Chris Beard opens up about brief stay at UNLV, future at Texas Tech
With the 2016 college basketball coaching carousel finished, SI.com is checking in with all the major hires about their new gigs. These Q&As will be posted periodically throughout the early summer. Next up is Chris Beard, who guided Little Rock to the best season in school history and an appearance in the NCAA tournament last year. On March 27, Beard accepted the head coaching job at UNLV; on April 16, he left that job for the same position at Texas Tech, where he had been an assistant coach from 2001 to '11. He replaces Tubby Smith, who left the Red Raiders to coach Memphis.
Sports Illustrated: First off: How’s your hand? Are you out of the cast?
Chris Beard: Out of the cast. Hand is still healing. I still have a couple more weeks for everything to get completely healed, but we’re heading in the right direction.
SI: Have you had a chance to get back on the court?
CB: I’ve not played in a while. Still making left-handed handshakes, which is kind of awkward. But I saw the doctor in Lubbock, and he thought the bone was healing well. With everything that was going on, I was just hoping it was healing well. I think I’ll be fine.
SI: Now you were an assistant for 10 years at Texas Tech and you grew up nearby. Had you maintained a home in the area, or are you on the hunt right now?
CB: No home at all. I coached here for 10 years—eight with Bob Knight and two with Pat Knight. Two of my three daughters were born in Lubbock. It’s a place that I’m associated with because of how long I coached here, and I’m proud to be. But I don’t have a home here or anything like that. I haven’t actually been back in a couple of years, other than we played an exhibition game once when I was at Angelo State and last year we came here with Little Rock in the regular season.
SI: They were one of the few teams that got the better of you last year.
CB: Yeah, and I’ve been giving the guys a hard time about that every day. It’s kind of crazy how everything has come full circle. They had a nice team last season. I was reflecting back recently, because we had a good season at Little Rock. Tech was one of the best defensive teams we played all year. I thought they were a really good rebounding team last year.
I have a lot of respect for coach [Tubby] Smith. He did a great job coaching here. The foundation is solid. He did a lot of great things at Tech. I’ve always respected him from afar. After being here and inheriting the program and seeing how things are run, I have even more respect for him.
SI: Let’s go back a little bit before we talk about Texas Tech. Little Rock was a 13–18 Sun Belt team and became one of the most surprising college basketball teams. Did you expect you could have that kind of success?
CB: Expect is a good word. Absolutely we expected success. I think to me expectations are the first part about being good. You have to believe and you have to have a goal and a vision of what you want to do. Absolutely, our vision and expectations at Little Rock—as well as with any other team I coached or will coach—is to be good, is to be competitive, is to make the postseason, is to make the NCAA tournament. For things to happen that quickly, those are special things that align. But absolutely our expectations were to compete for Year 1.
SI: Now let’s move onto UNLV. You were there essentially for a week. In your opening press conference you said you’d reached out to every player to introduce yourself. How did you handle sharing with them the news that you were leaving?
CB: I just told the guys the truth. I told them very transparently what had progressed. We take a lot of pride in our program in being truth-tellers. Sometimes the truth isn’t easy; sometimes the truth isn’t fun. But at UNLV, there were only three guys on the team. By the time the Tech job had opened, several of the players had made decisions to transfer, which I supported. We tried to help all those guys every way.
The day that we left, there were three players on the team. We told all three of those guys the truth. All of them were great. I know a lot has been written and a lot has been said, but I’ve got a lot of respect for UNLV. I think it’s a great program. I think it always will be.
SI: How much time did you actually spend on UNLV’s campus before the negotiations began with Texas Tech?
CB: It was real early. We had been on the floor, I think, three days, with the current players—which again was three players. With the board of regents meeting, it was kind of unique. We were there for a couple days but couldn’t get any official work done. And then after the board of regents deal, we got the green light. From the time that happened to the time the Texas Tech job opened, it was a very short period of time.
SI: When Tubby Smith left for Memphis, how did you hear about that and what was your immediate reaction?
CB: Everything was just going so fast at that time. We were 100% involved in what we were trying to get done at UNLV. The AD at UNLV came and told me that the AD at Texas Tech had reached out and said they were going to contact me, and that was the first time I’d heard about it.
SI: When was the first time you heard about the job opening?
CB: I don’t really remember the details. I think one of our assistants had seen it on Twitter and had mentioned it to me.
SI: When you first heard from your AD that Texas Tech would be interested, what was your first reaction?
CB: Well it’s a place I’m familiar with. It’s a place I’ve coached before. Obviously the timing was not good for anybody. Sometimes in life the timing isn’t perfect. I think the best way to get through difficult situations is to be transparent, and I tried to be as transparent as I could. I communicated with the AD at UNLV once I had a chance to talk to the AD at Texas Tech. I told Texas Tech if we were going to visit, we had to visit quickly. I didn’t want things to drag out. I think it was that evening—the first day I talked to Texas Tech’s AD, we visited that night in Vegas.
SI: Did he offer you the job that night?
CB: It was that quick.
SI: And how long did it take you to decide?
CB: That night I visited with the AD of Texas Tech in Las Vegas. Immediately after that I went back to UNLV and told the AD that an offer had been made. I told her I was going to sleep on it, and so I slept on it that night in Vegas. I didn’t make a decision that evening. I reached out to some people that I always do when I make big decisions, including my family.
The next morning, the decision was made and things moved very quickly.
SI: Did you reach out to Bob Knight that night?
CB: I did talk to coach Knight. I don’t think it was during that time. I talk to coach often. I talked to him when we were getting the program in Vegas. But his views of Texas Tech are clear. I don’t think I talked to him that night, but I reached out to him very quickly after getting to Lubbock.
He just supported me, basically. He talked about some things. He was proud of my opportunity at UNLV. He was going to be supportive and help us there any way. But Texas Tech is a place that he has a lot of pride in, and he had a great run here, going to four NCAA tournaments that I was a part of with him. We didn’t have to talk about the ins and the outs of the job, he’s just been more supportive as much as anything. And Pat has as well—he’s been a great friend to me for a long time.
SI: You’ve said many times that your daughters are your life. Were Avery, Ella and Margo the No. 1 factor in taking this job?
CB: Well it was a factor, but it definitely wasn’t the decision-maker. I compare the situation a lot to recruiting. We always—we’re often recruiting somebody from the area. I tell players all the time—you shouldn’t make the decision to come to Little Rock or Texas Tech just because of location. It’s certainly a factor. It’s something to think about. It’s a positive. It can be a very important factor, but it shouldn’t be the tell-all.
That’s the case here. I didn’t return to Texas Tech to coach just to be close to my daughters. The fact that I will be is a really special thing, and it’s a great thing. I came to Texas Tech to compete in the Big 12, to win championships, to graduate every player and to continue to build a program. To say that the decision was made just because my daughters are here isn’t true. My daughters are going to support me and love me no matter where I coach. To me, it was just a special thing and a really cool thing, but it wasn’t the reason I came to Tech.
SI: So it just was a happy coincidence?
CB: Exactly. We’re recruiting a somewhat local player right now. I talk to him all the time and say that it would be cool to play in front of friends and family. It’s a special opportunity for you here, but it’s not the only reason you should come here. The style of play still has to fit. You still have to be comfortable with the guys you’ll be playing with, the relationships and the academic program. Everything has to align. The proximity to family—that’s just one factor.
SI: Have you been able to get away with your daughters since you took over the job?
CB: We did the last-minute Disney World trip. I’m a big fan of Disney World. I would not recommend it to anybody on Memorial Day weekend. It’s just so packed. It was very challenging.
SI: This is your sixth head coaching job in six years. You’ve only coached at one of those stops for more than one season. Do you think people who use that as a criticism of you are being unfair?
CB: I don’t know. I don’t spend anytime at all worrying what other people think. I wake up every day and focus on the job at hand and the 14 or 15 players on the roster and the staff. We just try to win every day.
I think if you reached out to all the people that I’ve worked with and worked for, including ADs and presidents—and most importantly players—I think that you would find positive remarks on what we do. We win, we win the right way, we graduate players. We support the university and its mission.
You’d have to look at each move and understand. I’m not a guy who ever looked for a job. The best job I ever had was as in 1995 when I was a graduate assistant at Incarnate Word. And then the opportunity came the next year to go to Abilene Christian, which was a Division II school, a chance to be a full-time assistant. I wasn’t looking for a job, but I had the opportunity to go to North Texas and be a full-time assistant at a Division I school at a young age. And then each job accordingly.
I’m not a guy that looks for job. I don’t even have a resume. I try to win and do the best job I can. It’s led to some tremendous opportunities. Good players and good teams are what create opportunities. That’s what’s happened with me. I’ve been very, very lucky and very fortunate that I’ve been around some good players. The Little Rock situation was probably the best example of all. We had a special team that came together and played the right way, and opportunities come from that.
Sometimes the timing is not great, but it affects a lot of people. Wes Flanigan was one of our assistants at Little Rock, and because of our success and my new opportunity, Wes is a head coach now. That would just be one example of how many people benefit when opportunities arise.
SI: You said at UNLV that you don’t have a five-year plan but instead use a day-to-day plan. Do you now have a long-term plan to stay at Texas Tech?
CB: We certainly believe in preparation, and we believe in vision. But the point of a day-to-day plan is the expectation is to win each day. In all my years of coaching, I’ve never gone into a game where the plan wasn’t to win. It’s the same thing every day. I don’t ever go into the office thinking that today is going to be just O.K.
That’s not the way I’m wired. Each day we try to win. We have a process that we believe in. It entails a lot of things—nutrition, individual works, academics, sleep, team practice, being unselfish. All these things make up our day-to-day process. Everybody in the program, from our coaches to our student managers, each person tries to have the best day they can that day. And when you buy into the process, wins and good seasons and championships become the product of your process.
It’s not that we don’t look ahead, it’s not that we aren’t prepared or don’t have a four- or five-year vision, but our plan is day to day.
SI: Only one senior is taking off from an NCAA tournament team at Texas Tech. What do you see as the potential for this team this season?
CB: Our expectations are always to win and to compete. We have a great deal of respect for the Big 12 conference. We’re getting into what is in my mind the best conference in college basketball. We know how difficult it’s going to be, but certainly the goal is to be competitive the first year.
I think the most sacred thing in college basketball are seniors. Those guys that have paid their dues, they make our sport really unique. I think those guys deserve a chance to win. A lot of times in coaching changes, that’s the thing that gets left out, that senior. He doesn’t have a chance to go through the rebuild. He doesn’t have a chance to wait for Year 2 to be special. Everything we do is with the mind to be competitive immediately for those seniors.
At Little Rock, we had three special guys with [guards Josh] Hagins, [Roger] Woods and [Jermaine] Rutley. Watching those three guys get on the ladder and cut down the net and go to the NCAA tournament, that was one of the highlights of my career. And that will certainly be the goal here. We’ll do everything we can here to send our seniors out as champions.
SI: On a more lighthearted note, you were known to do some interesting exercises with your Little Rock team—hiking and yoga and walking on a plank between cliffs. Any plans for team-building trips at Texas Tech?
CB: We’re always looking for anything and everything we can do to help our players. I think simply stated the definition of a coach is to do everything you can to help your players win. We’re talking about winning in the classroom, in graduation, in basketball and of course in life after basketball.
Anything we can think of, any way we can motivate them, any way we can educate them or help them improve, we’re always open to it. I spend a lot of time studying other coaches. I spend more time studying college football than college basketball. I’m just a huge football fan and grew up playing it. The plank was a deal that I think we got from [Alabama] coach [Nick] Saban. The idea was of playing on the road and eliminating distractions.
Every day we are trying to challenge our guys. I remember as a young coach working for someone I really respected, but his view of motivation was that you only have so many bullets and you can’t shoot one every day. He felt you could only shoot one every few days, and I respectfully disagree with that. I want to shoot a bullet every day. I want to try to give our guys something every day. I don’t think it ever gets old as long as you’re bringing real material and you’re being sincere in trying to help your players. I don’t think you can ever do too much.
In preparation for a game, we don’t sit around and think, ‘That’s too much.’ We do everything we possibly can to help our players win every possession. And that’s kind of our view too with our off-the-court stuff. Anything and everything we can do to help our players, we’ll try to do.
SI: And of course, I have to ask: How many times have you had Whataburger?
CB: [More] than I should have eaten. I think it’s just a thing of where you are living. When I lived in Little Rock, there was a place called Swims, and I already miss that now that I’m in Texas. Being in Arkansas, there weren’t any Whataburgers there. They actually built one in Fayetville, the first one in Arkansas, and Brian Burg, one of our coaches, who is also from Texas, him and I thought about taking a 2.5-hour road trip one night to go get a burger. We didn’t get that extreme, but it was on the ballot.
Coach Knight would drive two hours for BBQ if he heard there was a good hole-in-the-wall.
SI: Anything you’d like to add in closing?
CB: A lot has been written about that Little Rock team. That was a special group. All three seniors graduated and will be pursuing professional basketball. That was one of the best stories in college basketball last year, and the story was those players.