There's a New Fireball in Town

Chris Beard was introduced as the new Texas Tech men's head basketball coach in a press conference Saturday morning at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock (Tex.). His speech was fiery and emotional as he described the gig as his "dream job".

At one point during Chris Beard’s introductory press conference as new coach of the Texas Tech men’s basketball team, Beard said that “he’s not usually an emotional guy.” Ha! He certainly could have fooled the media, donors, and administrators who assembled at United Supermarkets Arena to meet the new coach. In fact, if there’s any single adjective that best describes Beard it may well be “emotional.”

Beard first gave evidence of his volatile temperament after his Arkansas-Little Rock team fell to Texas Tech during the 2015-16 basketball season. He was asked if the game had been extra special to him given his pronounced west Texas ties, and the 10 years he spent coaching under Bob Knight at Texas Tech. With an obvious lump in his throat Beard affirmed that yes indeed coming “home” to Lubbock was a very important thing to him. Take the emotion Beard exhibited in that answer, ratchet it up by a factor of 10, and that is what he displayed when speaking of his new coaching gig.

Among other things Beard stated—and he may be the only Texas Tech coach I’ve heard do so—that the Texas Tech coaching position is his “dream job.” That is a very weighty statement. It strongly implies that, all other things being roughly equal, Beard would not depart Texas Tech even if the likes of Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina or the NBA came calling. It suggests that, if Beard is successful, he will be a fixture in Lubbock for a very long time. For those who have gotten disgusted with the revolving door that has been Texas Tech basketball since Bob Knight retired, this is welcome news. And for everybody who covers and comments on Red Raider hoops, it is a remark to remember very well.

Emotion, when channeled purposefully, can be a very strong tool on a coach’s work bench. First and foremost, it can function as a powerful motivator. In 1978 a miserable 2-8 Baylor football team was set to conclude its season with a home tilt against the No. 9 Texas Longhorns.  Immediately following his motivational pregame speech, Baylor coach Grant Teaff popped an earthworm into his mouth to demonstrate his commitment to the team and the cause of victory. A fired up Bear squad proceeded to dismantle the Longhorns en route to a 38-14 victory.

So far as we know, Chris Beard has never used a nematode as a pregame appetizer, but he did break his hand bashing a whiteboard during halftime comments of the Sunbelt Conference tournament title game against Louisiana-Monroe. Beard’s Trojans trailed by five at the break, but went on to win the game by 20. Beard still sports the cast he received for his display of locker-room pugilism.   

Tubby Smith, Beard’s predecessor in the Tech coaching seat, was not what one would call an emotional firebrand. To all indications, he was not one to holler, bellow, break equipment, sling chairs or munch on worms, even when his team was playing poorly. Chris Beard will be a radical departure from Smith in that regard.

But histrionics will only carry a coach so far. Other actions and traits are required. And one of those possessed by Beard is discipline. On multiple occasions Beard stressed that he believes in discipline, and that “good players want to be coached.” In that respect, and in connexion with playing double-tough defense, Beard and Smith are virtually identical. It’s worth noting that Beard’s UALR team finished No. 4 nationally in points allowed per game, and No. 16 in opponent shooting percentage.

Beard also stressed that his teams will emphasize being the aggressor on both ends of the court. In this emphasis, and in the focus on smothering defense, future Texas Tech teams may bear some resemblance to those coached by West Virginia’s Bob Huggins.

Recruiting, of course, is paramount in any college athletic program and Texas Tech men’s basketball is obviously no exception. When queried about his approach to bringing talent to a school not located close to any major recruiting hotbed, Beard was nonplused. He stated that he and his staff will pursue talent regardless of its location, but allowed that recruiting west Texas and the whole Lone Star State will be top priorities. He also stated a willingness to recruit from the JUCO ranks, an area in which Lubbock, surprisingly enough, is perfectly located.

Regarding JUCO recruits, Beard’s one-year reign at Arkansas-Little Rock may be instructive. Prior to that season he recruited Lis Shoshi, Jalen Jackson, and Marcus Johnson from the junior college ranks, and all three were key starters for a Trojan team that went 30-5, and beat No. 5 seed Purdue in the first round of the NCAA tournament. If Beard truly possesses the Midas touch for evaluating and recruiting junior college talent, he may have found the ideal coaching position at Texas Tech.

Above all, what is evident from Chris Beard’s introduction is that Texas Tech basketball, if anything, just got more exciting and a heck of a lot more interesting. Beard, who also displayed a good sense of humor, will provide more nuggets of personality and intrigue than any Texas Tech coach since Mike Leach. And it is not out of the question that he will surpass “the Pirate” in terms of wins and postseason success.

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