to the same conclusion had he never left Texas A&M. Just the same, it’s safe to say it didn’t help. Some close to Gillispie think he never should have gone to Lexington. Don Haskins tried telling him. The UTEP legend talked to him every day. Told him he’d found the end of his long road in College Station.
Gillispie didn’t listen, but who could blame him? Eddie Sutton wouldn’t. He left Arkansas for Kentucky. Famously said he’d have crawled all the way from Fayetteville to Lexington.
Sutton lived to regret those words, but at least he could go back to his alma mater, Oklahoma State, where he reclaimed his reputation after Kentucky nearly ruined him.
Gillispie was already in free-fall when he attempted a comeback at Tech. His hard-driving style — trash cans on the practice court so players wouldn’t mess up the floor — finally took him over the edge. He lasted one miserable season and was out.
Tech, on the other hand, has been good for Beard. Since leaving Austin, he’s spent more time there as an assistant and head coach than all the other stops put together. Won the Big 12 this season. Put up as many 25-win seasons as the school has had in its history. Taken Tech where it’s never been before.
Let me ask: If he can win the Big 12 and make the Elite Eight with different teams in consecutive years and go to the Final Four at a place that fits him like a glove, what’s the upside in going national?
For that matter, what’s the draw of Texas? Shaka Smart had to change his style to recruit the bluebloods they want in Austin.
Anyway, Texas is a football school, as Rick Barnes will tell you. Beard is making Tech a basketball school. Maybe even home.
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