Following the 2014-15 season, the University of Texas decided it was time to move on from head basketball coach Rick Barnes. Barnes was hired in 1998 and despite the ability to recruit talent in droves, never experienced substantial success in March sans a Final Four run in 2002-03. In his final seven seasons, Barnes was able to make the tournament six times, but never made it out of the first weekend.
The Longhorns decided to make the splash hire that seemingly no one else was able to. Texas lured then star VCU young gun coach Shaka Smart away from the city of Richmond. Smart’s “havoc” style is one that appeals to talented youngsters as well as providing an exciting product for television viewers.
Like Barnes, Shaka was able to coax talent to Austin, landing the likes of Mo Bamba, Jarrett Allen and Greg Brown among others. However, much like his predecessor, he simply could not sustain any kind of consistent success. Smart posted a .500 or worse conference record in four of his six seasons in Austin and participated in the NCAA tournament just three times in five tournaments.
In the end, Smart took a golden parachute to…Wisconsin (Hi, I’m in Delaware) to replace Wojo at Marquette before his inevitable firing.
For those keeping score at home, these two regime’s have led this program to exactly zero second weekend tournament appearances since 2008-09.
Enter 2021, the year of rebound in a complete non-basketball sense. Given the hell that was 2020 for the entire planet, redemption, change and seizing the day became the mantra across the board. Texas Athletic Director Chris Del Conte swung for the fences and landed his man, Longhorn alum Chris Beard.
Beard has become the darling among college basketball prognosticators in recent years for simply winning. In his lone season at Little Rock, Beard went 30-5 and won an NCAA tournament game against Matt Painter and Purdue.
After a bit of drama and playing footsie (OK a bit more than footsie) with UNLV, Beard ended up in Lubbock, TX. at Texas Tech. In what can be considered a traditionally difficult place to win, Beard went 112-55 in five seasons, making (presumably) four consecutive NCAA tournaments. He also came a couple of bounces away from bringing the title to Lubbock in the 2019 dance.
The Longhorn roster took some hits following the 2021 tournament in which the 3 seeded Longhorns fell to Abiliene Christian in the first round. Texas lost Jericho Sims, Matt Coleman, Greg Brown and Kai Jones to professional aspirations after all declined to take advantage of the exempt year. Coach Beard hit the ground running in the free agent market and seemingly maintained that pace throughout the offseason securing commitments from:
Tre Mitchell, UMass: 18.8 ppg 7.2 rpg 2x All-A10 selection
Dylan Disu, Vanderbilt: 15.0 ppg 9.2 rpg, 37% 3pt %
Marcus Carr, Minnesota: 19.4 ppg, 4.9 apg, 3rd in the Big 10 in ppg 2020-21
Timmy Allen, Utah: 17.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.9 apg
Christian Bishop, Creighton: 11.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 6th in Big East in blocks 2020-21
Devin Askew, Kentucky: 6.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.9 apg, #28 in 2020 prep rankings
Combine the free agents with returnee’s Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones and Jase Febres along with four-star recruit Jaylon Tyson and Texas is having scrimmages that should charge at the turnstiles.
Power and Responsibility
While great responsibility comes with great power, great stress comes with truckloads of talent. Hall of Famers Coach K and Coach Calipari do it seemingly every season but they are the exception, not the rule.
The grace that may save Coach Beard’s psyche could be the fact that most of these players, new and old, are veterans. This isn’t a bunch of prep players whose self esteem has been stroked for years. These guys have played, many have lost, and now they have a common goal: Win a title. It is safe to assume that this was the sales pitch put forth by Beard in the offseason. Given his pedigree, combined with each commitment the pitch undoubtedly became easier with each mother’s couch.
With the moral victory of youth connectivity firmly in his pocket, Coach Beard won’t have to wait long to taste the fruits of his labor. Texas will visit the #1 team in the nation, Gonzaga, on November 13th. Other than the Zags, the Longhorns won’t play anyone of much consequence other than Stanford on December 19th in Vegas.
Texas will host Tennessee in the middle of conference play this season which could be a nice resume’ notch. Though the Vols are different on the hardwood than on the gridiron. Freshman Kennedy Chandler is a hot dog, let’s hope the Vols forget the mustard.
Once again though, the meat is on the Big XII bone. Circle Tuesday, February 1st which is when the Longhorns visit Lubbock. Texas Tech fans are/were not happy about Beard bolting town but are seemingly happy with Mark Adams being named his replacement. It is sure to be great television.
In the end, there is no denying Chris Beard’s ability, but having a group this talented and adapting to new roles is sure to be a challenge. The Longhorns have talent to win a national championship, but at this point, making it out of the first weekend would be historic.