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Instant Reaction to Beard Leaving

4/1 takes on a far different meaning

The news that Chris Beard is departing for UT is an incredibly difficult pill to swallow for Texas Tech and the city of Lubbock.  The outpouring of support shown for Chris Beard during his time at TTU from the fans, city, and administration is undeniable, especially considering that Beard was essentially offered free everything for life within the confines of the 806 had he stayed.  Beard himself deserves credit for building an elite basketball program at Tech, but the community that embraced him certainly deserves an assist.  That Beard left for a hated rival to somewhat validate the “We’re Texas” arrogance that so many despise twists the knife on the pain of losing a quality coach.

There will be great temptation for a Tech community that understandably feels betrayed to give Coach Beard a Baker Mayfield-esque welcome every time he returns to the Hub City, and it’s likely that many will not be shy to make their feelings about his departure evident.  However warranted such backlash may be, it might also be worth tapping the brakes on that mindset.  Beard left Tech in a far better place than he found it, returned to a place where he has plenty of roots, and is seemingly unlikely to flaunt ingratitude in the future for his time at Tech and the opportunity it provided him.  None of this makes it much easier to take, but can hopefully offer some perspective to help the Tech community’s response to this perhaps be less vitriolic than it easily could be from a purely reactive standpoint.

Only time will tell if the UT grass is truly greener.  It is clear that UT coveted Beard from envying the program culture, fanbase, and results of his Texas Tech tenure, but copy/pasting these things at a very different situation in UT-Austin may prove far more difficult than the Longhorns envision.  The UT basketball fanbase is famously apathetic, with Rick Barnes referring to the environment as a “mausoleum” during his time coaching there (which are widely considered the golden years of UT basketball to date), along with Shaka Smart’s recent comments that not-so-subtly highlighted the lacking fan support that produced empty UT arenas well before COVID.  There is a very real question of if UT is even capable of having a passionate basketball fanbase.

From an administrative standpoint, it is hard to fathom a scenario in which Beard will enjoy the same support he’s accustomed to as well.  Considering Beard’s presumably high compensation, anything less than a national title each year will be considered a failure, and it won’t take much for a group that often resides firmly in the land of entitlement already to quickly become dissatisfied whenever anything short of perfection occurs.  Throw in a litany of mega-boosters like Red McCombs who will publicly undermine coaches on a whim and the “hot seat” is never far away, even if the overall results are stellar.  Rick Barnes had 20+ wins in 15 of his 17 seasons at Texas and was kicked to the curb for it.  One could say the same of Mack Brown, whose football tenure that was deemed “not good enough” is similarly something they’ve failed to achieve since.

Moreover, considering that the tenets of Beard’s basketball culture at Tech were hard work, 4:1 mental toughness, etc., finding players at UT that want to be coached hard and develop may prove incredibly difficult.  Historically, Texas has been a place that hasn’t struggled to attract top talent, but said talent has rarely excelled while at UT.  Texas has often served simply as merely a place where blue-chips go to enjoy the free spotlight of UT’s media darling status for a semester before chasing NBA dreams.  And while Tech under Beard began to produce some one-and-dones, trying to coach a roster filled with players already counting NBA dollars before they show up to campus is a very different beast.  It’s difficult to imagine players who may be less inclined to think they need to work on anything in their game or who are worrying about getting hurt having the same level of buy-in to the coaching style that has made Chris Beard successful thus far.

All of that said, Chris Beard is still a world-class coach who will now enjoy every systemic advantage in the book.  His team will begin every season ranked highly whether it deserves to be or not.  His players will get friendly calls on the floor.  His victories will be celebrated endlessly by ESPN and national media.  Finally, he’ll have more on-paper talent than ever, especially with Nike now opening previously-closed doors to allow him access to “their” AAU players.  It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that this pairing of a quality coach with general favoritism turns out to be a homerun hire for the Longhorns.  And yet, the very same hype, media cheerleading, and superstar players can easily be a double-edged sword if/when the team doesn’t live up to their billing.  Suddenly, the overexposure translates to Beard being obligated on the Longhorn Network to answer for why these superstars aren’t playing better while hosts after the show bicker about whether he’s worth what he’s being paid.  It’s as easy to see one scenario playing out as the other.

As for Texas Tech, it’s a definite blow.  The next several weeks will determine the extent, but a very promising young roster is likely to be torn to shreds and it won’t be surprising (though even more painful) to see some of Tech’s players, assistant coaches, and recruits follow him to Austin.  The good news is that the program is more than just Chris Beard and could very well survive or even thrive beyond his tenure.  Still, the replacement hire will be absolutely crucial.  Tech’s current situation is similar to Iowa State’s when Fred Hoiberg left. The Cyclones missed with Prohm and their once-great program fell off substantially, which isn’t exactly an encouraging analogue, but if Tech gets the right man, the existing pieces for a premier program remain in Lubbock to allow for the Red Raiders to continue being a force in basketball.  With that, it’s time to bid adieu to Chris Beard.  Few, if any, Tech fans will be cheering for him as UT’s coach, and justifiably so, but it doesn’t erase the heights Texas Tech basketball reached that UT can thus far only aspire to.  Perhaps greatness can be bought, and UT aims to find out.

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