New Texas Longhorns men's basketball coach Chris Beard insists that it was the most difficult decision of his life to return to his alma mater after a successful five-season run at Big 12 rival Texas Tech that included an overtime loss in the most recent national championship game two years ago.
Beard is back on the Forty Acres, where he was a student assistant for Tom Penders three decades ago. He takes over a well-funded program that hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 2014.
"I understand the standards of the University of Texas. I understand where our men's basketball program is going to be and needs to be and deserves to be," Beard said Friday. "Those expectations and standards don't scare me. Don't get it twisted, it's the reason that I'm here.
"This program is a Monday night program,'' Beard added, referring to the national championship game. "I'm not afraid to talk about it from day one.''
The 48-year-old Beard was formally introduced as the new Longhorns head coach on a Zoom call from the Austin campus. It came a day after a meeting with Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte at a Comfort Inn hotel before going to breakfast at a McDonald's in Plainview, Texas, about 45 miles north of the Texas Tech campus in Lubbock.
Beard replaces Shaka Smart, who left after six seasons for Marquette after failing to lead the Longhorns past the first round of the tournament in three appearances. Smart took VCU to the Final Four in 2011, but he never got close to that with the Longhorns, who this season won the Big 12 tournament before losing in the NCAA tourney to No. 14 seed Abilene Christian, which has played Division I basketball for less than a decade.
Beard was 112-55 in five seasons with the Red Raiders. He was named The Associated Press' Coach of the Year in 2019 as he guided Texas Tech to a 31-7 finish and the national championship game, where Virginia prevailed. Tech lost in the second round of this season's tournament.
"It was the most difficult decision in my life to leave a place where we had an amazing five-year run from where we started all the way to an overtime game on the final," Beard said. "To me, those relationships are real, and I'll always be appreciative and grateful for time in Lubbock, Texas."
His alma mater last made the Final Four in 2003, which is its only national semifinal appearance since 1947, when the tournament had only eight teams. The Longhorns went to 16 NCAA tourneys under Rick Barnes from 1999 to 2015, but they haven't made it out of the first weekend since reaching the regional finals in 2006 and 2008.
Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said the Red Raiders tried hard to keep Beard, even offering him a contract designed to keep him in Lubbock for his entire career. Hocutt said he was frustrated that it didn't work out and that Beard instead landed at an in-state rival.
"The timeline, you know, is what it is,'' Beard said. "I have nothing but respect and appreciation for Kirby and that staff.''
Del Conte said Beard was the only target for the Longhorns when Smart left to return to his home state. After Del Conte and Beard spoke for more than three hours and came to an agreement, Beard drove back to Lubbock before joining his new boss to fly to Austin.
"He came back an emotional wreck," Del Conte said. "He was so sad about what was happening at Texas Tech, the players he was leaving behind. I knew what we were getting in a human being, someone that cares deeply about people. He's an incredible basketball coach; he's a better person."
Beard's introduction came exactly three months after Steve Sarkisian, the offensive coordinator for national champion Alabama, was named the new Texas football coach to replace the fired Tom Herman.
"We went after a program-changing hire for our men's basketball program,'' school president Jay Hartzell said before mentioning the earlier football coaching search with Del Conte and regents chairman Kevin Eltife. "We've made a good team and have had what I believe to be a couple of huge wins. That said, I'm expecting we won't have to do this together for those two sports for many, many years to come.''