Texas Tech Head Coach Chris Beard Had to Earn His Way to Final Four

Chris Beard
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MINNEAPOLIS– As Texas Tech coach Chris Beard was fielding questions during the Final Four press conference, he displayed an air of genuine enjoyment. The energetic enthusiasm isn’t surprising; Beard is the first head coach to take the Texas Tech Red Raiders to the Final Four. But combined with the positive temperament is an even greater appreciation for the road he has taken to get to this moment. For Coach Beard, having a chance to play for a National Championship demonstrates that no matter difficult the journey, hard work and determination can get you to greatness.

“When you find something you love, you sacrifice,” affirms Beard. “That’s why the Final Four is so special. All of us are here for one common thing, and that’s the love of the game and basketball. My journey is not much different than anybody else’s, but there was a lot of sacrifices.”

Beard Exposed to Basketball at Gerald Myers Basketball Camp

For Chris Beard, his love affair with basketball began years ago at a camp held at Texas Tech, the team he would eventually coach years later. Gerald Myers, a former Texas Tech player that got the school into the Big 12, organized a basketball camp for young future stars in Texas. One of the attendees would happen to be Chris Beard.

“As a kid growing up in Dallas, I only had a chance to go to one basketball camp because the rules in Texas at the time is you couldn’t go to camp after you played varsity basketball,” recalls Beard. “The camp I chose was Texas Tech. That was when I got to meet Coach Myers and the friendship remains to this day.”

Beard would attend the University of Texas, eventually becoming a student assistant to the basketball team. As a student, he had the opportunity to serve as an assistant to their basketball program. He didn’t get paid. The youngster was tasked with mundane responsibilities such as cleaning the floors and getting players water. But every chance that Beard got to be on a basketball court, he thrived. He knew that coaching would be his calling one way or another.

“You scrap,” says Beard. “I would do private lessons on the side, rebound for guys, and used to cut cardboard boxes behind this grocery store. Anything to get paid and exposed to the game.”

After serving as an assistant for five years, Beard landed his first coaching job at Fort Scott Community College. In his first and only season with the team, Beard went 19-12, giving the squad it’s first winning season in eight years. It would also be the same time that Tom Izzo would coach his Michigan State Spartans to their first National Championship since 1979.

Bob Knight Played Pivotal Role in Chris Beard’s Coaching Development

After coaching stints at two community colleges, Beard was offered the associate head coach position at the institution where he once participated in the aforementioned basketball camp. Little did Chris know that he would be working under three-time National Champion Bob Knight.

Knight is one of the most innovative coaches in college basketball history. Leading the Indiana Hoosiers to three NCAA championships, one NIT championship, and 11 Big Ten Conference victories, the General was crucial in the development of the motion offense. Beard would see this first hand, assisting Bob Knight in bringing Texas Tech back into the national conversation.

Knight and Beard would lead Texas Tech to three NCAA tournament appearances and one NIT in the first four years the two were there. The Red Raiders would average 21 wins per season under Knight, including a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2005. Beard acquired many skills under Knight, which he would later put into good use when he became the head coach at Texas Tech. The most important of them all was preparation.

“Getting our guys prepared, I learned that from Coach Knight,” says Beard. “Focusing on player development, bouncing back quickly after a tough loss and zeroing in on the next game in the schedule allowed Coach Knight to be successful. Many of those aspects are influenced in our program today.”

Everywhere Chris Beard Went, Success Followed

After getting a foundational basketball education under Bob Knight, Chris Beard would make numerous stops in different leagues. The faith never wavered that one day he would be coaching a top program.

Beard would take the reins of the South Carolina Warriors in the American Basketball Association. He would lead the team to a 29-2 record, before leaving to go coach at McMurry University in his home state of Texas.

Coach Beard did not have the luxury like many of his colleagues of being a basketball heir in a long family coaching tree. He had to earn every coaching job he ever received, even if that meant grinding in lower level leagues or college divisions. After McMurry, Beard would take the D-II Angelo State Rams to 47-15 in the two seasons he coached with the team. This put Chris on the map as someone who can take a struggling team and make them successful.

Beard reached new heights as a coach when he took the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans to a 30-5 season and Sun Belt Champions. The team would get an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, where they would lose in the second round.

The message was clear; Chris Beard was starting to become a sought after coach. But the Texas native is always quick to credit his associates in allowing him to maximize accomplishments. At Little Rock, it was Wes Flanigan, who is now an associate to Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl.

“I would not be here today if it wasn’t for Wes Flanigan,” exclaims Beard.

Beard Has Turned Texas Tech into Defensive Powerhouse

In 2016, Chris Beard would get the offer that would make his basketball coaching career full circle. To become the head coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders, following the departure of Tubby Smith.

Since Bob Knight left Texas Tech, the program had declined in terms of basketball success. Leave it to Chris Beard to anchor the ship, launching the Red Raiders back into national stardom. In his second year as head coach, Texas Tech would advance to the Elite Eight, the first in program history. While losing to the eventual Villanova Wildcats, Beard saw the power and impact of having a tough, physical defense in college basketball.

Beard would lose five of his six top scorers from the 2018 season. But the Red Raiders coach was able to mold a team of experienced veterans, preaching the importance of ferocious defense and solid play inside the post. This season, Texas Tech was within the top-11 in the five major defensive categories; 1st in points per 100 possessions (84.1), 3rd in 2-point field goal percentage (42 percent), 6th in block percentage (15.5 percent), 9th in 3-point field goal percentage (29.3 percent) and 11th in turnover percentage (23.1 percent). Against Gonzaga in the Elite Eight, the number one ranked offense in the nation, Texas Tech held them to 69 points. As Jarrett Culver, the Red Raiders top leading scorer can explain, Texas Tech has now bought into the basketball buzz, thanks to Chris Beard.

“When Coach Beard came and changed the culture, it’s been a lot that he’s done for this school,” says Culver. “I do feel like this is a basketball school.”

Beard Knows Texas Tech Must be Physical Against Michigan State in Final Four

At once opposite ends of the coaching spectrum, Chris Beard and Tom Izzo will now be leading their Texas Tech and Michigan State teams for an epic Final Four matchup Saturday night. The Red Raiders leader understands the challenge at hand; Michigan State just upset the Duke Blue Devils 68-67, on the back of great backcourt play by Cassius Winston.

“I have so much respect for their program,” compliments Beard. “Michigan State’s one of the best defensive teams in college basketball, as they are every year. To me, it’s much more than just the rebounding. It’s the positioning and the gaps and the toughness, the mental toughness, the lack of mistakes, the players playing roles, their rim protection. It’s one of the best shot blocking teams in college basketball, but they do it by committee. We need to do this on Saturday.”

The battle along the glass will be a critical stat in whose going to win this game. Coach Beard likes his team to be aggressive in rebounding, which allows them to dictate the defensive pace of the game. Against Michigan State, as Culver explains, is no easy task.

“Michigan State is a big rebounding team so we know we’re going to have to be tough on the boards,” says Culver.

The Long Journey Has Paid Off for Chris Beard

Chris Beard, once a little boy attending a basketball camp at Texas Tech, is now attempting to lead his team to its first National Championship in school history. Given the road that the Texas native has been on, from community college and Division-II to now Division-I, it has not been easy. But the harder journey builds character and solidifies toughness. For Coach Beard, the adversity he has overcome has prepared him for this historical moment, where he has the opportunity to add his name to the long list of championship coaches.

“For that young coach out there like me that sat in the open practices for 22 years and dreamed about being there, don’t give up. Keep at it. This game’s bigger than any of us. This game isn’t about your predecessors. It’s basketball, man. If you keep doing it, it will give you a chance at some point. Don’t give up.”